Interiors: Choose a house, choose to decorate, choose wallpaper

`Trainspotting' set designer Kave Quinn has turned her back on minimalism and transformed her London terrace into a riot of classic hand- printed wallpaper. Nonie Niesewand is dazzled

Lord Irvine will go down in history as a dandy. How we laughed to learn that the Gormenghastly wallpapers with which he camouflaged his Pugin pad in the House of Lords cost pounds 100 a roll. Unwittingly, however, it seems that he started a trend. Clones of the Lord Irvine school of decorating are cropping up all over the suburbs as 19th-century hand-blocked wallpapers from Voysey, Pugin, Webb and Morris become fashionable once again. The "bog-standard" north London terrace house of set designer Kave Quinn is a prime example.

"Good on Lord Irvine," Quinn says. "That Pugin stuff is great, and it's appropriate in that setting. At home I find it like living with works of art, a living museum really." The look is completely different to one of her more recent films, A Life Less Ordinary, starring Cameron Diaz. In that film, her set for heaven was whiter than a soap-powder promo, with powdery walls, a chalky floor so alabaster pure that the film crew had to wear surgical gloves and boots so as not to mark it. "Hell to me," Quinn says, "devoid of colour because it's devoid of emotions".

Wall-to-wall emotion - as well as astonishment and a certain unease - confronts the visitor to Quinn's own home in Finsbury Park, which she shares with husband Aidan, baby Oonagh, toddler Fergus and two Hungarian sheepdogs with Rasta tangles. It's like stepping into a kaleidoscope and just as dazzling. Tiny rooms tremble with walls of over-scaled 1890s wallpaper patterns by Charles Voysey and William Morris. Everything has been pasted with paper covered in the stylised leaves of the late 19th century or painted in cocktail colours such as daiquiri, creme de menthe and damson.

In the tiny living room, William Morris paper sprouts spiked leaves more robustly than the real-life tree outside. In the bedroom, rattled by trains passing along the railway line at the bottom of the garden, Voysey's giant green tulips pulsate upon pink and blue, more triffid-like than tulip, so vibrant that it's like stepping inside Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak's scary book for kids. "The effect in our bedrooms is 3-D," says Quinn, "very Rousseau, jungly, naive. You don't quite know what's in the forest, bit of nightmare really."

Of course, that wasn't the impression the staid old Victorians wanted when they stylised nature and hand-blocked it on paper rolls. They were looking for a painterly effect. Sanderson still has the original hand- blocks for the extravagant designs of William Morris and Charles Voysey. Turning them into wallpaper requires what the design historian Peter Floud describes as a kind of "niggling repetitive handwork". Kave likes the painterly Arts and Crafts papers, "like potato prints", precisely because they show their handwork and are not products of the industrialised machine age. She got hers specially coloured by Sanderson, with the effect that the images appear to dilate and inflate. "Complementary colours and contrasts alter perception and the depth of field," she explains, which is why they have an emotional charge.

Her film sets for Shallow Grave and Trainspotting won awards for the same reason, her emotional use of colour design. That smug professional flat in Shallow Grave with its yellow walls with green dados like the Habitat catalogue was a sinister place pierced with shafts of light and long shadows. The turning point in the movie came when three friends found their new flat-mate was a heroin dealer who had OD'd in his room. Quinn visited the mortuary to find out exactly the right colour blue to paint the walls in his bedroom to get that drop-dead chill factor.

Her research for Trainspotting took her into crack smokers' shooting galleries and men's urinals. "We had to get yukkiness without being yukky. For that horrible toilet scene which most people remember, I overdid it with a breeze-block addition to a betting shop, slightly below ground level, water running down the walls, filthy, smashed tiles, never been cleaned and the only door hanging off the only cubicle."

The Day-glo orange and shocking pinks of the sets brought a sense of isolation and alienation to the characters, something she learnt from studying Francis Bacon's paintings. "It was never a documentary," she argues. "We had to set an emotional tone and either focus or divert attention. Irvine Welsh has more to offer than drug takers and losers. The film reflects the humour of the book. Grim, yes, real, but the same feeling the book had."

