Tapestries have a storied past, depicting scenes from a bygone era and offering a romanticized glimpse into time surrendered. Popularized in the Middle Ages, these intricately designed textiles, woven predominantly of wool and silk, were originally used as a form of insulation for drafty medieval walls (call it an early example of form meeting function). The ability to transport them from one home to another made them a worthy investment whilst the artistry required to produce a single piece kept tapestries firmly in the grasp of the nobility.
Fashionable in Flanders at the turn of the 15th-century, early versions often featured a single figure or group against a backdrop of tiny florals and botanicals, a style known as mille fleur (thousand flowers). Step foot in The Cloisters at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and you can’t help but be awestruck by one of the most celebrated examples from that era: a series of seven tapestries entitled “The Hunt of the Unicorn.”
Today, however, it’s the verdure (garden) style of the 16th and 17th centuries that’s become increasingly popular among tastemakers and designers. Bursting with foliage, these bucolic representations of the countryside are popping up in chic interiors across the country. When everyone from lifestyle icon Aerin Lauder to super-chic design firm Atelier AM is using them, you know this medieval textile has made its comeback.
Lauder, granddaughter to cosmetics doyenne Estée, picked up an 18th-century example by Beauvais from an antiques shop in Paris; the tapestry is now commanding space in her Manhattan foyer. Flanked by a pair of gilded Armand-Albert Rateau side chairs and a Chinese-inspired console from her recently debuted collection with E.J. Victor, it packs a thoroughly modern punch (and has me craving one for my own rather sparse foyer).
In San Antonio, Texas, decorator Gwynn Griffith used an Aubusson tapestry as a dramatic backdrop in the guest bedroom of her 19th-century house. By positioning a Russian sleigh bed with leopard-print bedding in front of it (under a velvet canopy no less), she created a fantastical retreat. Simple Indian blinds on the window and a smattering of global antiques (including a gilded cherub light fixture) give it that perfectly collected feel.
Further proof that the tapestry trend has arrived: One of the stars of “Million Dollar Decorators,” Martyn Lawrence Bullard, is using a tapestry in his own home. Bullard draped a massive Flemish tapestry high above the sofa in his West Hollywood living room, and then hung an equally impressive 17th-century convex mirror in front. As with Griffith’s interior, the assortment of antique pieces interspersed with an animal print ottoman gives the room a cozy worldly vibe.
The beauty of these textiles, however, is that they need not be too formal. For designers Alexandra and Michael Misczynski, the husband-and-wife duo behind L.A.-based Atelier AM, tapestries mix in seamlessly with laid-back California style. The duo notably draped a French tapestry over a cocktail table in a Tuscan-influenced living room. Surrounded by linen upholstery atop a sisal rug, it’s rustic yet refined. And completely unexpected.
When shopping for tapestries today, the legendary workshops to keep in mind include Les Gobelins and Beauvais along with those from Aubusson, Lille, and Arras in France. Hang it on the wall, throw it over a table, or punctuate it with sleek modern furniture. The possibilities are endless.