One could assume that the art of bespoke wallpapers is an intrinsic language — understood by few and spoken by even fewer. But for Hannah and Rachel Cecil Gurney, their fluency with the artistic expression was innate.
After all, their father Claud Cecil Gurney founded de Gournay over 35 years ago and the artisanal brand has since captivated the world, one storied wallpaper at a time. Now, with Hannah and Rachel each holding director seats within the luxury textile house, Claud has empowered his daughters to put their own imprint on the brand.
Through fashion-minded collaborations with labels like Chanel, Dior, Jenny Packham, Aquazzura and Kate Moss (the last one debuts later this year), Hannah and Rachel’s marks are hard to miss. Now, their artistic role within de Gournay has parlayed itself into decorating the London flat they purchased together, where patterned walls are de rigueur.
“We grew up around the corner,” Hannah says of the South Kensington neighborhood and the large Georgian house that is now divided into apartments. “So familiarity and nostalgia was certainly one reason that led us here. The other was that the apartment is so close to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. And it just doesn’t get much better than that in London.”
With a flat that fits their architectural criteria and within walking distance to de Gournay’s Chelsea showroom, the Gurney sisters were ready to turn this stately stunner into a home that speaks to both of their styles. “Rachel and I have very different taste,” Hannah notes. “Therefore, the apartment represents her love of everything Georgian and classical, and my admiration of color, eclecticism and Asian art. It’s a wonderful and un-thought-out amalgamation of these genres.”
To set the project in motion, the sisters enlisted their father’s dear friend, architect Nicholas Rakic, and Rachel’s go-to designer, Tara Craig, to advise the pair throughout the process. As design notions began to take shape, one aspect became evident: The flat would be the ladies’ personal de Gournay laboratory. “Our apartment became a testing ground for new designs, allowing us to check the scale and observe the wallpapers in layout,” Hannah says.
Rachel and Hannah’s affinity for experimentation is on full display the living room, where a reproduction of an 18th-century Chinese wallpaper once housed in the Parisian home of Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent was employed. Hannah explains: “My sister had the original idea to reproduce this amazing wallpaper that Pierre Bergé had bought at auction. It was a vivid turquoise hue covered in exotic flora and fauna, with the distinctive addition of majestic pairs of peacocks.”
With their muse in place, the de Gournay team adapted the Chinese design and created its own interpretation entitled St Laurent, which lives in the living room shown here. “This wallpaper is a beautiful example of de Gournay’s capabilities to reproduce antique 18th-century wallpapers,” Hannah says. To do so, the textile house maintains the true spirit of the original wallpapers by engaging all of the same techniques and materials as those practiced in the 1700s.
In order to keep the space lighthearted and create a modern juxtaposition, Hannah chose to reuse a Kelly Wearstler–inspired hand-painted floor that was made for an exhibition a year earlier, along with custom sofas, a vintage French chest and an Alpaca rug for a layer of coziness.
“My bedroom was another testing ground,” says Hannah, glancing toward the portrayal of a classic chinoiserie pattern that was painted on a silver-leaf-gilded paper made to imitate a a ripe patina that has developed over many years. “This wallpaper has a lovely story,” she continues. “A de Gournay client bought our real silver-leaf wallpaper, which tarnishes very gradually over a period of about 20 years, but for some reason the client had to store the wallpaper away in the attic under very humid conditions. Ten years later, when she was ready to install it, the tarnished effect had accelerated dramatically, and the silver wallpaper had become the color of a burnt rose, almost burgundy. She, of course, fell in love with its originality and installed it right away.”
The paper was such a success that de Gournay began getting more requests for the product, and rather than wait 10 years for the natural process to occur, the team decided to mimic the tarnished look. Hannah notes: “The warmth of the rose antique finish on the silver leaf gives way to a cozy, rich feeling in the bedroom, whilst the effect and the use of the metal leaf keep it modern.”
As you move through the flat, each space exudes charisma and whimsy while simultaneously drawing you into the room that follows. The hallway, for instance, features panoramic wallpaper with a very distinct depth of field. “We chose this wallpaper for the space because the hallway is quite narrow,” Hannah explains. “The perspective in the wallpaper completely opens up the space — it is truly magic!”
The chair is a nursing chair bought by Claud in Chartres, which Hannah reupholstered in a modern wool fabric from Bute Fabrics. The vintage kilim was picked up in Turkey, and Tara Craig found the incredible antique African headdress from Peter Adler. The coalescence of countries and cultures create a wonderful eclecticism that transitions seamlessly to the adjacent spaces.
“I love that each room in the house creates a different mood and evokes an array of feelings upon entry,” muses Hannah. And to that point, the dining room dramatically departs from the hand-painted formula applied through the rest of the rooms in the flat. Here, Hannah and Rachel opted for a neutral silk to adorn the walls, providing a nice respite from the happy hues that festoon the other rooms.
“I love the neutral we chose,” says Hannah, “but I missed the color, so my cousin Angus Broadbent curated the most amazing collection of modern art on the walls.” Broadbent looked to the work of famed colorists Alf Lohr and Luke Elwes to inject a bit of technicolor energy into the room. The table is dressed in an antique Turkish fabric and de Gournay’s hand-painted porcelain.
“I decided to turn this space into a jewelry box, fashioned with cobalt lacquered cabinets contrasting spectacularly with a gold-leaf de Gournay wallpaper used on the walls and ceiling,” Hannah says of the petite kitchen nestled beyond the dining room.
The painterly approach resumes in the guest room, where de Gournay’s Temple Newsam on Moss Green Williamsburg appears on painted silk. The bed frame, which was designed by Rachel, is upholstered in a complementary yellow de Gournay silk velvet. Next to the bed is an antique chest of drawers procured at a French market, and a suzani rug runs underfoot.
“I firmly believe that when everything in a room sits too well together, you stop noticing things,” says Hannah. “It is the juxtaposition of modern and traditional, of geometric and floral patterns, of color and lack thereof that draw your attention to the various items in the room.”
And it was that philosophy that led to the layered interiors of this home. With a cascading array or textures, sheens and storied prints, sisters Hannah and Rachel Cecil Gurney have created a London flat that will continue to inspire their creative inclinations.
Hannah says, “For my sister and me, the wallpapers in our home add a huge amount of sentimental value, which we believe is vital to any successful interior. And as a brand we are hugely committed to preserving our production techniques and artistry that continue to make us so unique.”