Reinterpreted for today’s homes, the textile tradition of block printing is the backbone of many interior schemes. Why may you ask? Well, block prints are a timeless form of art that inject a crafted and story-telling imprint into a space. They are evocative of slow design, created with time, precision and comfort in mind.
‘I often use block prints in historic house interiors,’ says interior designer Francesca Rowan Plowden of Rowan Plowden Design. ‘They give that perfect “English Eclectic” country house feel as well as being historically sympathetic.’
Here we suggest six design takeaways to incorporate block prints into your home. From playful accent pillows to look-at-me upholstery, here’s how to embrace the beauty of block prints and elevate the aesthetics of a room.
How to use block prints in your home
Block printing is the textile printing process of using wooden blocks that have been painstakingly carved in relief. Each block is then loaded with a colour and pressed onto fabric (usually linen, cotton or silk) to create layers of handcrafted designs. Evocative of a time and place, block prints feature motifs and symbols that resonate with the country of origin – from China in the first century AD to 11th century Uzbekistan, and from Medieval times in Europe to the nineteenth century and 20th century design movements of Great Britain, such as Arts & Crafts.
Their uniqueness is what has mesmerised designers of both ancient and more contemporary times. The layered, rhythmic repeat is at the heart of block printed fabrics; and modern-day printed interpretations perfectly evoke the essence of rare, archival documents.
So how do you go about choosing the right block print for your room redecoration project? It all starts with defining the right patterns for your home. Block prints capture a plethora of styles: trellis to floral, ogee to Tree of Life. It’s a good idea to opt for block prints that complement or echo the age of your property, but also choose one – that like a favourite oil painting – moves you.
‘Block prints are a perfect way to soften schemes too,’ says Francesca Rowan-Plowden, ‘adding florals and motifs without being too formal like some chintz. They work beautifully in relaxed living rooms and bedrooms and add a characterful and artisanal feel.’
Current interior design thinking is to layer up rooms with pattern. Having said that, we like to mix and match with caution: strike a balance by combining two to three different block print patterns in just two complementary colours. Hold it all down with a neutral base. This ensures that it harmonises and enhances the overall aesthetic of a space.
Accessorise with vibrant accent pillows
Block print accent cushions will make a handsome visual display on a bed or sofa but work especially well in a master suite or guest bedroom where they will sing with inviting good looks as soon as you step into the room. The dual purpose of an accent cushion made in linen fabrics is to bring life to furniture – inviting you onto or into it – and to emphasise that piece as the focal point of a room.
For instant effects that create drama, choose a block print that tells a story such as Shirin from the Bibi collection (shown). Inspired by the ancient block prints of Uzbekistan, this exotic silk road design has been interpreted for today in delicious colourways, such as Rhubarb and Custard.
There are two design rules with bed accent cushions. Firstly, the number of cushions. Two, in our opinion, is more than enough for each side of the bed; anymore and the etiquette of where to store becomes a problem when it’s time to sleep. And secondly, dimensions. We like to go big and square with the hero block print and then small and rectangular with the contrasting colour. Stack one in front of the other for comforting depth.
Layer up with geometric tablecloths and skirts
Interior designers have a penchant for decorative block print-style tablecloths and skirts. The reasons? They elevate a round table by drawing an admiring eye to its position in the space; they disguise the legs (helpful if they have no design worth); and the fabric adds softness. The drapable handle of linen is the right textile choice, in our books.
Geometric designs on linen fabrics are your first port of call. Choose subtle and intricate to bold and captivating, depending on your style preferences. Look to Khiva from the Bibi collection (shown), for striking trellis motifs that work particularly well in period or country house settings, where the crafted block printing design echoes the architectural bones of the property. The Indigos are a good go-to for resonance and depth. For a quieter repeat, consider Chitgar in Denim where the charming design is a little more relaxed.
For occasional tables in a hallway or a corner of a living room, drape the cloth to floor length and, for extra volume, pubble a secondary under cloth in plain linen. These tables are good for displaying family photographs, precious objet and collections.
