Friday, 6 July 2012

At home with... Donna Flower


On the whole, I'm not one for the country cottage and florals look. Then I saw the home of Donna Flower, who collects, sells and creates with gorgeous fabrics dating from the 19th century to the 1980s, through her excellent, authoritative online shop.

So I got in touch to ask her for a proper nose around her Devonshire pad, and a bit of insight into what inspires her style. Over to Donna...



What do you do? I sell vintage and antique fabrics and textiles on my website and at various vintage fairs in the south-west (see my blog for details). I make quilts, cushions, small applique pictures, brooches etc using vintage fabrics. These are only for my own home or for family and friends, I also crochet and knit blankets, but don't have time to sell any more as my website keeps me so busy.

Tell us about your house It is an old farmhouse in north Devon, set in two acres of garden, with sea views. It was a small two up two down Tudor property with Victorian extensions, so very hotchpotch, bits were added when they got more money.

My office chair [above and below] has been recovered by me with vintage barkcloth fabric. It was an old one that I found from Otto Retro, in Exeter,  about four years ago. It is a very comfortable, solid chair. Many old pieces of furniture can be given a new lease of life by being reupholstered. This was easy to do with the help of an industrial staple gun I found at a bootsale.

My fabrics are all filed according to age so that I can find them quickly and easily. They start from 19th century French pieces up to 1980s pieces. My collection is huge and I have an extensive archive including some very rare and exciting pieces.

The wallpapers [inside the yellow cupboard, and also lining another set of shelves in the office] are something I have had for years and wanted to do something with but the style just wouldn't suit my house or please the rest of the family, although I did paper a cabinet in the bathroom with a 1940s yacht paper.  

I have recently renovated a two-storey outbuilding [above] which used to be a bakery when this house was a farmhouse, so now I have a room downstairs full of vintage haberdashery furniture for storing fabrics that I use and upstairs is my sewing room. This is somewhere where I can have exactly what I want without the family having to 'approve' it. 

After reading (and rereading) Selina Lake's latest book, Homespun Style, I was inspired to paint my old display cabinet bright, glossy yellow and from there added wallpapers to the backs of my old fruit crates which I use to store fabrics and then to patchwork the back of a dresser. Again, I feel that there are no hard and fast rules with this, just use colours/designs that you like. If you put a piece in that doesn't work it's easily remedied, just paper over it.

This room is my study and where all the fabrics are kept that are currently listed on my website. It's where I sit and answer emails, wrap parcels, answer telephone calls etc. I very rarely sit in the armchair but it is frequently occupied by a member of my family who come and keep me company as I work.  It is a very cosy room and one that makes people gasp  the first time they see it, as they spot the glass fronted drawers I have in there, full of fabric.



The egg cups on my kitchen dresser started with a few wooden ones, Noddy and Big Ears, which belonged to my grandmother and ones that I used in my childhood. I keep finding other wooden ones on my vintage trawls and so the collection has grown. The canisters came from a good friend and collector who was having a clear out and agreed to sell them to me. I just love the typeface, it's another love of mine. On the rest of the dresser, I have a mixture of  40s, 50s, 60s and 70s ceramics as well as a bit of Cath Kidston thrown in for good measure. Traditional country just would not suit me and would say nothing about who I am and what I like.



The bathroom was originally two rooms, one very long one with no window and just a toilet and sink and the other a very cramped room with an aluminium and plastic shower cubicle in one corner and the toilet halfway across the window. It was a disaster. We took the lathe and plaster wall down between the rooms and put in a reclaimed oak floor. The double ended slipper bath was found at Toby's Reclamation in Exeter and was such a crazy looking bath we just had to have it. My partner and I got in it whilst it was in the yard and thought it was just so OTT it had to be ours. It weighs a tonne, being cast iron, and three men struggled to get it up the stairs!

The toilet and sink were from another reclamation yard. The mirror  and cabinets were  boot-sale finds that I repainted. Everything was done on a budget so apart from the bath, it was relatively inexpensive to do.

The jukebox [left, above] resides in our second living room which also has a bar in it. It is our party room and you will always find us in there for any family celebration singing along to the cheesy songs on it.

The dressing table [bottom right, above] came from Camden Market, some 23 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. We needed a chest of drawers for the baby and went out looking for one (we lived in Camden then). We didn't find one but I spotted this dressing table and just HAD to have it. I think we went out another three or four times, each time buying another piece of unnecessary furniture before finally getting the chest of drawers.

The head came from a friend who had a lovely little junk shop and was closing down. He used it for display and I had always admired it and persuaded him to sell it to me. It was in a sorry state, very crackled and dried as it had been in the sun for many years. After some TLC I got her back to near original state. She is a 1940s  Jacoll Hats display piece. I love her. The hat boxes [above right] contain various, vintage, hats of course...


The fabrics

My favourite era for fabric has to be the 1950s, the colours and patterns of the exciting post war period are hard to ignore. After the drabness of the 1940s, during the rationing, they are a real contrast.  The patterns and designs are bold, exciting and innovative as we looked forward to the 'atomic' era, taking influence from science and nature and of course space travel.

I have some amazing pieces by Marian Mahler, Lucienne Day, Michael O'Connell, Mary Warren and Mary White that I cannot let go. They are my 'pension pieces'. I went to see the exhibition Designing Women of Postwar Britain at London's Fashion and Textile Museum in April and saw a few of my pieces hanging there.

I think it is important to buy what you like when looking for vintage fabrics. Regardless of value, age or importance, the textiles have to please you if they are to be in your home. They have to say something about you and suit your home or your style. So, anything goes really, there are no rules when mixing colours or eras. If you are going to use the fabric upholstery obviously condition is important so it is imperative that you check for holes or blemishes before buying it.  

Donna Flower's favourite links
Otto Retro a "jolly" junk shop in Exeter [no online buying]
Selina Lake the 'Homespun Style' the author and stylist's colourful blog
Dottie Angel blogger and documenter of artists' lives

Browse Donna Flower's fabrics and textiles at her webshop, and follow her blog The Fabric of My Life (be warned: if you, too, are a fabric junkie you are about to lose hours of your life clicking through...)



4 comments:

  1. Absolutely gorgeous!

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  2. Love,love,love the bathroom photographs really beautiful !!

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  3. Your home is wonderful. I'm slowly transforming mine with a Victorian inspired theme. I just purchased a Radiator Cabinet from http://www.classicradiatorcabinets.co.uk/ as I don't have an open fire place. Can't wait for it to be installed!!!!!

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