London is aflutter this spring and butterflies are out in force. Star attraction at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington is a new show called Amazing Butterflies, complete with tropical butterfly house and scented garden. Design, too, takes up the theme, with butterfly china, lights, cushions and trimmings all over town.
Graphic designers are adding a sharper edge to the intricate winged motifs that pattern-makers have always loved. Now butterflies get a modern twist with stylised shapes in strong shades of black or red. Kim Robertson hand-prints butterfly panels in black and cream, which can be pasted up like wallpaper or hung as a panel using a Perspex rod. Prices are from £125 (020 8350 5450; www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk).
‘In flight, butterflies seem to be tipsy on sunshine and the spring’
By contrast, Katja Behre loves the “lightness of butterflies and their emphemeral delicacy”. She is a young German designer living in London with her own new brand, Elli Popp (07957 135041; www.ellipopp.com). She has printed butterfly designs on to wallcoverings (£15 to £21 a metre). Behre adds: “Butterflies inspire a fairy-tale sensibility within me. In flight, they seem to be tipsy on sunshine and the spring.”
In Scotland, Johanna Basford (07921 072924; www.johanna-basford.co.uk) adds her own flamboyant flourish, hand-printing dramatic butterflies on to wallpaper in rich metallic inks.
In truth, fabric designers have been eternally fascinated by butterflies. At Osborne & Little in the King’s Road, Chelsea (www.osborneandlittle.com), designer Shauna Dennison discovered Dutch still life and flower paintings early in life and has many real butterflies framed at home. Her Papilio and Boheme collections of papers and fabrics are butterfly-laden.
“For me, butterflies symbolise summer and happiness,” says Claire Vallis, design director of Harlequin (www.harlequin.uk.com). She has captured their “magical majesty” in a butterfly fabric for the Arboreta collection, printed on to linen. “Make it into full drapes that sweep on to the floor,” adds Vallis.
Indeed, a bevy of butterflies currently flits around the exclusive interiors’ showrooms at Chelsea Harbour Design Centre (www.designcentrechelseaharbour.co.uk).
Embroidered silks evoke the lustre of real-life wings. Papillons en Liberté is a stunning fabric at Nobilis of Paris. Emperor Butterfly (by Colefax and Fowler) has grandiose gold flowers and leaves woven in a rich silk/linen mix with large embroidered butterflies. For a lighter touch, there is Honeysuckle, a chintzy cotton with butterflies in a summer garden. Italian artist Fornasetti adds a typical touch of drama with a vivid multicoloured pattern for a wallpaper with a black background — this 1953 design has been revived by Coles.
‘For me, butterflies symbolize summer and happiness’
Not that butterflies need break the decorating bank. Focus does a pretty wallpaper called Papillon for £16.99 (0800 436436; www.focusdiy.co.uk). And Isabelle, with the fashionable feel of Chinoiserie, is from the Monsoon collection at B&Q, costing £19.98 (www.diy.com).
Cut out individual motifs from any leftovers and glue them to a painted chest of drawers, then seal with clear lacquer. Similarly, snip out butterflies from fabrics and appliqué them on to cushions covers, or as a curtain border.
Or you could take a flutter on a few hand-painted lepidopterous tiles and add a touch of sunshine to any wall. Lucy Clarke is a talented artist who can paint any species, size or colour on to a 6in tile for £10, or on to a 4in tile for £6.50. Place commissions at Criterion Tiles at 196 Wandsworth Bridge Road, SW6 (020 7736 9610; www.criterion-tiles.co.uk).
Wall stickers can be the quickest way to get the butterfly look. Fly them up the stairs or beside a bed. Stickers by Danish company, ferm LIVING, are sleek silhouettes of various sizes in black or red; they cost £30 for a pack of 12 (0800 085 9054; www.95danish.com).
And beautiful butterflies, on a huge scale, make stunning artwork in their own right. Artist Rakha Singh (07977 060081; www.butterflyimages.co.uk.) has developed new software and printers to put butterfly images on to a new material called Foamex, which gives a painterly quality. His subjects have come from butterfly collectors and farms worldwide. Prices are around £950. He says: “Some butterfly species in the UK are on the decline and in real danger of becoming extinct. I want my work to highlight this issue.”
Amazing Butterflies is at the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, SW7, until 17 August. Tickets cost £5 adults, £3.50 concessions, free for children under three, or £14 for a family ticket (up to five, maximum two adults, minimum one), www.nhm.ac.uk/amazing-butterflies.
Award-winning garden designer Fern Alder has designed a butterfly-shaped garden to attract the insects at the Natural History Museum. Here are her tips for a butterfly-friendly garden at home:
* A sunny spot is essential to nurture the flowering plants that butterflies love. Butterflies also need sun to regulate their body temperature and warm their wing muscles so they can fly. Flat rocks, paved pathways, brick walls and fences can all make good basking places. But have shady areas, too, as temperatures can become too hot for butterflies and caterpillars.
* Butterflies also need protection from wind and rain, in shrubs, vines, trees or any type of fence. And they need a place to hibernate (either as eggs, pupae, caterpillars or adults), such as a garden tool shed, rocks or trees.
* Butterflies love shrubs such as lilac and buddleia, the butterfly bush. Other butterfly-friendly plants include aubretia, red valerian, lavender, primroses, chives, marjoram and toadflax.
* Butterfly visitors will depend on where you live, the time of year and what plants you have. Common visitors include large and small (cabbage) whites, peacock, red admiral, comma, and small tortoiseshell.