Kave used to be a punk who dyed her hair pink and strutted her stuff on the King's Road. The nose-thumbing dressage for her own home is inspired by a French chateau she and Aidan visited on a motorbike tour of France. She loves the richness and opulence and flamboyance that she finds sadly lacking from the English country houses bogged down in good taste.

It's the weirdly layered look of previous centuries that Quinn likes to deconstruct, pull apart, pierce and rip off in her own way. Quinn calls her style "fancy" and in her modest terrace reproduces this faux chateau style with heraldic muslin banners by Celia Birtwell, which show a hybrid bestiary - of a camel crossed with a porcupine, a yak with a fishface tortoise and a spotted unicorn. While Birtwell studied textiles at the Royal College of Art, Quinn studied costume at Central St Martins, where her tutors always said she was a good colourist. Her degree show was pink and green cowboy costume stuff, "very Vegas".

But until a few years ago the only work in films was for Merchant Ivory period pieces or BBC costume dramas, both of which she dislikes. So she took a film course, which led to her meeting Andrew Macdonald and Danny Boyle, the makers of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and the rest is history. Film work means building sets on an exaggerated scale, increasing the alienation of the actors without distorting the scale too much. The sitting room in Shallow Grave was modelled on New Town Edinburgh flats stretched to 40ft by 35ft. Her own living room is only 20ft by 15ft but she stretches the scale with the William Morris paper - "an overscaled pattern in layered colours to give it extra depths. You perceive the space like a camera lens opening wide focus and then zooming in close."

This celluloid approach makes sure that William Morris and his band of Merrie Olde Englanders don't pass their sell-by date. Morris will be back in fashion at the turn of this century just as he was in the last, she predicts. (Indeed, the world's most comprehensive archive of late 19th- and early 20th-century papers and textiles, the Silver Studio Collection, is now going back into production. The collection is owned by Hornsey College of Art, part of Middlesex University, and licensing of the designs to manufacturers will fund a museum devoted to the Silver Studio.) Not that Morris would be at home playing the spinet with his friend Rossetti in Quinn's home. This is the psychedelic version of his Utopian vision. Morris on acid.

Furnished in plain wooden Mormon furniture which Kave found in Salt Lake City during the filming of A Life Less Ordinary, with chandeliers and mirrors and triptychs and curious ornaments that include Lego creations by Fergus, her home is anything but commonplace. It certainly overturns the maxim that small houses are best painted white and left clutter-free. No one can deny that, after the last gasp of all-white minimalism, this style offers decoration with a well-defined personality

Off the wall: where to get the look

Sanderson 112-120 Brompton Road, London SW3 (0171-584 3344). Reproduces all William Morris, and some Voysey and Pugin designs. Morris hand-blocked wallpaper is available to order (about pounds 200 per roll). Sanderson also provides a historical research service.

Cole & Son Wallpapers Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 (0171-376 4628). Suppliers of wallpaper to Lord Irvine, Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament, Cole & Son provides a hand-blocked service of Pugin wallpaper designs to order, as well as other printed designs.

Watts & Company 7 Tufton Street, London SW1 (0171-222 7169). Pugin wallpaper, screen-printed and hand-blocked designs to order. From pounds 64 per roll.

Alexander Beauchamp 2-12 Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, London SW10 (0171-376 4556). Carries an extensive range of Victorian and Arts and Crafts wallpaper designs. Some can be reproduced by hand-blocking and printing, using authentic colours. Hand-prints from pounds 150 per roll (minimum order 10 rolls).

The Victorian Society (0181-994 1019) produces a booklet entitled Care for Victorian Houses No 5: Wall Coverings, which provides essential information as well as a list of companies who specialise in reproduction wall coverings, pounds 3 (incl p&p).

See a William Morris interior in situ at the National Trust owned Standen House, East Grinstead, West Sussex. Enquiries 0181-315 1111. Aoife O'Riordain

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy