Tartan is having a fling this autumn. Girls love it in scarves, skirts, shirts and handbags.
After storming down the catwalk it has walked right into the high street homeware shops in the shape of checks and full-blown plaids for sofas, cushions, curtains, stair runners and carpets.
“Tartan is wonderfully unisex, as well as cosy and stylish,” says society decorator Nina Campbell. “It really is a great British classic, up there with paisley and chintz.”
Traditionally, those much-loved Scottish tartans have the same number of stripes in the cloth’s warp (the lengthwise threads) as the weft (the ones that run across). This gives the patterns their famous “balance” and colour harmony.
But the trick is to box clever, subverting these great grids with high-fashion colourways. Campbell (www.ninacampbell.com) used tartan for a bar in New York’s Grand Central Station. “But I lightened and brightened the colours to scarlet, pinks and yellows rather than those heavy blues, reds, greens and blacks.”
Even Marcel Wanders (aka Wonders) is doing tartan this year. He’s that just-this-side-of-crazy Dutchman who founded Moooi, which means beautiful in Dutch - “but with an extra o for extra beauty”.
'Tartan includes a lot of colour but in an ordered way'
The Moooi mode adds wit and imagination to everyday objects, shaped by the latest technology. So when Wanders goes for tartan, you know it must be in. Tartan is one of his wacky new couture wallpapers, commendably commissioned by those design-driven, old-time paper merchants Graham & Brown (www.grahambrown.com).
Recoloured in a choice of pink, grey or charcoal, tartan is teamed with vampish baroque and blousy florals in strangely muted colours but with shots of flashy yellow, boudoir pink, brash scarlet and glitzy gold. For once, hanging it is a doddle, as you paste the wall not the paper.
Scotland, too, is tarting up its tartan. Indeed, designer Annie Stewart of Anta (01862 832477; www.anta.co.uk) has been jazzing it up for 20 years. “Tartan includes a lot of colour but in an ordered way,” she explains, putting her pleasing low-key plaids onto fabrics, carpets, rugs, paint, stoneware, throws and cushions.
“Our tartans may be new designs but they’re based on the old faithfuls. We just make them quirky and right for now.” Tartan is terribly good as the basis for a whole room scheme, she adds enthusiastically. Hers are in soft worsted wools with romantic names such as Ruaridh Waugh, Iain MacFadyen, Douglas Rae and Castle of Mey.
In America, Ralph Lauren (www.ralphlauren.co.uk) turns out posh tartan and checks, and has for years. Newly arrived at his Bond Street shop is the sumptuous Hudson Valley collection, a mid-Atlantic, multi-layered melange of Scottish baronial and American country with a few English antiques for good measure. Walls are lined with a rich plaid in red, plum and green, offset with chequered throws and gingham sheets.
'Tartan is terribly good as the basis for a whole room scheme'
And the swirl of the classic kilt captivates interior designer Joanna Wood (020 7730 5064; www.joannawood.co.uk). “Traditional tartans are fantastic for ‘walling’, stretched over battens and cushioned with padding. Don’t be afraid to mix them with florals and a crisp white or cream,” she says. Find chic tartan accessories, including rugs, at Wood’s own shop in Pimlico, SW1.
But beware of tartan overkill, warns Joanne Cassabois, whose curtain/blind shop of Prét â Vivre is now at 20 All Saints Road, Notting Hill, W11 (0845 130 5161; www.pretavivre.com). “It can seem aggressive. Stick perhaps to smaller areas such as festive table runners or cushions. Classic two-tone checks and gingham are easier on the eye and will never go out of fashion,” says Cassabois.
At John Lewis, furnishing adviser Shirley Nichols is also cautious. “Tartan and bold checks are wonderful for winter but these are distinctive designs and you could be in overdrive. Stick to a single statement piece, such as a chair.” You can get expert help from a furnishing adviser free at any John Lewis store (08456 049049; www.johnlewis.com).
Tartan has long been a signature fabric at British fashion house Mulberry, where it has lined up market jackets and raincoats, and appeared as bags and generous totes. But the new Imperial collection (for furnishing), sheds tartan’s cosy image, and prints it onto a subtle and sophisticated silk taffeta, teamed with a finely printed linen chintz.
'Classic two-tone checks and gingham are easier on the eye and will never go out of fashion'
Tamer, perhaps, than tartans are simple checks, such as the much-loved “utility” fabrics at Ian Mankin in SW6 and NW1 (020 7722 0997; www.ianmankinonline.co.uk).
Laura Ashley is doing sofas and bed linens/throws in checks this autumn. Marina Guirey has brought cotton checks and ginghams from France in pretty blues, reds and naturals. She sells them off the roll at her new Linen Works shop at 131 College Road, NW10 (020 8961 4900; www.thelinenworks.com).
“Of course, in Sweden, checks can be very sophisticated,” observes Moussie Sayers, who has more checked fabrics at Nordic Style in Lots Road, SW10 (www.nordicstyle.com). “Typically, that elegant Gustavian Swedish furniture of the 18th century had checked seats,” she says.
Toasty and warm
Snuggle down and cosy up: a soft traditional checked blanket is the ultimate winter warmer. No one does it better than Toast, where rescued vintage originals are put back into production at old mills in Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Wales. Top tip: use one or more blankets as a curtain over a draughty door - no hemming is needed, just sew on rings. For more information, call 0844 557 5200, or visit www.toast.co.uk.
* Base a colour scheme on tartans.
* Mix tartans with chintz and floral “sprigs” for a lighter touch.
* For that luxury look, add pictures with rich gilt frames.
* Paint a bit of junk furniture high-gloss in a single tartan shade.
* Make sure tartans and checks are matched straight across a wall.
* Line walls with tartan fabric.
* Trim plain curtains and cushions with tartan ribbon and back them with check.
* Do the same for the back, seat and cushions of a chair and sofa.
* Be bold with oversize checks or tartan for changeable throws, cushions, or a lampshade.
Tartan by Jonathan Faiers, published by Berg, usually costs £29.99 but Homes & Property readers can get it for the special price of £28 including p&p (UK mainland only) by calling 01202 665432 and quoting BT01, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.