A conversation with de Gournay

Amazonia Chinoiserie on Blue Painted Xuan Paper Photography by Brad Knipstein

Amazonia Chinoiserie on Blue Painted Xuan Paper Photography by Brad Knipstein

Temple Newsam on Williamsburg at Balfour Castle in ScOTland.

Temple Newsam on Williamsburg at Balfour Castle in ScOTland.

Since 1986, de Gournay have cultivated an unrivalled reputation as specialist creators of hand painted wallpaper, fabrics, porcelain and hand carved furniture. 

Reviving ancient traditions and original 18th century techniques, the company employs a team of highly skilled artisans to paint exquisite Chinoiserie wallpapers that bring interiors to life with colourful flora and fauna, in addition to visually dramatic Japanese and Korean designs and scenic vistas of 19th century French inspired ‘Papiers Peints Panoramiques’. Further complementing its wallpapers, de Gournay’s artists also hand paint silk fabrics for upholstery and soft furnishings. 

Over the past few years, the company has given much attention to the demand for modern designs so that the collection now showcases bold aesthetics and techniques for contemporary environments. The addition of the ‘Metallic Plains’ collection now also creates a vibrant new dimension to the company’s repertoire whilst maintaining its emphasis on hand crafted quality. 

de Gournay’s ability to customise any of its designs enables it to fulfil the vision of each individual, no matter how complex: from hand-gilding with 22ct gold leaf, to creating a custom colour to compliment a surrounding interior. This painstaking attention to detail and sheer level of expertise is central to the ethos of everything the brand produces and has resulted in a variety of celebrated collaborations; from luxury brands Chanel and Smythson, Fashion designers Matthew Williamson and Jenny Packham and exclusive establishments such as Bergdorf Goodman and The Ritz, in addition to countless projects with the world’s leading Interior designers. 

Claud Cecil Gurney’s unsuccessful search for experts to restore the antique wallpaper in his family home prompted his decision to found the company. This emphasis of understanding these historic pieces and their manufacture, an art that had been almost completely abandoned, continues to inform the company’s sensitive re-interpretations of ancient aesthetics for modern consumers. 

Namban Japanese and Korean Design on Deep Rich Gold Antiqued Paper Interiors by Oitoemponto Photography by Jerome Galland

Namban Japanese and Korean Design on Deep Rich Gold Antiqued Paper Interiors by Oitoemponto Photography by Jerome Galland

How long have you been involved with the company and what has been your role since joining? 

de Gournay prides itself on the ability to interpret the very dreams of its clients – no matter how complex. No other company is capable of achieving the same results. We work with expert artisans who hand paint each and every single panel, leaving a ‘spirit resonance’ impossible to imitate with printing.

 Even our three permanent collections: the vibrant Chinoiserie, the impressive Japanese & Korean and the elegant Panoramics, can be subject to innumerable permutations of colours, materials and composition. The process of ordering wallpaper is a wholly enriching experience, exploring myriad possibilities.


Early Views of India on Deep Rich Gold. Interior by Martin Brudnizki. Photo by James McDonald

We love what you guys have done with Annabel’s in London that must have been a real treat to work on? 

The Annabel’s project was marvellous! Martin Brudnizki and his MBDS team are as accomplished as they come, but the result exceeded all expectations. Two installations are situated on the first floor – our iconic ‘L’Eden’ panoramic landscape hand painted onto a Gold Leaf ground with the addition of several custom wild animals, including Tigers, Panthers, Monkeys’, Tropical Birds and Snakes, peering through the undergrowth and lounging amidst the tree canopies.

Next door, the bar contains the ‘Early Views of India’ motif, again hand painted on a Gold Leaf ground, with each of the Elephants bearing a custom Howdah carriage. The downstairs nightclub, meanwhile, displays a lush ‘Palms’ design filled with exotic birds and big cats alongside brightly coloured Heliconia flowers. Annabels’ is such a London institution – we’re truly proud to be part of its revival for a new generation of revellers.


Can you explain what stands De Gournay out in this market? What makes your product so special? 

One of de Gournay’s key philosophies is that luxury is art and we are artists – capable of bringing interiors to life with hand painted designs filled with colour and beauty. No two designs will ever be the same and it’s this imperfection of the human hand that in fact achieves a beauty of which a machine is incapable. In an age of digital imitation, there’s so much to be said for the rarity of human craft. It’s an engaging challenge to run a family business on a global scale committed to making a product in this way.

It encourages us to also constantly expand our expertise in new and exciting directions: from custom compositions, to hand embroidered beading and appliques, or relief effects – we are always exploring new ways of working with the medium.


Earlham on Green Williamsburg Interior design by Etchika Werner Photography by Gregor Hohenberg

Earlham on Green Williamsburg Interior design by Etchika Werner Photography by Gregor Hohenberg

Finally from us, we assume your home is top to bottom De Gournay or by the time you go home do you long for a Duck Egg wall?!

I’m a lucky person whose job is their passion. When it came to decorating my house, it made sense to use it as a testing ground for new designs and techniques. The rooms have been regularly transformed and the interior is forever revolving, but I’m never disappointed and rarely regret a decision – it excites me to be able to experiment and know I’ll not have to live with the results for the rest of my life. You can’t go wrong!

One of my favourites is my bedroom wallpaper, which is our ‘Badminton’ Chinoiserie on a Rose Antiqued metallic ground. It’s a lovely story as to how it was created – de Gournay had a client who purchased real, Silver Leaf wallpaper but had to suddenly move and so was unable to hang it. It was stored in a humid attic for almost ten years, by which time the Silver had naturally tarnished to a beautiful burnt Rose tone – almost Burgundy. The client loved it and so installed it anyway and subsequently had her interior profiled in a magazine. We had so many subsequent enquiries we created a new colourway for our Tarnished Silver ground to mimic the effect. The happy accidents of the handmade!

LifestyleSimon Blackford