The print designer Molly Mahon draws inspiration from three distinct sources: nature; Charleston, the bohemian country home of Bloomsbury Group painter Vanessa Bell; and the vibrant colours and patterns that surround her on her travels to Jaipur in India.
At her studio in the Sussex countryside, Mahon blends these elements to create her own designs, which in turn are hand-carved as woodblocks and then applied to fabrics, wallpapers, homewares and accessories.
Mahon’s signature palette of distinct colours includes deep reds and greens, as well as pastel pinks and blues, while her motifs span everything from oak leaves to elephants. Her designs have featured in House & Garden, The World of Interiors and Country Life.
Christie’s invited Mahon to curate a series of vignettes that combine her prints, wallpapers and fabrics with her favourite lots from The Collector, an online sale running until 16 November.
Designer Molly Mahon with the dining-room vignette she created at Christie’s in London, using selected lots from The Collector, an online sale running until 16 November 2021. Photo: Emma Lewis
In our short film above, Mahon explains the creative inspiration behind the first vignette. Pictured below, it features a Louis XIV ormolu-mounted commode and a Regency candelabra made in 1811 by the celebrated English silversmith Paul Storr.
A Louis XIV ormolu-mounted commode, attributed to Aubertin Gaudron, early 18th century. 33 in (84 cm) high; 47 in (120 cm) wide; 25½ in (65 cm) deep. Sold for £25,000 on 16 November 2021, Online
‘When I saw that silver-gilt Storr centrepiece, I knew I needed to do something quite big and bold,’ she says. ‘I instantly thought green candles would be a modern and fun way to dress it.’
On the wall behind, the designer combined Yves Klein-blue paint with her ‘Stars Reverse Light’ indigo fabric and khaki ‘Luna’ swags, which she says bring the set into ‘the modern era’.
A second vignette, below, features Mahon’s ‘Trellis’ fabric in sky-blue and grass-green, framed by a canopy in her ‘Primrose’ pattern.
A Louis XVI ormolu-mounted secretaire, by Etienne Levasseur, circa 1780-85. 47½ in (120.5 cm) high; 35 in (89 cm) wide; 13½ in (34 cm) deep. One of a set of 12 japanned and parcel-gilt dining chairs. Sold for £7,500 on 16 November 2021, Online. Photo: Emma Lewis
Taking centre stage is a Louis XVI ebony and Japanese lacquer secretaire made by the famous French cabinetmaker Etienne Levasseur around 1780. It was formerly in the collection of Lady Baillie, the Anglo-American heiress who entertained royalty, politicians and Hollywood stars at Leeds Castle, her magnificent home in Kent.
Mahon says that by pairing an antique piece of furniture with modern prints, ‘you can really bring it alive and take it into any home’.
On its shelves Mahon has placed a selection of 18th- and 19th-century French, Italian and Swiss gold snuff boxes and bonbonnières. The most precious of these feature delicate mother-of-pearl, glass, enamel and micro-mosaic designs.
The secretaire opens to reveal a desk. ‘The thought of sitting there on a Sunday afternoon and either doing a little painting, or writing my letters — because I still believe in writing letters — is really romantic and charming,’ she says.
A George III mahogany twin-pedestal dining table, circa 1800. 28½ in (73 cm) high; 128½ in (327 cm) long; 57½ in (146 cm) wide. Sold for £8,750. A set of 10 Regency mahogany dining chairs (six shown), circa 1810-20. Sold for £10,625. A Hicks & Meigh ironstone china part dinner service, circa 1820. Sold for £13,750. A pair of Chinese Imari vase lamps, late 19th century. 18 in (45.5 cm) high, excluding light-fitting. Sold for £3,500 on 16 November 2021, Online. Photo: Emma Lewis
One of her favourite vignettes, she says, is the dining-room scene, above. It features a George III mahogany dining table adorned with French Baccarat glassware and a dinner service made around 1820 by the Staffordshire pottery manufacturers Hicks & Meigh. Established in the very early years of the 19th century, this was one of the first — and best — producers of ironstone china, a particularly hard type of earthenware that resembles porcelain.
Mahon dressed the matching chairs, and a pair of 19th-century Chinese Imari vase lamps, with covers and shades made from her ‘Bagru’ blue fabric. For the table, she created quilted place mats, a runner and napkins with her new, copper-coloured ‘Trellis’ and ‘Garden Path’ fabrics.
‘I’ve really fallen in love with those very strong autumnal oranges that you see on the plates,’ she says. ‘The fabrics from my collection really make the chinaware pop.’
A William IV simulated rosewood armchair, second quarter 19th century. 38¼ in (97.5 cm) high; 34 in (87 cm) wide; 30 in (76 cm) deep. A matched pair of George IV mahogany tripod tables (one shown), attributed to Gillows, circa 1820-30. 28½ in (73 cm) and 29 in (74 cm) high; 19 in (48 cm) diameter. On wall: Henry Lamb, R.A. (1883-1960), Portrait of Cecil Beaton, 1935. Oil on canvas. 34 x 27 in (86.5 x 69 cm). Sold for £137,500 on 20 October 2021 at Christie’s in London. Artwork: © Henry Lamb/Bridgeman Images. Photo: Emma Lewis
For a fourth scene, above, Mahon revitalised a William IV bobbin-turned armchair by upholstering the cushions with cotton in her mustard-coloured ‘Seed’ pattern.
‘That bobbin style of furniture has come right back around again and it’s really fashionable at the moment,’ she says.
Also included are a George IV mahogany table and a portrait of the photographer Cecil Beaton by the British Camden Town Group painter Henry Lamb. Against a backdrop of Mahon’s gold ‘Lani’ wallpaper, the vignette, she says, has a ‘fresh, bright, colourful feel’.
One of a pair of George III satinwood and amaranth side cabinets (both shown right). A group of 13 Meissen porcelain birds, 20th century. All offered in The Collector, until 16 November 2021, Online. Photo: Emma Lewis
A pair of George III satinwood and amaranth side cabinets, circa 1790-1800. 48 in (122 cm) high; 29½ in (75.5 cm) wide; 11 in (28.5 cm) deep. Sold for £8,750 on 16 November 2021 at Christie’s Online
Among the other treasures coming to auction are a pair of beautiful George III satinwood and amaranth side cabinets (above), one of which Mahon decorated with a selection of Meissen porcelain birds and her own handmade ‘triangle-pink’ boxes, set against a backdrop of her ‘Tulip’ fabric in iron and indigo.
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week
If you’re planning to refresh your interiors, Mahon suggests following your heart. ‘So many of us are nervous when it comes to redecorating our homes or choosing pieces — especially if you’re making a big investment,’ she says.
‘But, actually, more often than not, we know what we love. If you choose things based on what you and your family love, it will exude a story of yourselves — and a wonderful energy.’
Molly Mahon’s vignettes are on view at Christie’s, 8 King Street, London, 6-10 November, alongside the full pre-sale exhibition of The Collector, which runs until 16 November