Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Underfoot in the 1930s.

Bank Holiday weekends are always good for some museum-going. This weekend I found my way over to Eltham Palace in South East London.

Eltham Palace is an English Heritage house well worth a visit. It started out as a royal residency under Edward the II in the fourteenth century but was in ruins by the seventeenth century. In 1936 the place was leased to Stephen Courtauld and his wife Ginny.  They restored and added to the building then turned the interior into an Art Deco masterpiece. Eltham Palace is the perfect kind of heritage site to visit with a mix of interesting architecture, interiors and objects overlaid by fascinating stories of people and curious tales (such as that of Mah Jong, the Courtauld's pet lemur who was known to nip at the heels of disagreeable guests).

One of the first things you notice upon entering Etham is the incredible rug in the grand entrance hall.

Grand Entrance at Eltham Palace (Photo credit: English Heritage Photograph Library, Jonathan Bailey)
This geometric patterned rug in shades of brown was commissioned by the Courtaulds. It was designed by Marion Dorn, an American artist who found acclaim in the UK as a freelance textile designer. She also designed floor coverings for places like the Savoy and Claridges. The rug at Eltham is a replica and you can see the real one at the Victoria & Albert Museum. You can read more about it on the V&A's online object record and see some other Marion Dorm rugs in their collection.

Because of all the things we put on top of them, sometimes it's easy to overlook floor coverings. We can fail to value them as interesting examples of pattern design. The Eltham Palace audio guide (well worth listening to!) made a good deal of Dorn's rug and  as I walked through the rest of the house I was careful to pay more attention to what was under my feet.

At the same time as people like Dorn were working for high-end hotels and residences like Eltham Palace, the designers who worked for the Silver Studio were also making rug designs for the mass market. John Churton and Edwin Parker worked for the Studio in the 1930s and were known for their rug designs; producing bold, geometric patterns in the Art Deco style.

Design for a carpet, 1930s by John Churton for the Silver Studio, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD15544)

Design for a rug by Edwin Parker for the Silver Studio in 1934, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD455)
If you are starting to think more about pattern designs underfoot, or if it's a topic you are already interested in, you might also like to visit the Musee D'Art Moderne in Paris which is running an exhibition over the autumn on modern carpet design called Decorum: Carpets and Tapestries by Artists. 

Are floor covering designs catching your eye? Where have you seen a particularly good one?

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