Floral patterns have perennial appeal in our homes but this season they are the wallflowers of the interiors world. Instead, more realistic, close-up representations of plants, fruits, insects and other natural motifs are in vogue. This has become known in the industry as botanical style, with everything from fabrics and furnishings to wallpapers, lighting, artwork and ceramics crawling with life.
“Floral is a very loose term now,” says Emma Mawston, Liberty’s head of interior design. “It can incorporate anything from a botanical design of fruit and foliage to a geometric or painterly interpretation of a flower. Our natural motifs range from art nouveau prints to peacock feathers and a digitally designed meadow.”
Other retailers support the trend. “Traditional floral designs have dropped in sales volume and we don’t stock so many any more,” says Amelia Brooks, co-founder of online interiors store Mia Fleur. “What we are seeing now is that more detailed ... styles are selling well, particularly natural motifs and designs that are inspired by organic shapes.”
Botanical designs such as Mia Fleur’s garlic bud vases (£22) are experiencing a particular revival, with biological drawings of fruit, herbs, and wild leaves and even fauna such as birds and insects becoming increasingly popular.
Fashion designers have also embraced the beauty of science, with brands such as Christopher Kane using anatomical drawings and botanical illustrations in place of more traditional floral patterns on skirts, dresses and blouses on the SS14 catwalk.
Where fashion leads, interior design often follows. “There’s a real fusion today between fashion and interiors and young designers like House of Hackney apply the same prints across both its fashion and interiors collections,” says Mawston. “The re-emergence of these botanical prints is linked in part to a younger set embracing [more natural, organic] patterns within their homes, there is something very fresh and uplifting about these type of botanicals.”
Willow Crossley, florist, stylist and author of The Art of Living with Nature (2014), says that the growing enthusiasm for botanical motifs reflects the fact that younger consumers in particular often regard traditional floral patterns as passé. “People today are more adventurous and less twee in the way they decorate their interiors,” says Crossley. “There’s also a tendency to think of florals as feminine, frilly and a bit chintzy, whereas plant motifs like palms, with their dark green leaf tones and exotic plant prints like pineapples, all have a more masculine feel.”
According to Abigail Ahern, a London-based interior designer, botanical designs are helping to give florals a “nonconformist spirit”. “Although natural prints are nostalgic they can also be youthful, urban and they have a more playful and more irreverent feel. Russell Lewis is one artist whose work we have recently started selling and he uses graffiti to give floral paintings a bit of a bad-boy edge,” says Ahern.
Two other brands reimagining florals are House of Hackney and Timorous Beasties. At House of Hackney, foliage designs such as Palmeral (wallpaper £148 per metre) and Inferno (cushion from £75) sit alongside more traditional floral patterns that have been given a Gothic twist, such as Midnight Garden, which depicts a painterly English garden at night (fabric £98 per metre).
Timorous Beasties’ Darwin range – the name reflects the design’s scientific allusions – includes Iguana (wallcoverings from £45 per metre), Dandelion (fabric from £378 a panel) and White Moth (fabric from £96 per metre) prints. The designs feel a long way from traditional florals.
Technology is also playing a part in this reinvention of floral motifs. Designers such as Richard Clarkson, who creates complex 3D-printed flowers that bloom like real ones, are pushing the boundaries between the artificial and the real.
In our homes this is translating into digitally printed designs that are almost microscopically realistic. British retailer John Lewis started working with digital technology two seasons ago. “It’s revolutionised the way we think about pattern and colour,” says senior textile designer Caroline Johnston, citing prints such as Hydrangea (cushions from £30), as an example of what is now possible.
“In the past we were limited by screen print techniques but now we can play around with digital technology and use digital photography to achieve microscopic close-ups. It enables us to deliver very strong colours and a digital botanical feel,” she says. Mawston agrees: “Digital printing is really changing the way florals are used,” she says. She name checks Liberty’s Mawston Meadow fabric (from £85 per metre), which originated as a photograph of a meadow in Cornwall that was then gently blurred using digital technology and blended with an archive floral design.
“If you cover a sofa with this design it really feels as though you are sitting in a meadow,” says Mawston.
With summer almost upon us, and fresh inspiration from this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, this might be the right time to revisit our perceptions of florals in interiors. As Crossley points out: “Flowers were once considered very traditional and English but they’re shaking off that image and becoming cool again.”