Trends and tastes may be transient, but Chintz's star has never waned for long. Rosanna Falconer examines the history of this enduringly influential floral design, charting its development through 16th century India and 17th century Europe, and speaking to some of Cabana's favorite designers still proudly flying the Chintz flag today.



Adoria: a summer chintz-inspired tablecloth by D'Ascoli x Cabana © Christopher Horwood. Location by Katharine Howard, Country House Locations.

From Mario Buatta's ruffles, bustles and penchant for florals - which earned the American decorator the title, ‘Prince of Chintz’ - to David Hicks' strict eschewal of flowers, and Ikea's advertising campaign imploring us to ‘chuck out the chintz’, these cheerful flower-printed cottons have divided the design world for decades, with just as many ardent devotees as detractors. 

Yet while trends and tastes may be transient, and circular, chintz's star has never waned for long. Indeed, this enduringly influential and historic design was so popular that it was banned in mid-1600s Europe - an isolationist move to protect domestic mills from the craze for textiles imported by the East India Company.

The colorful printed, glazed cotton emerged from India in the 16th century, and from those roots derived its etymology - from the Hindi chīnt meaning 'spotted' or 'speckled' in reference to the printing process. For textile designer Peter D'Ascoli, trained in New York and now based in southern Delhi, this discovery pivoted his viewpoint: "Growing up in New York I was familiar with the word chintz or ‘chintzy’ which, for me, only meant something shiny, unappealing, and tacky."

It was when he worked for the Indian government, discovering its origins and design process that his perspective changed. "India deserves a lot more credit for the design vocabulary that we think of as classic European."

The 80s heyday cannot be ignored. The English country house aesthetic filled moodboards from Kensington to The Hamptons. Philip Hooper, joint managing director of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, looks back on this time (when his design career began) with a certain knowing nostalgia. For him, the country house idyll with chintz front and centre, was an aesthetic catalysed by the rise of the “yuppy class, City and Thatcherite politics.” Designers were "thrown the keys to a sweet shop and gorged themselves” - the sweets being now-iconic prints like Lee Joffa's 'Floral Bouquet', Colefax and Fowler’s ‘Bowood’ and Jean Monro’s ‘Hydrangea & Rose’.

The quieter styles of Geoffrey Bennison and Robert Kime ushered in a sophisticated approach to florals, through deliberately faded, warmer linens. More recently, it would seem that chintz’s resurgence is in response to a long period of minimalism. Nina Butkin, principal of Clarence House, sees chintz as a "counter style” to the muted palette and clean lines of the 90s, epitomizing the maximalism embraced today. For Butkin, it is in the hands of modern creatives that she finds its appeal.


The Yellow Room at 39 Brook Street, 1984, from the archives of UK-based designers, Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler © Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler


While the “heavily glazed” styles of the 80s “can look tired more quickly,” she is drawn to the "colorful, active florals" of recent years, especially when paired with solids, smaller patterns and unusual materials. Together, this is a combination that benefits “the balance” of an interior in a new way. Dorvel Bouquet (pictured top), a linen in the brand's spring/summer 2024 Arts & Crafts collection, finds its reference in an English calico chintz print from 1929, produced by engraved wooden rollers.

Renowned for its color sense and unexpected palettes, Clarence House has revitalised the style in an approach characteristic of the design house: "We take a traditional floral and reinterpret it for the modern interior." The florals have a whimsical, meandering style, distinct from the stiff formality of their printed predecessors, while colorways like Papaya and Mocha feel fresh and new.

For Hooper, the joy of today's chintz is in subversion and curation. For a bedroom in his Somerset house, he repurposed an old Roses and Pansies curtain trim, mounting it onto a plain background. Rather than the print’s immediate soft pinks or blues, his eye was caught by the "unexpected color combination" of the poison green highlights in the leaves which informed his color choice for the curtains.


An archival chintz-covered interior by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, photographed in 1975 by Tom Parr © Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler


Color is integral to the success of chintz in the home today. Butkin notes how clients always like to incorporate a "sense of history", but it is through vivid color that modern chintz becomes anything but staid and fusty. Chintz's "old world elegance" with the nostalgia of historic usage explains the fabric's enduring appeal.

"I adore the idea that new designs seem familiar and are tied to memories as if in some collective unconsciousness," comments Peter d'Ascoli, who releases two new chintz designs exclusively for Cabana this month. Malabar celebrates its origins, inspired by the early Indian block printed and painted styles. Its blue and white palette is, "a nod to the popularity and technical superiority of Indian indigo production." The lush naturalistic florals of Adoria echo the classic chintz of the European Belle Epoque, rendered modern in bright, joyous colors.

New takes on chintz are all the more appealing in the hands of emerging designers who embrace the style, uninhibited by traditional rules. Hooper admires the "open mindedness" of designers today. Take the colorful maximalism of Luke Edward Hall or the joyful narratives of Benedict Foley. They give chintz a flamboyant, witty new take. "C is for chintz. It's a vocabulary that can be used in different ways to create a new sentence," says Hooper. Long may its story and popularity continue.


Malabar: a summer chintz-inspired tablecloth by D'Ascoli x Cabana © Christopher Horwood. Location by Katharine Howard, Country House Locations. 




Dorvel Bouquet fabric in Papaya colorway by Clarence House

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