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6 Jul 2021

Creating carpets for Holmwood

Written by Emma Inglis, Curator (South & West)
A large rectangular piece of carpet is displayed against a black background. The carpet features concentric squares of blue, green, yellow and red, some with classical patterns inside. At the centre are two blue squares with a floral design.
A design by Owen Jones, circa 1870, from the collection at the V&A
The final year of the Holmwood Redecoration Project is underway and our main focus now is to create new carpets for the house.

As we embark on this final year, we are moving into slightly uncharted territory. All our redecoration decisions at Holmwood so far have been based on solid evidence gleaned from the house itself. However, for the re-creation of carpets no evidence survives, so we’ve been researching historical carpet designs and Alexander Thomson’s design aesthetic to try and create the next best thing.

With the carpet research we have tried to cover as much ground as possible to be sure we’re basing our decisions on the widest range of evidence. This has included searches of the Glasgow-based Stoddard Templeton carpet archive, the historical archive of Brintons Carpets, as well as the Board of Trade Registers and Representations of Designs held in the National Archives at Kew, and the designs of Thomson’s contemporaries, such as Owen Jones.

A black and white line drawing of a carpet design is taped into an old large book. The design includes an Escher-esque path border, surrounding stylised floral motifs.
A carpet design by Henry and Martin Southwell from the Board of Trade Registers and Representations of Designs, circa 1860

Through this research we have been able to determine, as far as possible, whether any original Alexander Thomson carpet designs survive. We have also identified convincing alternative designs that can be re-created for Holmwood, which focus on Thomson’s essential design style, use of particular motifs and colour palette. Our aim is to create three new carpets that have authentic design and texture, and that work in harmony with the fabulous, newly redecorated interiors.

Whilst there is no material evidence for what the original carpets looked like at Holmwood, we do know from Thomas Gildard, one of Thomson’s contemporaries and admirers, that Thomson designed much of the furniture – solid and textile – for the house. With his all-embracing approach to design, Thomson reportedly used the classic honeysuckle motif in his carpets as well in the decorative paintwork, plaster cornices, doors and architecture of the house. The difficulty with finding suitable replacement carpet designs is that Thomson was decorating outside the mainstream trends of the 1860s, when most carpets featured large leaf or floral patterns. This means very few historical carpet designs from the period contain motifs that would suit the aesthetic at Holmwood.

A view of the top of a white painted wall, where it meets the ceiling. A plaster design of gilded honeysuckle flowers runs along the length.
The classic honeysuckle motif worked in plaster and gilded, in the dining room at Holmwood. It appears alongside other recurring motifs in the house, such as the bead & reel, twisted rope and florets.

Although there are few archived designs that we can copy directly for Holmwood, with some adaptations of colour and motif we have a handful that could be altered to suit. Over the next few months, we hope to create carpets that echo the spirit of Alexander Thomson’s designs, restore a sense of luxury to the floors of the house, and are as unique to Holmwood as the rest of the glorious interior decoration.

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