Art and craft give interiors their soul. They personalize, like all things bespoke, and make a house your own, with an intimacy that really is hard to match, especially when there's a backstory.
These objects speak to you, especially when they have a memorable provenance that adds a touch of romance. A piece of tinwork you acquired while traveling. Or a one-of-a-kind decorative ceramic pot that you fell in love with in an artist's studio. Perhaps folk art from a museum. You may have learned about the inspiration for a rug and how it was woven. Just seeing these pieces in your foyer or living room brings you back and adds to the enjoyment.
Particularly in the last few decades, the appreciation for handcrafted objects has swelled. Seeking the artisanal extends to everything from aromatic soaps to chocolates, like the hand-decorated signature ganaches from MarieBelle New York Chocolates, which look like a box of 16 miniature paintings, each with a different flavor.
The appeal, says Caroline Hipple, president of Norwalk Furniture, which has featured craft-inspired looks on its fabrics for upholstery and pillows, is authenticity. "It's an antidote to mass consumerism, the opposite of technology. We want to feel the touch, know the source, relate to the maker. Celebration of indigenous materials, using them in new ways -- that's what I love."
Bolstered by globalization and easier access online, sites such as the handcrafted product marketplace Etsy foster relationships, introducing and connecting makers with buyers. Artisans may be discovered, like Justin Bieber, on YouTube, Instagram or other social media. Or they meet up through local or international craft shows.
In Dublin, Ireland, there's an annual creative expo entirely devoted to Irish artisans called Showcase, organized by Enterprise Ireland. Alanna Gallagher, who curated the Home and Gift editors choice selections at Showcase this year, says, "The story each piece tells is vitally important. Products I consider worth featuring must first and foremost be functional, but they must also be covetable and engaging."
At shows like Maison et Objet in Paris and Salone del Mobile in Milan, booths are well scouted by retail buyers, designers and manufacturers looking for new creative craft.
Art museums collaborate with manufacturers on licensed furnishings collections, including Traditions Made Modern, which holds the Museum of New Mexico Foundation at its core. The rich resources include traditional and ethnographic materials from the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the New Mexico History Museum. Themes from these institutions are adapted into modern pieces of furniture, lighting, textiles and accessories. Its latest licensees include Hickory Chair, Maitland Smith, Jaipur Living, with African Kuba cloth-inspired, hand-knotted carpets, and Wildwood lamps, whose inspirations include Turkish ceramics, Native American jewelry and indigo-dyed Japanese coats.
At a recent design summit in Santa Fe, Pamela Kelly, vice president of licensing for the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, spoke of the importance of expanding its brand.
"Using the resources of our four museums," says Kelly, "we inspire with new ideas, exploring materials and methods. The alchemy is an intersection of technology and tradition -- one fast; one slow. We believe they're two sides of the same coin."
Consider the art of New Yorker George Venson, whose signature style is bold graphics and color. His inspirations take him to his Greek roots with urns and vase imagery, the Ballets Russes, new takes on chinoiserie and flora and fauna, all in a vibrant expression. His paintings are translated into wallcoverings and fabrics with digital printing.
Digital printing has revolutionized such production, as well as that of porcelain tile, creating texture as well as pattern. Printing with 3-D technology is reportedly saving some designer careers in Italy, where numbers have been dwindling due to competition from China.
For contemporary artists, it's often difficult to market wares without gallery or retail representation. The Artful Home catalog, launched in 1985, has been one forum, representing more than 19,000 original works of art in a curated collection.
Forward-thinking retailers like West Elm, which in the past has done pop-ups with Etsy, launched a local initiative to discover artisans -- painters, furniture makers, potters, quilters -- to spotlight in area stores. Its network now includes more than 500 makers, with 4,500 products, some one-of-a-kind works.
Other companies regularly seek out artists. Currently, one of Venson's new chinoiserie papers is available on Anthropologie's website. The retailer also has its own creative team that designs in house, with inspiration from contributors' various travels.
Romo, a high-end fabric manufacturer based in the UK, nodded to London watercolor artist Jessica Zoob for a riveting collection a few years back. Described as a modern impressionist, Zoob's dreamy large-scale florals and lush palette are especially enchanting on velvet and linen.
Irish artist Sue Gifford's large-scale splash of roses printed on a linen pillow at Showcase Ireland were breathtaking.
Drawing from ancient, antique or vintage pieces can often assume a more modern sensibility with a shift up in scale or by changing media (pottery to glass) or design and technique (as in Waterford's edgy Punk collection from four years back). At Maison et Objet in Paris, technique dazzled with colored crystal bowls from Swarovski that feature new laser jet crystal printing.
Mixing media also intrigues. Last year's trend in teaming wood and marble continues with a fresh wrinkle: a black-and-white-striped resin set into a beautifully figured acacia bowl by Juliska.
Old World crafts, like lost wax and sand mold casting, also are shaken up with modern aesthetics. Jonathan Glatt of the O&G Studio created a series of brackets and hardware that steals the show from the white lacquer shelves it supports.
Even contract furnishings companies -- which service hospitality venues, offices and hospitals -- spotlight craft or the craft-inspired. The Milan-based Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola, art director for Hayworth (a company based in Holland, Michigan, that includes Poltrona Frau, Cappellini and Janus et Cie), created a group of modern rugs for Gan that look like giant knit and crocheted patchworks in a perky palette. Knoll often takes inspiration from the fashion world, and a recent launch by designers for SUNO features Japanese motifs.
Computers, 3-D printing and new technologies have generated a maker's movement, with DIY a big component. Spirited by MAKE magazine, which launched in 2005, there now are Maker Faires, billed as festivals of creativity and invention, all over the country (www.makerfaire.com).
But there are some who still prefer -- and are trying to keep alive -- the good old-fashioned by-hand methods.
Ger Collins, who designs a range of soft furnishings for the nursery under the label Pippablue, is passionate about passing the tradition to children and grown-ups. With pop-y patterns, including tweeds and bold, non-traditional colors, she and her business partner, Eve Esteve ("two mums and sewing teachers"), create charming kits cut and packed in their studio on the west coast of Ireland.
With an early start, perhaps the enthusiasm of maker can be nurtured -- especially when it comes to defining one's style. And creating, above all else, for the pure joy of it.
-- Anthropologie, 800-309-2500, www.anthropologie.com
-- Avoca, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.avoca.com
-- Claire Newell Ceramics, clairenewellceramics.com
-- Cole & Son Ltd., email@example.com, to the trade through Lee Jofa, 312-544-2965, www.cole-and-son.com
-- Hickory Chair, 800-225-0265, www.hickorychair.com
-- Horchow, 877-944-9888, www.horchow.com
-- Knoll, 866-565-5858, www.knoll.com/textiles
-- Maison Christian Lacroix for Roche Bobois, 212-980-2574, www.roche-bobois.com
-- Nambe, 800-443-0339, www.nambe.com
-- Pierre Frey, 212-421-0534, www.pierrefrey.com
-- Pippablue, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.pippablue.com
-- Rejuvenation, 888-401-1900, www.rejuvenation.com
-- Sue Gifford Design, email@example.com, www.suegifforddesign.com
-- Sundance, 800-422-2770, www.sundancecatalog.com
-- Swarovski, 888-207-9873, www.swarovski.com
-- Valdese Weavers, 828-874-2181, www.valdeseweavers.com
-- Voutsa, 646-892-7797, www.voutsa.com
-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com