Textile design is as much about storytelling as it is about design for me. The storytelling is important because I want to know how the design came about and from whom. When it comes to the plot, the quirkier, the better. Especially when the protagonist has not only worked as a set decorator in the world of film, for at least two of Britain’s most treasured interior brands, but whose debut fabric and wallpaper designs for Lewis & Wood are currently lining the walls of an interior designed shipping container in the Cumbrian Hills.
I am often drawn to the mystical and almost fairy tale designs which emanate from the textile and wallpaper firm Lewis & Wood. Based in deepest Gloucestershire, the firm could perhaps be described as the Hans Christian Anderson of the design world.
Their designs both enchant and have an enduring quality that hold a room like no other. Lewis & Wood’s latest design story ‘Pomegranate’ by Totty Lowther could not be more apt or more perfect for the brand.
Totty (Victoria) lives with her family on a farm in Cumbria. Since leaving St Martin’s School of Art as a textile designer she has had the sort of career many of us can only dream of. Totty has worked as a set decorator for some truly iconic films and as a stylist for firms such as Laura Ashley as well as now launching with Lewis & Wood a fabric and wallpaper design collection. In addition to this, Totty runs her glamorous and quirky interior design business/shop from an industrial shipping container in the Cumbrian Hills.
The blog has great pleasure in sharing Totty’s story with you and apologises (if you noticed, that it made an aborted launch yesterday before it was truly ready!)
Design inspiration for Pomegranate design
“When I first opened my container shop in Cumbria in 2016, my vision was to create a constantly evolving set of rooms – for a month it might be a sitting room, another a bedroom and so on. I was always repainting the walls and wanted to go a step further and make the sets even more theatrical.”
“I started looking around for inspiration for wallpaper and decided to create my own as that way I had complete control of my installations. Having worked as a set decorator on films, I instinctively feel the need to create a ‘sensorama’ and living art so that the walls are just as much a part of the lifestyle as everything else in the room. I use scent too – incense or candles to enhance the mood and character of the atmosphere I’m creating.”
18th Century Indigo Indienne block print
The design inspiration for Pomegranate came from an original 18th Century Indigo Indienne block print printed on linen that Totty found at a textile dealer.
Using all the senses in interior decorating
Totty realised that using all the senses to create an interior world was so important for her designs. This defining moment came when she visited the Huguenot 18th Century Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields when she was at St Martin’s School of Art studying textiles. “It was so historically authentic, with no electricity, vast swathes of lavender round the edges of the rooms, beeswax candlelight, the smells of tobacco and roasting beef, the sounds of horses and carriages on cobbles outside.”
Another inspiring house for Totty is Dove Cottage at Grassmere near where she lives in the Lake District. “This is where Thomas de Quincy took a lot of drugs and Dorothy and William Wordsworth did all their ‘plain living and high thinking’. The house is just as they left it, the fire is still burning and you can almost smell Thomas’ opium.”
I hate beige
I wondered what colours and styles inspire Totty: “I am drawn to colour and anything untidy. I don’t want to be safe or beige – I hate anything oat, or neutral or that matches. I adore piles of clothes, layer upon layer of textiles, painting any old how – stacked, on the wall, off the wall, on the floor, overflowing heaps of books and magazines, vast installations of wild flowers like cow parsley, blossom, magnolia branches and budding beech that remind me of a secret garden bower, bright clashing colours, decorative objects thrown together, a splash of gaudy glitter.”
Installation interior shop in a shipping container
I can’t wait to visit Totty in her container shop but wondered what customers could expect to find when they visit: “It can be quite cold – temperature wise! I create my rooms to make my customers feel they are guests at my house. Sometimes I’ll create a bedroom and you may find me in bed, receiving. Sometimes I’ll present them with a gallery, with local print-makers and painters hung on citrine walls.” Proof, that retail just needs a bit of creative imagination …
Pomegranate wallpaper for Lewis & Wood
You can rely on a textile designer/set decorator/interior designer to think of the smallest details to tell a story. Totty says: “This month in the container shop, I’ve made a sitting room, with walls papered in my Lewis & Wood ‘Pomegranate Quince colourway’. I will be relaxing on the sofa, reading Educated by Tara Westover.”
I am excited by my huge gloss white, antlers, the vast red 1970s Gymnasium sign; the set of botanical pressings framed in white and the early eighteenth century Lacker longcase clock that I have had restored. The sound of the chime is magnificent and adds grandeur to the scene. All the senses are important – sight, touch, sound and my room also smells delicious with frankincense incense from Oman.”
Inspired by fashion designers’ style
Totty says “I have been greatly inspired by Zandra Rhodes’ flat above the Fashion and Textile museum in Bermondsey – with its Andrew Logan genius lunacy, the explosive blasts of colour and creative chaos, the orange ombre walls – she’s an inspiring rule breaker.” Coincidentally, we lived near Zandra Rhodes previous home in Notting Hill in the 90s and remember how the vibrant colour combination of her fashion were reflected in her home, even down to the railings on the pavement.
Possibly the most important influence on Totty though was her mother, the dress designer Belinda Bellville, who she describes as an “arbiter of taste and enduring elegance”. Belinda Bellville ‘found’ David Sassoon at his degree show and employed him as her partner in 1958. The firm became the well-known Bellville Sassoon fashion label dressing 1960s debutantes and Princesses including many outfits for royalty such as Princess Diana.
Totty Lowther’s film work
Orlando based on the book by Virginia Woolf is such a piece of iconic film making for me so it was so exciting to find out that Totty had worked on it with the designer Michael Howells. Orlando starred Tilda Swinton, was directed by Sally Potter and the director of photography was as Totty puts it by “the incredibly talented Aleksei Rodionov”. Try and see it if you haven’t as it is a visual feast.
My bedroom was a collapsing library
“I worked on another film with Michael about the Civil War. During the filming of it we lived in a crumbling mansion in Asturias, Spain. My bedroom was a collapsing library with shredded curtains and books tumbling down the walls with rotting bookcases. We watched TV that was perched on an altar in the chapel on a collapsed sofa with horse hair and silk velvet bursting out.”
When Totty worked on the 1996 film Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet she says, “We threw wild parties for all the crew with vats of cider and blue cheese matured in local caves that made your mouth go numb. Michael was banned from using the colour lilac in the film. It was fun filming in Dorset. We perhaps strayed a bit from Jane Austen’s world with some crazy sets and props. Georgian décor gone OTT and a LOT of lilac.”
I never need any excuse to head North and now, a visit to Totty’s container shop has been added to the list. Another must Go North occasion to note for your diaries is Georgie Pridden’s not to be missed Pop Up of The North event at York House in Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 7AJ (with some interiors, floral and craft exhibitors and workshops), 27th – 29th June and again in 26 – 28th September.
Thank you so much Totty for your incredibly evocative and inspiring story and to you for reading.
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