I’m slightly obsessed with toile. From the first time I laid eyes on it, it spoke to me. You might even say I’m a bit of a toile-aholic (I know my husband sure would!). So what is it about toile that so many of us gravitate towards? It might not be über-trendy, but toile is and always has been considered one of the great classics of the design world.
Idyllic scenes of country life are the main draws, with the key word being idyllic. These idealized images of pastoral living and country life marry seamlessly with French farmhouse, cottage, and country decorating styles, and can even be successfully paired with coastal decor if done right. Hunting themes frequently make their appearance, creating a European lodge or manor feel, while Asian-themed toile patterns add a touch of the exotic.
Toile is the shortened term for toile de jouy, named after Jouy-en-Josas, France (near Paris) where, in 1760, the Oberkampf textile factory was founded. Oberkampf was the first company to bring the copperplate printing method, already in widespread use in Ireland and England, to France. Prior to mechanization, toile designs were created using wood blocks, a laborious and time-consuming method. The copperplate method became the perfect vehicle for depicting scientific advancements (like hot air ballooning) and political events as well as furthering the aims of Colonial expansion.
Toile patterns bear a relationship to transferware dish patterns in that they generally feature a single color print against a light background. As you can see from the photos below, they do share similarities, but the terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably, which drives me a little crazy. Most folks don’t care about this distinction, but I guess I like to be accurate.
Against a light background, toile creates a light and airy atmosphere in our homes. I love the way toile in vibrant colors pop against light backgrounds (in that Scandinavian sort of way of pairing bright colors with whites), but toile is equally elegant when combined with Gustavian greys and neutrals. And certain color combinations of toile, like pink and brown or aqua and brown, lend a sweet pastel note when used in nurseries.
There are an abundance of ways to use toile in and around the home, including all the usual suspects like bedding, window treatments, lampshades, chair cushions, and wallpaper. Over the last decade, I’ve noticed a major uptick in fresh color combinations and fun ways to introduce toile, like IPad covers, coasters, memo boards, switch plates, sachets, aprons, tote bags, and wastepaper baskets, to name a few. I personally have used toile fabric in some of my greeting card designs and absolutely love the effect of toile as framed as art, like the fabulous gallery example shown below left.
Photo source: flickr.com
As always, too much of a good thing can be jarring. I once stayed at a quaint inn in Paris where everywhere I turned in my room there was toile. It was on the walls, on the bed, on the pillows, on the lampshades, and on the curtains. I could barely tell where the walls began and the bedspread ended. It felt downright dizzying for the two weeks I was there, but it taught me an important design lesson, which is that toile often needs checks, stripes, solids, or even polka dots to balance it out and break up the busyness of it.
Combined with buffalo checks, it’s a winning combination for those of us who swoon over traditional French style paired with country cozy. Ticking stripes, checks, and vintage grain sack fabrics do the job admirably while simultaneously underscoring that fabulous French feel, like the examples below, including the quilt on the right from my friend Sharon’s guest bed, featuring gingham checks on one side and toile on the other.
From cool indigo blues and vivid reds to earthy greens and mulberries to stylishly subdued blacks and greys, toile is a classic pattern that shows no signs of fading into the design graveyard anytime soon. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more experimentation, modern interpretations, and vibrant color palettes (tangerine and fuschia anyone?) in the future. From the historically correct to the contemporary and hip, toile holds timeless appeal, and I hope you can discover its beauty and versatility in your own home soon. Already decorated with toile in your own home? What are your favorite toile color combinations?
Photo source: flickr.com