Bennison Fabrics – decorating the future with the prints of the past


Image above – George Smith Edwardian Chair upholstered in Bennison Fabrics Zanzibar Faded Yellow on Oyster, by William Heuberger

Interview by Fiona Sanderson and words by Hannah Norman

Ever since the antiques dealer, Geoffrey Bennison, realised that there was nothing in the contemporary fabric houses of the late ’70s that would complement the style and antiques of grand European homes, Bennison Fabrics has specialised in producing – by hand – some of the finest designs ever transferred onto linen. These aren’t just any old designs, either – these are based on exquisite pieces from the 18th and 19th century. Fiona Sanderson met Director Gillian Newberry to understand more about the background of this traditional English brand.

George Smith Dog Kennel Sofa upholstered in Bennison Fabrics Crewelwork - Jungle Colors on Oyster, styled by Herringbone Design (image credit - William Heuberger)

With such a large collection of prints to choose from, Bennison are happy to tailor their designs to suit the needs – and the interiors – of their clients. “English women have always had a very strong identity when it comes to planning how their houses should look,” Gillian explains. “They tell us what they’re putting with what, and the girls work with them for hours sometimes, with carpet samples and photographs of paintings or antiques. They work very hard putting a look together and finding different fabrics that will go.” It’s a very thorough process. With new clients, the Bennison team will want to know how a client will be decorating the entire room, covering everything from the floor – stone, wood, carpet, rugs – to the windows and the way the light will come into the room. “With all these things,” Gillian says, “you have to have an idea of how they want the house to look, so that you can help them.”

Bennison Cadogan Chair upholstered in Dragon Flower Green Blue Brown on Oyster, and walling and drapes in Chinese Paper Original on Oyster Silk (image credit - Andrea Chu)

With the world changing at an ever-quicker pace, Gillian is increasingly aware of the circle of design that perpetuates the fabric market. “There’s a zeitgeist, which is peculiar the way it happens, but it happens in fashion, so it happens with materials too,” she says. “We’ll have a fabric and then everybody will be ordering it, and you think, how does that happen? They don’t all know each other, and they’re living on different continents. It’s like it just popped into their heads. I don’t look at colour forecasts or anything like that, but you just have a feeling with your next design what the colour should be.”

Christmas Roses silk upholstered antique chair and assorted Bennison Fabrics (image credit - Andrea Chu)

Since Bennison’s untimely death in 1984, Gillian has remained at the helm of the brand that bears his name, acquiring the rights to the fabrics and continuing to build on the collection, “always thinking, would Geoffrey have liked this?” It’s a philosophy that clearly works. With over 40 years of experience to fall back on, she’s something of a master in her field. “I was more interested in the fabrics than the antiques,” she says, recalling the five years that she worked under Bennison in his antique shop. She’s also delighted that consumers are still interested in Bennison’s original designs. “He had a very small collection but people are still ordering the same ones that he used, which is fantastic – really, really lovely,” she smiles.

Walling in Bennison Paradise Original on Oyster and Bennison Bollington Sofa in Onikoko Indigo on Oyster (image credit - Ken Sparkes)

That said, Gillian is as equally inspired by the more modern as she is by the comparatively traditional. “With prints, it’s how you use them. You can make it work, just as you can make a modern interior in a Georgian house work. The old and the new can work together for sure,” she says. But what would Bennison have said of her approach? “I’m sure that had he lived, he would have just gone with the flow and created designs that would work in either a classic or contemporary setting.”

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