I have very mixed feelings about pattern. I mean, I don’t really have a lot of it in my house as I sometimes find it overwhelming. And then I see those designer rooms enveloped in chintz: wallpaper, curtains, bedspread, everything! And even though I don’t really like chintz, I think it looks amazing.
But could I live with it?
It surprised me that one of the things I loved about some of the Spanish architecture I’ve seen recently, has been the pattern. Much of this is Moorish in origin and originates from 700AD.
I love the absolute dreamy pearl colour of the plaster. And for me, that means the pattern is uplifting rather than oppressing.
Some of the most magical of this is in plasterwork, and is without any additional colour. The intricate designs are fabulously mesmerising as there is repetition and symmetry – but these are used in a way that intrigues the eye. I love the little ‘puffs’ in the one above.
Some of these designs had arches built into them. This utterly breathtaking design is over 1000 years old. And yet how fabulous would it look even in one of today’s modern and spare interiors?
Islam prohibits the representation of any living thing so none of these patterns can be figurative – which for me, makes them all the more amazing. The stone pillar below is from a Mosque in Spain, built in 700. The combination of geometrical patterns is crazy but beautiful. (in fact, if you ever get the chance to go, this is the Mezquita in Cordoba which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been in my life ).
Sometimes the colour combinations are just gorgeous. I wanted to put this pattern all over everywhere – I wanted to wear it, drape my house in it – even eat it! The teal with the gold and taupe… the curves with the geometry. The colours don’t jar at all and the gold swirls just look utterly joyous.
Even the floors were amazing – simple terracotta tiles had patterns of ceramics created within them. I can imagine this in a conservatory today – with some beautiful blue and white pots to pick up the design.
Sometimes words were incorporated into the design – these were usually religious words from the Koran – as in the border below. I love the way that space is used in this one – the emptiness of the circle gives the mind pause and sets the carving into relief. I’d love to translate this into a wonderful wide border for curtains – maybe in slate grey on pale linen drapes. I’m not sure my ceilings are high enough to cope though…
Eventually, the Catholics reconquered Southern Spain – thankfully they didn’t destry the wonderful work of the Moors, but built alongside it. Here is a gorgeous Spanish Catholic take on the moorish plasterwork. This is from around 1400-1500 – but again has a modernity in its sparse use of colour. If only I had a house grand enough for this…. Maybe a smaller version for cornices?
These ideas have been recycled repeatedly: Lord Leighton – who hung out with the pre-raphaelites at the end of the 19th century - was so taken with moorish designs that his house in London is a veritable feast of them. He built a dome which he tiled with as many patterns as he could fit, all inspired by these ancient islamic ideas.
You can see on closer examination how they must have inspired even the great William Morris:
Here figurative elements join with the geometrical. I just love the crazy cobalt blue grapes. The whole effect of the dome is dramatic and moody and utterly incongruous for a London house. It just goes to show that you can do in your own home whatever you damn well please!