When we started to think about the interiors for The Bell at Charlbury, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to work with, and draw attention to, some of Britain’s talented artisans and craftspeople.
There is something so special about work of the hand. When you look at a piece of art, sheet of wallpaper, a hand-painted lampshade or embroidered fabric and know how much time, patience, skill and technique has gone into making it, it takes on a new level of meaning and importance. I believe these one-of-a-kind pieces have a different kind of presence. They add warmth, interest and character to a room in a way that something simply picked off a shelf does not, and I hope that this is something our visitors at The Bell will be able to sense and appreciate too.
We had a bespoke botanical ‘sprig’ wallpaper designed for the pub’s Meadow bedroom by block-print artist James Randolph Rogers to create the perfect backdrop for the blue wildflower bed canopy designed by my friend Hugo Guinness. James specialises in recreating historic wallpapers using hand-carved blocks made from Northumbrian pear wood and hand-mixed distemper paints. It took James a month to carve the block for the 1830s-inspired design – and a month more to print 150 sheets of wallpaper in a beautiful shade of indigo. James practises a very physical technique of printing that uses the leverage of a boat oar to repeatedly press the heavy wooden blocks on to the paper to create the markings. As well as giving a truly unique finish, I love that this method makes palpable the energy and pressure he exerts to execute his craft. You can watch a short video of James in action by clicking here.
Sarah King is another artisan we collaborated with on furnishings for the bedrooms. Working from her studio in South London, Sarah specialises in crewelwork embroidery – an intricate and time-consuming type of needlework; you can watch the process of here.
At an auction some time ago I bought an antique bed which had a pelmet embroidered with nature-inspired motifs. Although beautiful, they were in need of restoration. We think the original textile might date back as early as the seventeenth century, so Sarah had to work extremely carefully to refresh and replicate all the little squirrels, dogs, flowers and birds – each using a unique blend of English-dyed wool matched to the colours of the antique version. Sarah also worked on a new design for us, embroidering the heavy linen curtains in The Nest bedroom with these charming acorn, oak leaf and owl motifs.
Wallpaper designer Marthe Armitage is another talented artisan we have been collaborating with to make the interiors truly special and unique. I have long admired Marthe’s intricate, hand-painted and botanical-inspired wallpaper designs, which she has been creating using a traditional lino block printing technique for over 50 years.
First, the pattern is hand-carved out of large lino sheets – a process that takes three weeks. Led by her daughter Jo, the wallpaper is then printed using very physical 100-year-old lithographic press that Marthe bought from a warehouse in Brixton in the 1970s. Jo tells me that before this, her mother simply printed on the floor, repeatedly pressing the inked blocks onto rolls of wallpaper using her feet.
It took Jo and her assistant Christine two days to print the six rolls of ‘Old Man’s Beard’ wallpaper that now hang on The Bell’s reception area. The colours were hand-mixed by eye, using a blend of eight different inks to create this unique, verdant green. Click here for a peek inside’ their Chiswick studio.
It was a rare privilege to experience the slow craft and passion of these artisans, and to be able to collaborate with them in such an intimate way. I look forward to sharing the stories of more wonderful craftspeople, including trompe l’oeil specialist Lizzie Porter and basket maker Susan Early, on my Instagram page soon. If you are interested in staying at The Bell, click here to find more information and book one of our twelve characterful bedrooms.
I hope that the next time you visit you will enjoy spotting a few of these details.