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Five Minutes with Hannah Cecil Gurney

11th December 2020

de Gournay’s handcrafted wallpapers are the last word in luxury wallcoverings. We talk to the brand’s Director, Hannah Cecil Gurney to find out more about her journey from accountancy to interiors and how her creativity has thrived both at work and home…

de Gournay and the art of Chinoiserie
My father has always been passionate about interiors and decoration. He was looking for a hand painted Chinese wallpaper to decorate his own home and discovered the original art of hand painting Chinoiserie had almost ceased. He saw a gap in the market to produce something beautiful and reignite 18th century traditions of hand painting these wallpapers in China.

As a child, my father’s office and showroom was situated in the lower ground floor of our London home and our entire house was covered head-to-toe in de Gournay wallpapers. I fell in love with the medium from a very young age, so it was perhaps inevitable I would eventually take part in the business – but I studied Physics at Bristol University first and my father suggested I then train as an accountant before joining the company. It was sensible, practical advice and is a useful skill amidst the creative elements of my job (which remain infinitely more appealing . . .)

Selecting the perfect wallpaper
My advice would be to be brave. I’m obsessed with colour – a trait inherited from my father. It’s the single most important tool in transforming the character of your home. It’s not just about dark and light, but how the colours are composed with light and objects: so, step out of your comfort zone! For me, it’s wonderful when you visit a house where each room tells a story as you move through, it becomes a sort of adventure!

If you had to choose a favourite
It’s hard to say – it changes all the time. I’m especially keen on the Flamingos design in my bathroom at the moment. I love nothing more than soaking in a piping hot bath at the end of a long day and I wanted to ensure the room had a transportive quality. It depicts a vast natural landscape of mountains and forests and all different types of Flamingos – the sort of exotic scene that really makes you forget you’re indoors at all. The wonderful perspective takes you outside, beyond four plaster walls. The perspective also plays a wonderful illusion of making the room feel vastly larger than it is: more majestic. It feels so non ‘Victorian House in Battersea’. The entire room is a wonderful distraction from the mundane.

Erdem X de Gournay
I’ve adored ERDEM clothing for as long as I can recall: certainly, long before the joy of actually wearing it was a reality. I’d always enjoyed the comparisons made between the romance of his designs and our wallpapers too. I cherished a dream of working with him, and after I came across a styled editorial of a model wearing his clothes in front of a de Gournay wallpaper, it was the ideal opportunity to get in touch. Thankfully, when we finally met, a mutual endeavour was on both our minds! He was equally a fan of ours – the rest is (recent) history.

The Erdem Chinoiserie
Erdem worked to create a Chinoiserie motif with the elegance of the traditional designs but a more contemporary and energetic character. He wanted more flowers, more birds – a greater sense overall of a garden in the first flush of Springtime bloom. An initial concept was to depict only Turkish and Canadian birds and flowers, referencing his own heritage. This brief was expanded, but still contains varieties relevant to this format – Egrets more typical of Turkey, for example, and a Canadian variety of Warbler – and many in flight or in motion. The resulting composition is a wonderfully fresh, vibrant and uplifting Chinoiserie: as ideal for the walls as for wearing oneself.

de Gournay and India Mahdavi
has an incredible ability to bring together seemingly discordant parts with unique veuve. Her trademark skill with colour was key to the installations within our Paris showroom apartment during Deco Off 2020. ‘Abbãsi in the Sky’ was a design she created referencing Persian miniature paintings, specifically those of Reza Abbãsi – a 16th century artist of the famed ‘Isafahan’ school. The floating composition was hand painted on ‘Baby Blue’ dyed silk, depicting ‘Islands’ of landscape populated with ornately dressed riders and horses. The setting was closely allied to the wallpaper, incorporating traditional Middle Eastern design traits: with a raised dais for low level seating piled with cushions of hand embroidered velvet, placing visitors amidst the pictorial narrative spanning the walls. Within the adjoining salon, an installation of her ‘Chez Nina’ design in a new Orange colourway, installed simultaneously within her own Rue las Cases showroom, creates a striking contrast – a large scale, graphic composition composed to the room itself: effortlessly brought together with a Lilac floor covering between both rooms. This was a more contemporary design first envisaged for an installation at Nilufar gallery in Milan – a world away from the ‘Abbãsi’ motif, but still beautifully matched.

Your own interior style
I really enjoyed the challenge of designing my kitchen as it was a space where function had to be taken into account as much as form, if not more. With two dogs and now three children it had to be up to the challenge of mucky paws and hands. I chose our Sans Soucis Chinoiserie on Gun Metal dyed silk for the walls, with hand embroidered accents, and a rich Aubergine colour for the woodwork: two richer tones that would stand the test of time. Overall, I think it achieves a sense of grandeur whilst at the same time being playful.

Favourite item in your home
A favourite of mine which I fell in love with is an antique Banquette sofa which sits in my living room. It has the most beautiful hand carving and has the original fabric intact. I rarely keep original fabric so this one must have been special!

A new way of working…
I have lots of little spaces around my house which I enjoy working in. I think it’s nice to rotate and give yourself new scenery every now and then. I’ve spent a lot of time working in my bedroom which is installed with a Chinoiserie on an ‘Apricot’ painted silk: beautiful tones of orange and pink which I find rather relaxing and helps me focus. A tip would be to set up your work space in at least two different places each week if possible – it helps your concentration and means you don’t have to stare at the same wall day in day out!

Favourite Collier Webb piece
A tricky question as there rather a few . . .  the Scallop Accent lights are one: I have a pair in my sons under water themed bedroom that look so wonderful perched amongst the fishes and have such beautiful detailing. The Shitake lamps are another firm favourite: I’ve simply loved the design for as long as I can remember. Red and Brass can be a tricky pairing, but they have such quiet flair with their elegant shallow shades. You can really tell how much love and skill goes into creating each unique piece. Like de Gournay, they retain a real sense of spirit. For a UK based business, operating their own foundry, it’s an admirable achievement.