IN THE WORLD of interiors, British brand de Gournay stands out from the pack with its beautifully hand-crafted wallcoverings that raise the luxury bar to a new level.
The company's products - which also includes porcelain, fabrics and furniture - are used in some of the most exclusive hotels and residences around the world. De Gournay also regularly works with top interior designers, including Michael Smith, Miles Redd, David Collins and Graham Viney.
Founded in 1986 by Claud Cecil Gurney, today de Gournay is jointly run by Claud and his nephew Dominic Evans-Freke. The company is inspired by 18th-century chinoiserie and 19th-century French designs, and from the outset, they have favoured traditional construction techniques: wherever possible, pieces are made by hand using methods and materials which have been around for centuries.
This sits at the heart of de Gournay's ethos to take a classical starting point of design. As Evans-Freke explains, when looking at an antique object for inspiration, they seek out the elements that make it beautiful and translate them into a modern context. In other words, they imagine how some of the great 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century designers would create today.
'It's a shame these traditional things are viewed as dowdy because they weren't. When new, they were cutting-edge,' says Evans-Freke.
De Gournay's use of traditional materials and period finishes isn't to give the objects esoteric meaning. Rather, these techniques are implemented because they last. Evans-Freke explains that despite the variety of clever, synthetic alternatives available today, none have been tested over long periods of time. They use classic techniques that guarantee the products will still be around in 150 years time.
'We're definitely designing for the long-term,' says Evans-Freke. 'In 60 or 70 years time, when our pieces are at auction, we want them to be marked up because they've been stamped de Gournay. We want them to think: if de Gournay made it, we know it was made with the right techniques and will be around for another 50 years.'
Their traditional materials include natural fabrics such as hand-woven cotton and silk, raw pigment paints, rabbit-skin and fish-bone glue, and traditional Chinese paper, hand-made from mulberry tree bark.
Unlike most major luxury brands, de Gournay's artisans are based in China, with each trained in specific production techniques.
In many cases, these techniques originated in China thousands of years ago and needed to be re-introduced; from drawing design blueprints to carving and applying finishes, despite being labour-intensive, implementing hand-work in their products has become a crucial component of the brand. 'Things that are mechanically produced are so perfect that they're actually quite unattractive,' says Evans-Freke. 'There is a sharpness and a hardness that I think the human condition is just not able to relate to.'
In this respect, de Gournay once again differs from their peers. Evans-Freke feels that these days, the decoration and furniture industry tends to opt for the fastest or most consistent method of production.
'The industry says: silk is tricky, why don't we do it in acrylic? The big patterns are tricky, let's do it smaller,' he says. 'But if you go down that route, at each point taking the more logical decision, you end up with a perfect product, but it has lost its grandeur.'
While he and Gurney share the mantle of creative director, Evans-Freke points out that it is the clients who shape de Gournay's design direction. About 20 per cent of their business is in creating custom pieces with interior designers, and these collaborations often influence the direction of subsequent collections.
The locations of these projects and de Gournay's international showrooms also influence design concepts. With stores in London, Paris and Shanghai, the brand recently opened a showroom in Warsaw last November and is looking to expand into New York and Brazil.
The spread of its showrooms also offers an opportunity to find trends: for example, in China bare finishes such as pure wood are popular and so future collections will reflect this. This melting pot of inspiration suits de Gournay, which does not want to cultivate a particular style or aesthetic.
'We're not formulaic,' Evans-Freke says. 'What de Gournay stands for is quality craftsmanship and pieces that have a classic history.
'We want to be recognised worldwide as a brand that delivers beautiful handmade quality that will last more than a lifetime.'
Hotel Daniel, Paris
A gorgeous Relais & Chateaux property, Hotel Daniel is a boutique escape near the Champs-Elysees in the centre of the city. The living area features de Gournay's Temple Newsam wallpaper, a perfect complement to its Oriental decor.
Four Seasons, Geneva
Four Seasons, Geneva is on the bank of the city's famous lake. The Presidential Suite uses the Badminton wallpaper design from de Gournay's Chinoiserie collection, with subtle metallic silk and faint gold offering a relaxing escape for even non-heads of state.
Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin
Hotel Adlon Kempinski is in the thriving German capital of Berlin, and its modern approach is best embodied by the custom-designed wallpaper that presents a light blue-green on painted silk.
The Peninsula, Shanghai
Shanghai's The Peninsula harks back to the city's colonial times, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its Presidential Suite. The room's Portobello wallpaper is a deep rich gold on gilded paper, offering a bright, classical approach that is never gaudy or garish.
The Balfour Castle, Scotland
A family-run hotel, Balfour is off the north-east coast of the Scottish mainland. De Gournay's Askew wallpaper on dyed silk with an antiqued finish allows guests to embrace their romantic rooms in true country-style comfort.