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    A tapestry of tales: Hannah Gurney’s vision of living art on walls

    Simone Herrmann

    Hannah Gurney reveals how they change interiors and family life

    When we came home from dinner,” Hannah Gurney recounts, “the dogs had eaten all the corners.” That was the day when Sans Soucis, the chinoiserie wallpaper, was supposed to be installed in their kitchen. “Because there is sugar in the paste, they had attacked the corners that weren’t glued yet. But,” Gurney smiles, “no one sees that today. The wallpaper hangers were able to cover it up wonderfully; after all, everything is hand-painted, so there’s just one more flower blooming.”

    Couture for the walls – that’s what Gurney’s father, Claude Cecil Gurney, founded his workshop for in 1986. Not just ordinary wallpapers made of printed paper, but chinoiseries, flower gardens, and landscape panoramas on silk, Japanese paper, raffia, or tea paper, metallised, hand-embroidered, and hand-painted. The artistry and dedication of the craftsmen (anyone who has seen how it’s painted with hypnotic care can skip their mindfulness course) make them so precious. 

    Image: Supplied

    “There are no white walls in our house,” says Gurney, global marketing manager of de Gournay. She has transformed her London home near Battersea Park into a cocoon of colour and fantasy. “My son, George, believes we live in a storybook.” Has he ever decided to leave his own mark on it? “So far, our wallpapers have only inspired him to get full-body tattoos with felt-tip pens, but now my twins Scarlet and Oscar are entering the age of discovery... Well, so be it!”

    ‘Turtle!’ was the first word George could say, even before ‘Mama’,” reveals Gurney. It’s no wonder really as his play sofa is in the middle of an imaginary aquarium with turtles paddling all over the wallpaper. “‘Hello, Mister Turtle’, he used to call out and wave.” White and powder blue (and a scent of baby oil) set the atmosphere, Georgian furniture and a wool rug with an abstract wave pattern that traces the curve of Coral Reef. 

    The same principle was used in her son’s bedroom, where George’s teddy bear takes a nap in the padded, red-striped crib. Behind it, the grisaille wallpaper African Savannah (pictured on the right) depicts a jungle landscape with antelopes, flamingos, and screeching parrots, “but is so gentle, that I awakened it with three shots of primary colours: cobalt blue, red, and yellow.”

    Image: Supplied

    With the chocolate-brown chinoiserie on matte rice paper in her salon – a tribute to Coco Chanel’s Coromandel screens at The Ritz, Gurney wanted to prove something else. “I have often seen customers be attracted to this design but then get scared to use it. But chocolate can be so chic!” Especially when countered by Gurney with the wild and large-patterned covers of the Rococo chairs, the woven rug by Jennifer Manners, and touches of pistachio. 

    Before I got married and moved to Battersea, I lived with my sister Rachel,” says Gurney. “That was kind of an interior trial run for me. We had each room of the apartment decorated in a different style, hodgepodge, but somehow it was beautiful. In our house, the wallpapers alone determined the interior through their colours, and one thing led to another.”Like the large, gold-painted Rousseau panorama, inspired by the paradisiacal painting Le Rêve by the painter Henri Rousseau, considered one of de Gournay’s masterpieces (pictured on the right). 

    Image: Supplied

    “When it was staged in the Paris showroom, it commanded visual attention with the playing monkeys and the corner sofa with upholstery,” Gurney recalls with a smile. 

    At her home, the cosy corner on the first floor is the only room in which the interior did not originate from the wallpaper. “I’ve always wanted a red library, so I commissioned the carpentry work first,” she says. 

    Flora, the hand-embroidered floral wallpaper in red, petrol, and saffron yellow, came afterwards and there was already a blue sofa and red-gold lamps. The design by Alessandra Branca was one of the first to be created in de Gournay’s studio in Calcutta. Flowers are accented with gold threads, “which in turn gave me the idea to frame the wallpaper with gold trim…” 

    On some days, it’s like a golden stream, the light that floods into the dining room through the skylight. Gurney has placed her dining table under this ‘light shaft’ to the London sky and dressed the dining chairs in floral fabric, matching her favourite wallpaper Sans Soucis in the kitchen and dining room. 

    Image: Supplied

    Depending on the light, the grey gets a magical blue tinge, and when the light drips from the umbrella lights in the evening. “It’s so fantastic, as if we were sitting at the mad tea party from Alice in Wonderland.” Which is not least due to the delicate Flora

    Michael S. Smith’s wallpaper Botanical Studies has just been reissued; it looks as if individual herbarium leaves were pinned to the wall, a design that can even fill monumental rooms. However, it doesn’t always need stuccoed halls and crystal chandeliers. 

    “Chinoiseries bring freshness and delicacy to rustic rooms. Nordic Garden (pictured at right), for example, or the newly launched Tsukimi, where moonlight illuminates grasses and bellflowers, makes even rough beam ceilings look airy,” she explains. “With the birth of our twins, our home has almost become too small for us. We dream of moving to the countryside one day,” says Gurney, whose husband manages an old family estate in Wales. The wallpapers? “No problem, you can move our wall coverings.”

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