As the cold weather sets in, not only do we seek comfort in our winter wardrobes, but in our interiors, too. And wool is the obvious material to turn to for ushering in warmth and cosiness.
But how to do so in a way that doesn’t sacrifice style?
Wool Week, the Campaign for Wool’s annual countrywide initiative, runs until Sunday, with the aim of spinning the fibre’s benefits as a material for both fashion and home.
And they have a point. The practical qualities of wool are well documented – it’s hard-wearing, stain-resistant, flame-retardant and a natural sound-proofer. But Wool Fusion, a pop-up exhibition on London’s Baker Street, is showing that cosy can also be cool, focusing specifically on its cutting-edge credentials.
“We want visitors to appreciate the bold visual interpretation of wool, while exploring the sensory and tactile experience of this versatile fibre,” explains Bridgette Kelly, director of interiors at the Campaign for Wool. “We want people to appreciate how dynamic wool is, be excited and amazed by what they see, and be truly converted to the benefits of choosing wool over manmade-fibre products. It’s a material that is always having its boundaries pushed by talented designers, makers and manufacturers.”
Visitors to the pop-up can expect to see installations and room sets staged by some of the leading product designers working with wool in the UK, and can take part in creative workshops, in crochet, knitting, weaving and the recently revived craft of macrame (where wool is knotted together).
The exhibition is also highlighting some key interiors trends that are bringing this traditional textile right up to date.
Colour and contrast
One of wool’s benefits, in design terms, is that it holds strong colour brilliantly, and a bright blanket or cushion is the quickest way to cheer up a chilly room. Designer Eleanor Pritchard, whose Mid Century-inspired textiles are woven at traditional mills in west Wales, Lancashire and on the Isle of Bute, loves wool for its tactile quality. “It’s an age-old natural fibre with wonderful inherent properties – warm, insulating, elastic, lightfast and sustainable – that make it completely relevant for contemporary fabrics. Most of the yarn we use is fleece-dyed, which means the wool is dyed before it is spun and then different colours are blended in the spinning, giving a glorious depth of colour to the yarn and adding a real richness to the palette.”
Design duo Wallace Sewell, one of Wool Fusion’s exhibitors, are known for their lambswool, Shetland-wool throws and cushions in rainbow-coloured geometric patterns. While young designer Beatrice Larkin’s clean, modernist-inspired jacquard throws combine the sharpness of a monochrome palette with the softness of lambswool and merino.
The knitted pouffe has become a mainstay of a Nordic-inspired cosy interior, but London-based German designer Jule Waibel’s origami-esque creations take the concept to an avant-garde level. Borrowing a technique traditionally employed within the fashion industry, Waibel pleats wool felt into angular shapes informed by the structure of pinecones, which she then sets using steam. The combination of the stiff folds and the foam stuffing ensures a stool that is flexible, yet firm.
Also with a focus on structure and using traditional techniques to contemporary effect, east London-based Naomi Paul takes advantage of wool’s flame-retardant properties, creating crocheted lampshades stretched around copper frames. Available in a palette that extends from muted white and putty through gold and rust to black, the shades come in a selection of sculptural shapes through which light gently diffuses.
Flooring is where wool’s sound-proofing and draught-excluding prowess comes to the fore. Crucial Trading combine the resilience of sisal (a type of stiff hemp fibre) with the softness of wool to create its ‘sisool’ carpets, which come in chunky textures and neutral colours.
Elsewhere, patterned fitted carpets are bringing colour back to floors - in a good way. The swirling designs that characterised carpets in their 1980s heyday have been replaced by smart stripes and sharp geometrics, courtesy of designers such as Margo Selby and Ben Pentreath, both of whom have teamed up with Alternative Flooring.
Brintons, which has been manufacturing wool carpets since the late eighteenth century, continues to innovate through collaboration: recent collections have included edgy illustrative motifs by Scottish designers Timorous Beasties. Its latest, to be launched next month, comprises 13 designs by Kelly Hoppen inspired by modernist prints and ‘everyday elements’ such as pavement cracks and splashes of paint. “I wanted to do something quite cutting-edge and out there,” says Hoppen. “It’s different, and it’s at the forefront of design.”
Snug and superluxe
Its suitability for simple, rustic interiors has given wool somewhat homespun associations, but high-end interiors brands are creating premium products that work with its luxurious qualities. Pierre Paulin’s Pumpkin seating range, available at Ligne Roset, looks chic and sleek in wool upholstery, as does Gam Fratesi’s Beetle dining chair for Gubi. Oyuna produces womenswear and homeware made from supersoft Mongolian cashmere, which includes £800 dressing gowns, £700 travel blankets and throws that cost upward of £1,250. Scaling the heights of luxury, however, is the Andes-roaming vicuna, whose rarefied hair produces the world’s most expensive wool: a single blanket costs over £8,000 at Loro Piana.
Wool’s natural texture and durability, along with its capacity for colour, makes it a good choice for upholstery - although soft weaves are a more comfortable choice than rougher tweeds. Designers Guild does plain, striped and checked wool fabrics in strong, saturated colours; Fox Linton offers lambswool satin in 27 understated tones; and the Raf Simons collection for Kvadrat includes wool mixes in a bold, fashion-forward palette.
On the neutral side, the white woolly chair has also been making something of a comeback, in both high-end and casual guises. Rose Uniacke showed a pair of beautiful lambswool-covered vintage Danish chairs at PAD London last week – at £15,000 the pair – and Twentytwentyone stocks Flemming Lassen’s classic Tired Man armchair. For a slightly more accessible take on the trend, head to the snug reading room at the new Skandium townhouse in Thurloe Place, SW7, which features the Lamino by Swedese, recently voted Sweden’s most popular easy chair.