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Liberty’s Chesham Cabinet House

06 March 2016 by Roger Tredre

Liberty Art Fabrics has launched a brilliantly inventive new interiors collection that pays homage to a great Texprint supporter, together with a project that will also raise funds for Texprint. We spoke to Emma Mawston, Head of Design, Liberty Fabrics.

Emma surrounded by fabrics from the Chesham Cabinet Collection 

We’re high on the fourth floor of the Liberty offices, tucked away in a Soho street behind the store itself. We’re thrilled to be venturing into the design space where Emma Mawston and her small hard-working team create a very 21st century take on the Liberty tradition. Emma’s corner of the office is festooned with prints – a real Liberty feast for the eyes – but it’s a large century-old cabinet that takes up the most room.

From Grayson Perry to Sir Roger Moore, the new Chesham Cabinet collection of fabrics and wallpapers from Liberty has found inspiration in a spectacularly diverse selection of names and periods. And, to celebrate the launch, the design team at Liberty have created their own take on a traditional doll’s house, which displays all the designs in a playful miniature arrangement that has attracted plenty of media attention in recent weeks.

Chesham House was the name of one of the original buildings that was home to Liberty back in the 1880s. Emma Mawston had been inspired by her younger daughter’s love of dolls’ houses to start researching the world of miniature, leading her on a journey of research and discovery that spiralled into quite an adventure.

Chesham Cabinet Collection

Dolls’ house collectors treat their houses with great seriousness, but Emma, approaching the project as a designer, had a somewhat more irreverent concept in mind, with a cinema room, a bike shed and garden planned. She swiftly banished sacrilegious thoughts of customising an existing dolls’ house and decided to create her own, reworking a century-old colonial Indian cabinet. The result – now on display on the fourth floor of Liberty – is a splendiferous work of art.

The process of bringing it to reality was a hands-on business involving all the design team as well as Emma’s mum (who made most of the cushions, she confides). Our favourite? Perhaps the miniature bookcase painstakingly crafted by colleague Keighley (who studied fashion print at Central Saint Martins before joining the team). Or perhaps the Grayson Perry bike shed, tucked away in the bottom left-hand drawer of the cabinet, with tangled bicycle print to match. Or then again there’s the cinema room on the top floor, where legendary James Bond star Sir Roger Moore was persuaded to delve into the Liberty archive and pluck out a classic floral design.

Liberty's unique Chesham Cabinet decorated with fabrics from the new collection

The sheer diversity of the 13 designs in the Chesham House collection is entirely deliberate. Emma says: “Interesting and quirky collaborations sit alongside in-house works of art and historical archive reconstructions. We don’t follow trends but are led by the beauty of our inspiration, our intuition and customer desires.”

Emma and her team became happily obsessive in their research, heading for Holland where some of the most beautiful dolls’ houses in the world are to be found. And they were allowed special access to Windsor Castle for a close-up view of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and four years in the making – completed in 1924, the same year that Liberty’s famous Tudor-style building opened.

Later this year, the house will be auctioned off, with some of the proceeds destined for Texprint to support the next generation of designers. Emma Mawston is passionate about the work of Texprint. Indeed, for many years she has participated in the interviewing panel of Texprint. “I feel honoured to be part of it,” she says. “Everyone is so passionate, so enthusiastic. The textile world is not celebrated in the same way as the fashion world, but textile designers are just as much artists and deserve more recognition.”

What does she look for in the designers she employs at Liberty? “You need to love what you do, and be humble about it, not obsessed with fame. You need to fit into a team – and you need to be able to show versatility with a diverse portfolio of work.”

The Chesham Cabinet collection has been dedicated to the memory of Anne Tyrrell MBE, the designer and fashion industry executive, who died last year after a long and illustrious career. She was a long-time member of the Texprint Management Council and an enthusiastic supporter of young talent. Touchingly, the collection includes an ‘Anne’ throw named after her, based on an ornamental paisley hand-painted in the late 1970s by the David Haward studio. “She was a very special woman,” recalls Emma. “A great supporter of Liberty and Texprint. We created this throw very much with her tastes in mind.”

Chesham Cabinet Collection

Emma explains further her thinking about the throws: “We are creating evening wear for interiors, encouraging people to dress up their homes for gatherings, parties, picnics in the garden and throws on chairs at weddings in the same way that we would dress up for these occasions ourselves. Throws are so diverse, they are the oysters of the decorating world. I even have the Anne throw as a curtain in my elder daughter's bedroom, the self fringed tassels adding to its beauty as it drapes across the window.”

Quirky, unpredictable, triumphantly creative – these are the kind of words that sum up the work of the Liberty Fabrics team. And, in all its rich diversity, this latest project would surely have stirred the heart of Arthur Liberty himself. 

Liberty's unique Chesham Cabinet decorated with fabrics from the new collection


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