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.
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.
Other comparable centrepieces by Storr can be found in the permanent collections of LACMA, New York’s Metropolitan Museum and the Victoria and Albert in London.
‘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.
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.
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.’
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’.
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.
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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