My late grandfather's townhouse in Antwerp was a grand affair with 20 foot ceilings, a sweeping staircase and an enormous souterrain, which housed his office in what used to be the servants quarters. As a small child, I remember being awestruck by the sheer scale of it all. It is only later in life that I realized that my grandfather – a true expert on the finer things in life, and a passionate collector to boot – had exquisite taste in art, antiques and furniture. The one downside of the place was that it was near impossible to heat. Entire sections of the house were closed off in the winter. But the most elegant solution to this problem were the enormous tapestries that covered large expanses of wall in the hallways and staircase. This decorating technique dates back to medieval abodes, when straw was spread on the floor to trap the dirt and mud: tapestries were considered too fine to stay on the floor and they were hung on walls and in doorways to help insulate drafty stone buildings. To this day, I recall their faded colors, tattered edges and impressive depictions of hunting scenes. The house was sold many years ago, but its interiors – and beloved owner – will forever remain in my heart.
Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, the artisan interlaces each colored weft back and forth in its own small pattern area, to ultimately form the overall design.
Most tapestry weavers use a natural warp thread, such as linen or cotton. The weft threads are usually wool, linen, or cotton but may also include silk, gold, silver, or other alternatives. Exposure to light will affect the tapestry's colors and is responsible for the gorgeous faded vintage patina of older pieces. Tea-stained floral fabrics are the perfect complement to this look.
Between 1400 and 1530, Flemish weavers developed the ability to reproduce an extraordinary range of surface textures and painterly effects through the use of finer and finer interlocking triangles of color, the juxtaposition of different materials, and the use of different techniques to link the weft threads. Flemish tapestries became world-famous, with many specimens of this era still in existence, and they were often of monumental scale.
Lush foliage and bucolic greenery are a favorite subject tapestry matter, and the beautiful shades of verdigris are a perfect backdrop for a well-curated collection of antique and vintage pieces.
In the 19th century, William Morris resurrected the art of tapestry-making in the medieval style at Merton Abbey. Morris & Co. made successful series of tapestries for home and ecclesiastical uses, with figures based on cartoons by Edward Burne-Jones. Wightwick Manor (below) is one of only a few surviving examples of a house built and furnished under the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, with original Morris wallpapers, fabrics and tapestries.
Here's a great idea: hang a large tapestry on the wall behind a four-poster bed to create a truly unique and cozy sleeping nook.
Take a cue from historical houses such as Hardwick Hall, an architecturally significant Elizabethan country house in Derbyshire, England and use tapestries as room dividers, or to keep the draft away from a front door. There is no better way to add a worldly and bohemian look to a space, the richly woven cloth will instantly add texture and character to even the most bland of rooms. Give it a try!