Cole & Son Wallcoverings - Design Bureau

Cole & Son Wallcoverings

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Started by John Perry in 1873, Cole & Son is known today for producing beautiful wallpapers using exquisite handcrafted techniques like wood block printing and flocking. The oldest Cole & Son pattern book dates back to Perry’s work in 1873. Today, the Cole & Son wallpaper catalog comprises nearly 1,800 block print designs and 350 screen print designs, as well as a massive quantity of drawings and wallpapers all created using original machinery. Designed in either the London or Stockholm studio, each pattern is carefully selected, adapted and colored by the Design Studio and printed by craftsmen to produce wallpapers that are both faithful to the character of the original document, yet contemporary in feel. Company spokesperson Kim Moey says their most popular design is called Woods: a curious pattern that seems to invite a room’s inhabitants into a deep, dark forest using a photographer’s depth, but an artist’s freedom. And although Cole & Son thrives off of a history rich with unparalleled techniques and traditions, the company has gained popularity for its designer collaborations. One line that has recently garnered Cole & Son a particularly high level of interest was created by fashion superstar Vivienne Westwood.

I do not believe in eras or times. I do not. I refuse to establish the value of things based on time.

“It is good when my ideas get carried over into other artistic media,” says Westwood. Known for her inimitable take on traditional British style, Westwood has made a playful crossover from the world of fashions into wall coverings. “This collection is a perfect opportunity to be able to work with a heritage company like Cole & Son and to see my ideas from fashion translated into the world of interiors and wallpaper.” Westwood’s Trompe l’oeil Drape wallpaper is a take on delicate drapery techniques she uses in her couture clothing. The pattern is a photograph of a famous tartan wedding dress she designed as a part of her Autumn/Winter ’93/’94 Anglomania Collection, most famously worn by model Kate Moss. Similarly, her Squiggle design comes from the Autumn/Winter ’81/’82 Pirate Collection, which showcases a dizzying pattern of a single, spiked line. Though these particular patterns are both derived from her clothing line, she notes that some styles are original creations she made exclusively for Cole & Son. The Shirting is one example; the sweepingly simple pattern was made as a spirited nod to the elegance of urban city gents, while Insects is a Victorian style inspired by the wardrobe of Elizabeth I. Outside of the catwalk, Moey says Cole & Son also looks to fine art for inspiration when developing new patterns, as demonstrated in the Fornasetti Collection. Milanese painter and visual extraordinaire Piero Fornasetti specialized in sketches and drawings that spanned across a broad spectrum of topics—from habitat observation to celestial symbolism. A maestro known for his imagination and craftsmanship, Fornasetti was, throughout his life, committed to fusing past and present. He said: “I do not believe in eras or times. I do not. I refuse to establish the value of things based on time.” This quotes makes the modern day usage of his works as wallcoverings very fitting. Of note: Mediterrane, a vertical village-scape of basilicas, windows and walls. Another design Riflesso blurs the distinction between reality and reflection in a more western cityscape, while Il Sole is much simpler—a timeless impression of the sun. Tema e Variazioni features a haunting, voyeuristic façade, with sad expressions and tilted tea cups, adding an esoteric presence to any room. Cole & Son continues to be at the forefront of design, blending traditional techniques today’s top design trends. Currently, Moey says the company is working on wallpaper collections with top international designers David Easton, Tom Dixon and the Royal Oak Foundation of America (an affiliate of the National Trust). And although wallpaper’s popularity tends to ebb and flow, it seems Cole & Son’s future as a leader in wallpaper design is secure. “Wallpaper has its own trends,” insists Moey. “You never know where they’ll lead.”



Process: Wood-blocking printers used a separate block for each color. It is pressed upon the paper and tapped to ensure a quality imprint, then lifted and re-inked as the artisan moves down the paper roll.

History: North London was famous for 200 block printing companies located in the area during 18th and 19th centuries.

Cole & Son: Produces more than 1800 block designs

Design Factor: Exclusive, handmade.

Practical Points: Labor-intensive, requiring immense skill and a long apprenticeship. Large repeat sizes are available.


Process: Squeezes ink through fine gauze onto paper

History: Founder John Perry set up the first ever screen printing studio in the late 1940s and provided designs for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Cole & Son: Creates 350 screen designs

Design Factor: Perfect on canvas and applied by pop artists such as Andy Warhol.

Practical Points: Cost-effective and versatile, often applied to textiles.


Process:Uses a roller to apply ink to the paper and is the most common method of wallpapering.

History: The oldest automated printing method still in use today.

Cole & Son: has more than 500 archived surface designs, with each color mixed by eye.

Design Factor: Makes for an inexact design due to paint bleeding, but produces a very distinct look.

Practical Points: Well suited to multi-colored floral pattern designs.


Process: Replicates the look of cut velvet on wallpaper.

History: Flocking was revived by C&S owner John Perry in 1870 after its invention in Holland in 1683.

Cole & Son: Makes just a few flock patterns.

Design Factor: Textural and two dimensional

Practical Points: Known for its speedy installation and easy removal.

By Andrea Enright

Tagged with: