OlanaInstead, I have a yen for something Moorish and geometric, more like Olana, Hudson River School painter Frederick Church’s Persian-inspired house, than anybody’s grandmother’s house.

It turned out that I’d stumbled into a great Aesthetic Movement debate, between the camp of critic John Ruskin, who believed that all great art was inspired by nature, and the camp of designer and architect Charles Eastlake, who found all trompe l’oeil naturalistic effects dishonest and immoral, and instead preferred what the Zingman-Leiths call "two-dimensional, heraldic-looking patterns."

Of course, the question of whether to slap posies on the walls or instead do something more abstract pales besides the sexual controversies surrounding these two.  Ruskin, according to wikipedia at least, was one delightfully weird fellow.  He married the beautiful Effie Gray, and five years later, she was still a virgin.  Effie explained it to her parents this way:

He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April.

Effie_gray_2 In other words, to such an aesthetic fussbudget, a real woman was a problem.  So Effie did the only sensible thing–ran off with painter John Everett Millais and promptly had eight children.  (The lovely portrait to the right is Effie by Millais.)

Lady Eastlake, Charles’s wife, sided with Effie and began attacking Ruskin in print.  In his forties, Ruskin fell in love with a fervently religious eleven year-old girl named Rose La Touche, offering marriage to her as a teenager, only to be turned down by her understandably concerned parents.  Rose died at age 27 in a Dublin nursing home, possibly mad, and Ruskin soon went mad himself.

My God, those Victorians were fun!

But I still think flowers belong in the garden and not up on my wall.  And I’m curious about how other gardeners feel about representations of nature in their houses. 


  1. Wow. This really made me stop and think. I am always drawn to interesting florals–on clothes, rugs, dishes, paintings, whatever–but I just realized that I don’t actually buy them. Look around my Victorian house–no florals. Why? Same reason I don’t buy anything with chickens on it. I’m afraid that once I open that door, it will never close again, and instead of living in a fairly clean, spare Victorian, I’ll find myself in a fussy, cluttered Victorian filled with fake flowers and fake chickens.

    Even clothes–I will buy florals from time to time, but then I don’t wear them for fear of being seen as “the flower lady.” Sort of like if my husband, the bookseller, wore a tie with books on it. Too stupid.

    Huh. Interesting question.

  2. I agree, it’s an interesting question. I hate floral wallpaper, fabrics & carpets, unless it is extremely stylized & abstracted. Art Deco & Art Nouveau (Tiffany)flowers are OK, Victorian flowers (Capodimonte)aren’t. I can’t justify or understand my prejudice. How can I be drawn to the former & revolted by the latter? Maybe psychoanalysis could answer that question.

  3. Moorish influenced stuff, and rich jewel-toned velvets, are as close as I have ever come with my Craftsman-y houses. I have some lovely fabric on two Stickley armchairs, all kind of tastefully unrepresentational. Not that I have anything against flowers, or trees; they just haven’t shown up on any of my stuff.

    That said, I am a sucker for floral crewelwork, especially on a pillow or two.

    Either way, I would love to sit under that new wallpaper and listen to you hold forth on naughty Ruskin, sipping some deep red wine.

  4. My problem with wallpaper, floral or otherwise, is that it interferes with artwork. If you have a lot of art, I think it can get in the way.

    Otherwise, I think some floral decor is fine, as an accent. I LOVE provencal floral prints for tablecloths, for example.. And interesting photography of plants can be cool too.

    A lot of people around here like the Morris paper, but for some reason I don’t go for it.

    I can’t answer your poll. There are way too many variables. What if somehow a relative left you an original Cezanne and there happened to be flowers on it. Not gonna hang it? (Yeah, yeah, you would sell it and buy a vineyard) But you know what I mean. There are good and bad floral items and far too many of either to say thumbs up or thumbs down.

  5. Many pieces of art depict the natural world and are beautiful.
    But no I do not like floral patterns in wall paper, in carpet or upholstery. Then again I don’t like stripes either…

  6. Got me thinking, too. SO I toured my house and find that I have plenty of patterns on walls or in quilts and other fabric arts, but none are floral. So while I answered the poll thusly – on walls, garden, etc. – I don’t practice that theory at all.

  7. Wallpaper is boring; you should look into stenciling.
    Oh, sorry, that’s my automatic response to wallpaper, since I make my living stenciling. I couldn’t help myself. But, oh, it is much nicer. And easier to change. And there are terrific natural stencils.

  8. I like flowers in paintings, but not in wallpaper, EXCEPT if it is a small print. For some reason a small floral wallpaper is okay for me. Not that big William Morris stuff. Yep, lots of flower paintings, photos, kids with flowers. In a quilt it’s okay too. Gee this really makes you sit back and have a look doesn’t it? Not so much on furniture but that just may be because I have my husband to think about. If I was on my own it is quite possible that I would do florals everywhere. Hmmmm, does he need to go?

  9. Several years ago I loved wallpaper, though with small florals. Now the florals come from the views of the garden outside, that is the art I most like seeing. I just stripped, using a scraper and my fingernails, my bathroom wallpaper, a birch tree bark from a computer photograph type affair, that I had tired of. Maybe that’s the key, so easily tiring, those floral patterns on the wall.

  10. Our bedroiom’s first wallpaper was from the early ’80s, a lovely waterfall of pink and peach and green tulips by Trisha Weld (sp?) I loved this paper. After our son was born I had a mild case of post partum depression and all I wanted to do was stay in my beautiful world of tulips. This wall paper is now gone because we have a cat who is a wallpaper stripper.

    Old house? Don’t go geometric straight lines, very difficult to get right with the uneven walls. This my spouse informed me thru gritted teeth after he had hung kitchen wall paper which looked like those early dishcloths that had thin red, green, yellow, and blue lines in them.

  11. Maybe the English owners of a house I once lived in had the right idea: while to my child’s eyes it was awful, it may have defused overly-fussy or floral wallpapers. One wall in each room was papered in something very busy or fussy: flowers, french street scenes, paisley, whatever. The other three walls were papered in subdued but complimentary patterns in harmonizing and matching colors: stripes, small lozenges, single floral spray repeats. The owners had done this in the late 1950’s or early 60’s,when it was evidently the latest thing in posh home decor.

    The other good use for Morris style wallpapers I’ve seen was in Victorian homes, with one paper used above the wainscoting and plenty of harmonizing border papers.

    But who am I to say? I still love the 40’s or 50’s coffee-grinder pattern wallpaper my grandmother had in her breakfast nook. I thought THAT was the height of elegance and sophistication when I was about 5 years old. Now I think it’s kind of kitschy, but I’d paper my kitchen with the stuff in a heartbeat.

  12. Individual style and taste is a deciding factor on which plants people will admit into their flower beds, just like the art they bring into their homes. So naturally, some floral patterns speak to me more than others. But when it comes to bringing the general population closer to nature, and therefore fostering a respect for the environment,what better way to make it happen than to display it (artistically)in the house?

  13. Individual style and taste is a deciding factor on which plants people will admit into their flower beds, just like the art they bring into their homes. So naturally, some floral patterns speak to me more than others. But when it comes to bringing the general population closer to nature, and therefore fostering a respect for the environment,what better way to make it happen than to display it (artistically)in the house?

  14. I like some of the light florals and stripes that were the style in the Georgian period, the kinds of interiors you see in the films of Jane Austen novels (if they’re done accurately). Le sigh — if only I had the Georgian manor to go with such a style (and the household staff to keep it all running).

    Florals got rather overblown in the Victorian era, and were just recovering from the wild excesses when the Arts and Crafts movement produced the papers you’re looking at. The art is lovely, but some of those patterns are best viewed in small doses — gift wrap, maybe, or greeting cards — but all over a wall, every day, can be a bit much.

    Something in soft colors, maybe even monochromatic, might be pleasing, along this sort of idea:

  15. I voted with Susan Harris on this one. My previous apartment had several nature-oriented pictures, but I have since moved into my husband’s house, and it has a completely different style that just does not go well with my formerly floral one. It has very clean lines, black on white, with dark wood, and the occasional bright accent.

    So my floral has moved closer to me. When I am not gardeining I like to bead, and I have made quite a few leaf/flower/vine pieces that I enjoy.

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