Artistry in Fabric Design: Brunschwig & Fils

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE Brunschwig & Fils designer's showroom here is a Fort Knox of fabrics. Walls in each of the 11 rooms are lined with columns of tapestry, chintz, silk, linen, cotton, velvets, damasks, wovens, and brocades. There are colorful vignettes with sofas, chairs, and drapery samples in every imaginable combination.

Brunschwig & Fils was established in 1880 as a tapestry-weaving mill in Aubusson, France, and showrooms were opened in New York in 1925 by Captain Roger E. Brunschwig, the founder's son. The company continues today as a family-run business.

Many of the fabrics are inspired by works of art from major museums. Each spring and fall new designs are added to the collection, which numbers more than 17,000 fabrics and 1,000 wallcoverings.

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For example, earlier this fall a new glazed chintz, called "Le Grand Opera" was introduced. The pattern, which features lush floral groupings, was inspired by a 19th-century French painted tablecloth.

Although it adds new fabric twice a year, the company does not "retire" designs quickly. Some date from the 1940s, and others are more than 200 years old. A handwoven Louis XV silk is made in Lyon by a studio that rewove fabric for the restoration of Versailles.

For less-palacial homes, cotton prints in earthtones are important this year. These earth colors are well represented in the Brunschwig & Fils fall collection. Prior to its design, Murray Douglas, senior vice president at Brunschwig & Fils, and Ross Francis, vice president for development, toured Spain's monasteries, public houses, and gardens. John Jacoby, an American designer, traveled with them and drew upon the area's motifs and colors for the Spanish offerings.

Included in this line are two cotton prints, "Los Monteros" and "Los Olivos," which are variations on a hunting design found on 16th-17th century entryway tiles in the Palacio de Lebrijia, a great public home in Seville. Also introduced with the Spanish collection is "Maria Luisa," a cotton print covered with geraniums and plumbago, in glazed chintz named for the Maria Luisa Park in Seville.

After the designs arrive in showrooms, interior designers pay a visit to formulate plans for their clients' homes or businesses.

Manuel de Santaren, an interior designer who works in Boston and Santa Fe, N.M., says, "I'm taking my cues from nature, using warm colors that nature has to offer - they tend to envelop you and have that cocooning effect. I like leafy and mossy greens, earthy tones - that maybe has something to do with the time that I spend in Santa Fe - just the many wonderful shades of sand inspire me."

Mr. de Santaren has devised an effective approach to designing with textiles. He considers one room at a time, and develops a Scheme "A" and Scheme "B" to offer his clients. Too many alternatives get confusing, he says. He looks through all of the showrooms and "edits" out fabric until he gets down to a few selections he thinks are appropriate for the client.

"The trend now is toward strong color - blues and greens are on a strong comeback," says Millie Sersen, an interior designer in Carefree, Ariz. "Simplicity is in. The cluttered look is gone. And options are from very traditional to contemporary. Use and combine new and old things," she advises.

* Brunschwig & Fils fabrics are available through interior designers and architects.

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