Tablecloths for dinner parties and entertaining are equally appealing. The length should be shorter, making it more practical for pulling up dining chairs. The block print makes the ideal base for creating a ‘story tale tablescape’ layering tableware, napkins and candlesticks to your chosen theme or occasion.
Trail headboards and bolsters with block prints
Infuse your bedroom with a touch of layered luxury by incorporating a block printing style headboard and matched bolster.
Opt for intricate and delicate patterns that add a sense of elegance and comfort to your personal sanctuary. Classic shaped headboards are the perfect platform to showcase Tree of Life designs as they have space to meander. Consider the position of the trail to maximise the joy of the pattern and avoid repeat seams where possible. A round bolster – for head and lower back support – with a playful, plain ruched trim acts as an accent, echoing the design across the bed.
For calming colourways, look to the blue greens on a light ground. Tranquil and calming, Kitty from The English Garden collection captures the essence of the original block print design representing the harmony and balance in nature.
Let the headboard and bolster take centre stage and opt for bed linen crisp and white for a relaxed feel that exudes country house sophistication.
Bring colour to upholstery
If safe plains and neutrals are usually your decorating best friends, a block printed accent fabric will be a lively companion, complementing and adding conversation to a room.
The wonderful thing about using block-print style linen fabrics on upholstery or loose covers is that you create a piece unique to you. Sofas, chairs (both dining and arm) and ottomans can all be given a new lease of life with a pleasing design that becomes the centrepiece of a living or study space.
Choose a block printed slubby linen that reflects your taste and style, but also think carefully about the effect you want to create. Thanks to block printing, traditional shaped chairs can miraculously feel modern and vice versa with the addition of a stylised floral block print such as Rubia from the Bibi collection.
Keep the colours fresh, such as Peas, and you’ll draw the eye to a dull corner or reinvigorate the turned legs of a beloved armchair.
Revitalise windows with block-printed curtains
On the elegance scale, full length curtains are the number one way to show off a beautiful block-printed design. Choose light and breezy fabrics with subtle block print patterns for a soft and romantic look that works perfectly in an airy sitting room or bedroom. Larger scale block prints work particularly well such as this Ogee design called Kala from the Bibi collection shown here in Droplet, a soft and easy-to-live-with blue grey.
Block print linen curtains are usually a good starting point for a decorating scheme, setting the tone and style for the rest of the room. Think about pulling out colours from the design on furniture and other soft furnishings.
The drape and weight of linen allows natural light to filter and, when interlined and lined, makes for an insulating curtain that feels full yet relaxed. Stick to a classic heading, such as the pencil pleat, and hang from ceiling height and puddle onto the floor to appreciate the artful flow of a design. For added formality, consider a pelmet covered in the same print and handsome, rounded pull backs to draw the fabric away from the view during daylight hours.
Hang block-printed blinds
Block-printed blinds strike a perfect balance between functionality and aesthetics, transforming windows into dreamy focal points while managing light levels and maintaining privacy.
You can elevate the sophistication of your windows with romantic and nostalgic fabrics, depending on the atmosphere you want to create. Look to roll up blinds – with a simple roped cord – for a relaxed and country-style way to showcase an abundant rhododendron block print, such as Gertrude from The English Garden collection in Pink Green. Tailor it double sided (as shown here) with the pattern front and back or choose a plain, small print or stripe that will contrast nicely and add an extra point of interest.
Roman blinds with blackout lining will bring a custom-made look to a bedroom. Consider layering up with curtains where the curtain fabric is plain and the blind is patterned for a high-end and cosseting look.
We hope we’ve helped you discover the captivating world of woodblock prints and block printing. Now it’s time to start planning how they could effortlessly elevate your next home decor project. From good-looking upholstered chairs to eye-catching curtains and blinds, there are endless ways to incorporate this timeless art form into your living spaces. Let the beauty of block prints inspire your creativity and create a home that is as unique and artistic as you are. Start experimenting with these six ideas, and watch as your living spaces come to life with elegance and charm.