The natural process behind handmade wallpaper

In the October issue, Gardens Illustrated visit the Dorset studio and garden of artist Hugh Dunford Wood and see for ourselves the inspiration behind his handmade wallpaper. 


Hugh Dunford Wood’s garden is a little gem, perched high above the golden cliffs and sparkling waters of Lyme Bay in Dorset. A small wood, which he calls Whistler’s Wood (theglass engraver Laurence Whistler once lived in the house), protects it from the worst of the wind, so that the roses and hollyhocks just nod gently in the breeze. Sometimes it serves as an outdoor studio, for drying off handprinted fabrics. But its principal benefit, in Hugh’s eyes, is that it offers daily inspiration for his beautiful handmade wallpapers. “I don’t have to go far to come up with new ideas,” he says.


Inspired by nature

The large magnolia tree planted by Whistler – the subject for a painting every spring – this year found its way into a wallpaper design. A rhythmic foliage pattern is inspired by Whistler’s Wood. Agapanthus and cardoons; honeysuckle and ivy; roses, cornflowers and ferns appear stylised, but clearly recognisable, on every richly papered wall. “Nature is the best designer possible,” says Hugh. “People always like to bring the outside in.”

Hugh has found the most successful forms are trailing and sinuous. “Plants grow upwards towards the light, and in a room you want to be uplifted – but you don’t want a straight line going up, that looks plonky,” he says. “Back in the 1960s, there were all these bold new wallpapers with zigzags and wiggly lines. But it’s not terribly nice – it soon makes you feel a little seasick.” So Hugh’s patterns often suggest vines and ivies, the curve of a feather, the unfurling of a bud. But there are joyously playful patterns too – frolicking hares, a Rousseau-esque jungle scene, a jolly farrago of vintage footware. For his latest design, he has been sketching the long, twining tails of dormice. And living in Lyme Regis, as he does, a pattern of ammonites could scarcely be avoided…


A block at a time

Hugh also works with lino blocks, printing on to 10m rolls of lining paper that he has previously painted (using household emulsion, which he colours himself). He brushes the paint on to the lino block in a second colour and presses it on to the paper with a four-inch handheld roller. Some of the larger blocks are too big for this process, in which case he leaps on to the table and presses them down with his feet. The pressing is repeated, stamp by stamp, so each one is subtly different, with small imperfections and gradations in tone. It is this that gives the papers a timeless quality that sits so well with old furniture – there’s a warm and settled feel about them, rather than crisply new. “You can see the maker’s hand in them,” says Hugh. “And that’s really important to me. It reflects humanity back to humans.” 



Useful information
Each batch of Dunford Wood Wallpapers is made to commission in a choice of any two colours and costs £200 per 10m roll. All can be ordered via Hugh’s website. Hugh also offers weekend courses in wallpaper design at his Dorset studio twice a year. The next available course begins on 17 March 2017 – see full details on the website. Studio visits are welcome by arrangement.


Words Ambra Edwards

Photography Andrew Montgomery

This article was taken from a longer feature in the October issue of Gardens Illustrated (239). 






Design features to steal from an anglophile garden
previous feature Article
9 of the best splitting axes
next feature Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here