I admit that I don't know all of the whys and wherefores of chintz, but I do feel it's my civic duty to correct the misguided belief that all chintz is floral. Chintz can take the guise of florals, Chinoiserie prints, stripes, or a myriad of other patterns. Truth be told, I'm not so crazy about floral chintz, but that's simply because I'm not really a floral print person. But there is one chintz that makes me giddy as a schoolgirl: tobacco leaf print glazed cotton.
When I was young, we had a sofa in our library that was covered in a tobacco leaf chintz. My mother can't remember from which fabric house it came, but let me just say that it was mighty fine. The background was a clear, vibrant yellow against which the blues, purples, and gold of the tobacco leaf played their roles. Sure it was quite traditional- after all, the print is based on Chinese export tobacco leaf porcelain- but it also had Style with a capital "S". The only problem was that the fabric was a bit too delicate for a high traffic piece of furniture. Two daughters and a Springer Spaniel were a bit too much for the tobacco leaf. It started to look a little shabby a little too quickly, but you know, shabby is not so difficult to pull off.
I was reminded of this fabric when I came across an old photo of the late designer Stephen Mallory's Rhinebeck, NY house. How disappointing that the photo is in black and white (see below), but just imagine the impact the fabric must have had when used on not just the sofa and armchairs but on the walls as well. I bet it was truly stunning in person. Oh, and it looks as though the upholstered pieces were quilted, something which seems to be making a comeback today.
And then my friend Barry recently wrote about a unit in our high rise building that had been decorated in the late 1960s by the same designer who worked on my childhood home, decorator David Byers III. I'm wondering how many homes in Atlanta got the tobacco leaf chintz treatment as he used it not only on our sofa but also on a sofa and some chairs in the aforementioned condo. (The photos are at top and below.)
Unfortunately, I'm not sure if this particular print is still in production. I do know that Carleton Varney has a tobacco leaf print, but it doesn't have the rich yellow background like the one that I adore. If I could find the fabric (and if I had an extra room lying around), I'd cover everything- walls, windows, and upholstered pieces- in the stuff. Now that would really be smoking.
David Byers III used tobacco leaf chintz in the Plaza Towers unit of Mrs. Robert R. Snodgrass. The print stands up well to the other yellows and acid greens used in the home. The photo at the top is the Music Room/Library, while the one directly above is Mrs. Snodgrass' Sitting Room.
The late Stephen Mallory covered walls, sofa, and chairs in the chintz. It was not completely crazy...but it almost was.
Carleton Varney's version of Tobacco Leaf
And of course, Mottahedeh's Tobacco Leaf china is a classic.
(Photos of the Snodgrass apartment from Landmark Homes of Georgia 1733-1983; Mallory photo from New York Interior Design, 1935-1985, Vol. 1: Inventors of Tradition)