05 April 2010

following Fowler: Part III of Fowler- then and now

one of my favourite wallpapers is the grand PEMBROKE DAMASK by Clarence House-

Here-at Nantclwyd Hall- John Fowler used Double Damask, (later known as Pembroke Damask.-but more about this later) The hall was given an oversized dentil when redesigned in the 1960's. Fowler balances the dentil with the Damask in a brown and white colourway-the Prince faced many of these balancing tricks throughout the decorating process at Nantclwyd. I love the mellow brown of the paper- picking up the oak colour in the doors. Everything works here, the beautifully framed portraits, the worn patina of the desk and the pair of chairs. This is just one of the spaces that Fowler comes across as a "Working Designer." He actually joined the project after Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect, had added these oversized dentils, which by the way, I like, because the wallpaper is so perfect. Fowler found some of the juxtapositions Williams-Ellis added as obstacles to his work-another common problem designers face in decorating. The rooms Fowler completed are another example of his= Working It Out- beautifully resolving the issues. Though Fowler saw the rooms as moderately sized, he wisely decorated them as full blown Georgian rooms.

Keith Irvine-legend in his own right- studied with Fowler for several years and recounts his initial interview with Fowler. Having written the Prince a number of times- 'You are the only person in the world I want to work for.' Adding in his wonderful book Keith Irvine- A Life in Decoration- that "he has advised many people over the years to try the same ploy, since for me it worked." Fowler pointed out Irvine's lack of any design knowledge and passed on the young apprentice. Three weeks later the call came- Can you start on Monday? Anyone with an interest in John Fowler must read Irvine's book! His Introduction alone is priceless. I will save the details for your own perusal- but, he sums his work for Fowler up by saying it was "part paradise and part reign of terror!" It is obvious that he learned a lifetime of experiencefrom the Prince in the several years he worked with him. Imagine! Irving went on to a brief disappointing stint with Sister Parish in the States and opened his own firm.Irvine's English country house look in America has graced many homes: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Katharine Graham and Rex Harrison to name a few.

following in the Fowler tradition, designer Keith Irvine uses Clarence House's Pembroke Damask in this townhouse foyer. The John Fowler hand blocked paper- Double Damask- one in the same. Keith Irvine shares the Damask's Story:
 "Fowler had discovered old fragments of this paper at Wilton House in Wiltshire when he was working there for the Earl of Pembroke, and he prevailed on the wallpaper company Coles to cut new blocks for it. As far as I know, it is the most expensive wallpaper in the world-but probably not!" The version of Pembroke Damask Irvine uses is a sharp salmon colour with white pattern and he has paired it with a paneled dado to beautiful effect.

I have recently discovered that new blogger MAGPIE worked with Keith Irvine through a comment left on a previous little augury post on Fowler and Haslam-"I love both these designers. I long for a return of interesting window treatments. Let us hope they come back soon. I worked for Keith Irvine, who started his career with John Fowler. He also was a founder of Clarence House. I'm extremely proud to be a little bit in that bloodline. The great traditional designers are the most creative, imaginative and wild, really. Just wonderful." dandy

I hope in future-"dandy will regale us with some authentic Fowler- Irvine stories.Visit here.
and thank you Dandy-aka Magpie for inspiring this post.



  1. Thank you for the mention. Now I better get my blog on and write some more posts! :)

  2. I absolutely love the Williams-Ellis oversized dentil molding!

  3. That first room is incredible. I wouldn't be a fan of the paper in a small size - it's the punch of oomph from its large proportions that make it so fabulous!

  4. I have loved this paper for a long time and would like to use it in a completely contemporary interior. As much as I like Clough Williams-Ellis' dentils - there's something about a big old dentil and I like Williams-Ellis' work generally speaking (did you ever see the original The Fugitive set in his Portmeierion?)- I think the paper would work without it.

  5. I remember the Keith Irvine room when it was published in House and Garden, though I prefer the Fowler one you have shared today. The designer oft finds working with the architect's vision or more is likely works with his lack of it. Great post little a.

  6. According to John Cornforth, the Pembroke design
    took its inspiration from woven fabric, rather than a wallpaper document as Keith Irvine seems to think.
    To quote Cornforth, John Fowler "had a feeling for the scale of patterns, for possibilities of recolouring them and their translation from one medium to another, as was the case with 'Double Damask' wallpaper, which...came from a length of early 18th century damask that he owned."
    There's another brilliant example of its use in a small house belonging to the C&F archivist, Barry McIntyre. Do you know it?
    I've got samples of Pembroke Damask paper as produced by both Colefax and Clarence House.
    There's a subtle difference, and the CH version has left off some essential highlights and shading. A minor point perhaps, but nonetheless, disappointing.

  7. Oh I love this idea of decorating average sized rooms as if they are grand. A good bit of advice to live by, in all walks of life I think.

  8. Blue-I totally agree with you about its use.

  9. Dandy-thank you for the inspiration. I am enjoying reading the Keith Irvine book again-thanks to you as well. Good luck with your blog.pgt

  10. Toby W.,See this is why I wanted your assistance on these Fowler posts! I consider you- after your EEE-Fowler post to be my (the)resident expert. I only dipped into it because-I think he is a sadly overlooked in the muck of designers today- and their constant presence on the blogs. I am tired of retromodern-rather not at all fond of it before I started reading blogs.
    Thank you for the Cornforth-he is the expert. I have the CH paper in one of their books-It it pretty fantastic, I am imagining the Coles- Fowler produced must have had add'l texture too. I dont know the room you site, I may have to drag down the CF books again & again. pgt



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