Bloomsbury Style in Interior Design

As a studio, we look to different movements and periods throughout history to inform our design. From the lavish interiors that defined the Regency period to the minimalist and contemporary feel of Mid-Century Modern, design provides an endless and rich source of reference.

A movement in design history that feels particularly relevant at the moment is Bloomsbury style. Formed by a close-knit circle of artists, writers, philosophers and intellectuals, the coterie included writer Virginia Woolf and her artist sister Vanessa Bell. Largely informed by the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, they strongly believed that people should be surrounded by beautiful, well-made and long-lasting items. As we spend more time in our homes, the importance of functional yet beautiful pieces that bring us joy is clear. In addition, we are asking more questions about how things are made, and we are taking greater interest in the story and provenance behind a piece. In this blog, we explore the Bloomsbury set’s unique approach to decorating interiors, and what we can learn today from their maximalist and colourful style.

The Garden at Charleston. Image via Tatler.

A Timeless Home

Although the Bloomsbury Group was established in the first half of the 20th century, their creative outlook is still relevant more than 100 years later. As we have all adopted a slower pace of life during the pandemic, fast, mass-produced goods are losing their appeal. The demand for handcrafted pieces designed to last reflects a more thoughtful approach, as we look to support skilled craftspeople that have been severely impacted in the last year. The legacy of the Bloomsbury Group can best be seen at Charleston, a 16th century farmhouse nestled in the South Downs in East Sussex. The house had an open door policy and hosted intellectuals such as E.M. Forster and Roger Fry. Over the next 50 years Charleston was transformed from a rustic farmhouse to a decorative masterpiece. It is only fitting that the home is still open to the public; the interiors as beautiful now as they were then and the perfect example of a home that has stood the test of time.

Vanessa Bell plate by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Image via The English Home.

Art Outside The Frame

We have always believed that a home should be a sanctuary to be treasured. Art is one way of creating a space that feels truly unique and special. The Bloomsbury group strongly believed that art shouldn’t be confined to a frame. Portraits, still life paintings, landscapes, plaster relief and painted ceramics all adorn the interiors of Charleston. The group where united by a democratic belief that fine art should inhabit everyday spaces and not just the walls of galleries and museums.

We also take this multifaceted approach when selecting pieces for our residences. From a Dashi Namdakov monkey sculpture crafted from bronze to a framed Hermès scarf, art can come in many unexpected forms. We especially love to use wall coverings as a way to create a striking visual statement. Our Belgravia Townhouse features de Gournay’s Willow wallpaper exquisitely hand-painted on silk. This is a luxurious version of the Bloomsbury’s own creative endeavours which saw them paint elaborate and decorative murals directly onto walls and surfaces. By treating Charleston as a blank canvas, they were able to leave a lasting legacy that continues to inspire.

The Library at Charleston Farmhouse. Image via Pinterest.

Bold Use of Colour and Pattern

The Bloomsbury set embraced colour, from dusky blues, to delicate mauves and burnt orange, the distinctive palette is a joyous celebration of colour. When Vanessa Bell first moved to the house in 1916, she whitewashed all of the rooms, effectively creating a blank canvas in which to leave their mark. This was a departure from the drab Edwardian interiors of their time to a refreshing, non-conformist way of decorating.

The group wanted to define a new way of living, free from the restrictive and austere wartime era they inhabited. Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell had a creatively harmonious relationship. His work, which can be seen adorning mantels, doors and textiles mixes figurative motifs likes circles, crosshatch, squares, arrows and arcs. By contrast, Vanessa looked to the natural world and the grandeur of Roman frescoes. Her flowers trailed along windowsills, and she applied dazzling colour to the faux panelling.

Part of ornamental fresco ceiling in Vatican museum, Rome, Italy

Mixing Design References

The Bloomsbury group had a rich set of influences, which they drew inspiration from. Cubist design would sit next to Italian frescoes and Neo-Classical would be juxtaposed with English Arts & Crafts designs. One clear reference point was European art, spanning the vibrant works of Matisse and Picasso, to the great masterpieces of the Post-Impressionists.

They sought to transfer these designs from the continent to furnishings in English homes through the Omega workshop. We love to combine different styles in our residences and believe every building has a story to tell. We look at the architecture, history and location of the property to thoughtfully inform our choices and this helps us to build a narrative we can weave throughout our schemes, just like the Bloomsbury group did.

The entrance to Charleston Farmhouse. Image via The Times.

We are strongly drawn to the Bloomsbury group’s creative and innovative spirit. In this living museum of art and design, we are inspired by how they poured as much love into the walls, furniture and domestic pieces in their home as their canvases, blurring the line between art and interiors. It is their distinctive combination of expressive colours, eclectic objects and abstract patterns which will continue to inspire for many decades to come.