Sunday, December 03, 2006

John Fowler at the V&A

I recently had the opportunity to travel to London, and at the top of my to-do list was to see the exhibit "John Fowler: Detail in Decoration" at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Although comprising only two rooms, the exhibit was an excellent overview of John Fowler's fifty year career.

For those who may not be familiar with him, John Fowler is best known as the master of the English country look. He began his career as a decorative painter, later branching out into the field of interior design. In 1938, he joined forces with decorator Sybil Colefax to form Colefax and Fowler. Upon Colefax's death, Nancy Lancaster acquired the firm. Fowler learned a great deal from Lancaster, and although their taste was very similar, they tended to have a rather contentious relationship. As has been oft quoted, they were the "unhappiest unmarried couple in England". Fowler left the firm in 1968, and spent his later years advising on the restoration of National Trust houses.

Fowler had a deep interest in document fabrics and wallpapers and began to collect them (later leaving them to the V&A). He reproduced many of the historical patterns that he found, and these figure prominently in his work. One of his favorite document prints was "Berkeley Sprig"- a charming print of a flower against a trellis background. This print has been used in numerous Colefax & Fowler interiors. One of my favorite Fowler fabrics that was featured in the exhibit is a trompe l'oeil pattern of venetian style blinds- he used the fabric for roman shades, an idea that I just may borrow sometime.

One of the most delightful aspects of the exhibit was the display of painted furniture that Fowler either owned or used in his various projects. The painted furniture was rather simple and sometimes rustic but was thoroughly enchanting and contributed greatly to this English country look.

No exhibit on Fowler would be complete without including photos of some of his best-known rooms. Fowler's work for Mrs. David Bruce is legendary, especially his work on her London drawing room. Note the elaborate curtains, which are another hallmark of Fowler's design.

And of course, I couldn't leave out the famous yellow drawing room at Colefax and Fowler's shop/offices on Brook St. A collaboration between Fowler and Lancaster, this room ranks as one of the most iconic rooms in the history of interior design.

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