Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art of Gainage

Gainage.  No, it's not what happens to your body after, say, a holiday season spent eating fattening foods.  Rather, it's the term for the French style of upholstery in which fabric is applied to hard surfaces, such as moldings (see above) and furniture.  Although I've known about this type of intricate upholstery for years, I never knew what to call it. But thanks to the July-August issue of Veranda, I can now put a proper name to a technique that must take great skill, not to mention great patience.  According to Veranda, one of the leading firms that specializes in gainage is that of Charles Jouffre, a master upholsterer with workshops in Paris, Lyon, and New York.  One of Jouffre's notable clients is Chilean designer Juan Pablo Molyneux, whose work sometimes features gainage beds.  Can you imagine how luxurious it must be to sleep in a velvet-covered, four-poster bed?

I don't know if the late designer Alberto Pinto was a client of Charles Jouffre, but I do know that his green velvet-drenched dining room is a prime example of gainage.  Look closely at the photos below, and you'll see that his dining room's shell corner niche was completely covered in the same velvet that was applied to the walls.  And gainage beds can be found in a number of country houses in the U.K., including Dumfries House and Houghton Hall.  (I'm not sure if British craftsmen refer to this type of upholstery as gainage.  Perhaps they have an English term for it.)

Of course, not all gainage is as elaborate as fabric-wrapped state beds or corner niches.  Look at those David Hicks wall brackets, below, that were covered in the same claret-colored velvet that graced the room's walls.  Fabric-covered brackets are perhaps a more manageable way to indulge in the art of gainage.  (I know a clever New York designer who executed his own gainage brackets, which are most becoming.)  Or, you could simply hunt for an antique or vintage gainage table or cabinet.  The beauty of an old fabric-wrapped piece is that its fabric, likely velvet or silk, has patina, which only adds to the allure of gainage

Two different examples of gainage beds, which were designed by Juan Pablo Molyneux.

Two views of Alberto Pinto's dining room.  This has to be one of design history's most memorable dining rooms.

Both the walls and molding in this Georges Geffroy-decorated room were covered in green velvet.

Dumfries House's famous Chippendale bed, whose canopy cresting is covered entirely in blue damask. 

An early eighteenth-century tester bed in the Wentworth Bedroom of Milton, a country house in Cambridgeshire.  Recently restored, the bed is covered in a silk damask that is based on the bed's original fabric.

This William Kent-designed bed is located in the aptly-named Green Velvet Bedchamber at Houghton Hall.  The double-shell motif is a reference to Venus.

In this David Hicks-designed room, claret-colored velvet brackets match the room's walls.

Images #1 and #2 from Veranda, July-August issue; #7 from Town & Country, Harry Cory Wright photographer; #8 from The English Country House; #9 from English Country House Interiors; #10 from David Hicks Style and Design


  1. Jennifer,
    Great to learn a new term! Let's gainage our gauffrage...! Your selection of images was spot on!

  2. Jennifer what an art! It can be rather simply or very ornately done, love the damask over the velvet's I think! Gorgeous!

    The Arts by Karena

  3. A fascinating subject. The art of gainage requires enormous skill, as anyone who's ever tried it can attest. As a result, the best examples exist in a rarified universe, are few and far between, and thankfully beyond the scope of most mere mortals!

    1. I chuckled at your "thankfully behind the scope of most mere mortals"!

    2. A real 'tour de force' of Gainage is the tiny boutique of JAR Parfum, just off the Place Vendome, Paris. They sell something like 6 different scents , that's all, in a space that is no larger than 4 by 4 meters, but this ENTIRE room is covered in purple velvet; all panelling, all doors, all mouldings, absolutely everything is velvet. I had never seen anything like it - but looking at it closely, I realized that this technique is MUCH more than just glueing velvet onto an existing surface ... there are no visible joints, and no braids to hide the joints (like on the green Houghton bed) or invisible overlaps, which you can do with a flat fabric like silk damask (as on the blue Dumfries bed) because you can't glue and overlap velvet like that, it would look awful.
      Instead, I'm pretty sure that every single moulding and piece of the paneling was made and wrapped individually and then assembled to LOOK like they glued velvet on a traditional, paneled room, so all the paneling has to be designed to come apart, leaving gaps in between each of the pieces for the velvet, which is wrapped around and glued on the back of each piece ... extremely complicated and surely very expensive !

    3. David, Your comment has me utterly intrigued. The space sounds sublime.

  4. Great post Jennifer! I am glad I finally learned what this technique is called.
    Also great to know Jouffre in Paris can do this.....they are on travel distance from me.
    Maybe I will consider doing a piece for my bedroom, that I am redoing at this moment.

  5. The black and white photograph is dramatic. It would be great to have one in colour to see the depth of the claret. This blog continues to inspire and inform.

  6. I agree with Toby Worthington. It is one thing to "design" and quite another to produce. I have upholstered walls, upholstered desks and made rather complicated curtains, but nothing come to the level of taking fabric and applying it to curved surfaces. Of course I am drawn to the impossible. It's like watching champion athlete make complicated moves so simple and fluid, the art of gainage is breath taking.

  7. "Gainage"....I guess it gains its rightful spot in space, growing out of what was. (!)

  8. Thank you. I love to add to my design/antiques spectrum. I have loved these patinated old pieces, but never knew that they were in a special category. I cannot imagine the skill it takes to completely cover these intricate moldings. Have a super week-end. Mary

  9. I plan to do a simple version of upholstered walls, using upholstered panels inside moulding. I wish I could do something as spectacular as these rooms; but it wouldn't suit my lifestyle, or budget.

    I just purchased your book (only 2 left) on Amazon, and can't wait to read it!

    1. Thank you so much for purchasing a copy of my book. I hope you enjoy it!

      I really like the look of upholstered panels within molding. I think it's a smashing option when fully upholstered walls are not doable.