Real Living: The return of the clash
James Sherwood meets one man who has no plans to chuck out his chintz
Sunday 05 October 1997
The English are notoriously colour-shy. As the late Jean Muir once said, taste and restraint walk hand in hand. Not in Fassett's house it doesn't. Far from chucking out your chintz, Fassett would advise you to make it into a colourful patchwork quilt. He has taken what the tasteocracy see as folksy pastimes, such as knitting or quilting, and turned them into baroque interior schemes.
Fassett's home speaks volumes about the dynamo who cuts a creative swathe through the mountains of eclectic clutter. "My home is like the back lot at 20th Century Fox," he says. "I am constantly layering, moving, experimenting. For example, I painted that wall yellow with overblown roses all over it to get a rise out of a Japanese film crew who were visiting. I'll change it tomorrow." One wall, treated to work like a pinboard, is covered with Fassett's paintings. It is a moveable feast. Fassett likes an interior with a life of its own. "I don't like to hide things away," he says. "I have enough hidden away to fill another house. I know I'm over the top and maybe one day I'll sweep it all away and start again. But I find it stimulating to be surrounded by this craziness when I design.
"I was born in San Francisco, which was a formative influence on my colour sense," he continues. "I'd go down to Chinatown and see piles of oranges on scarlet plates laid out on magenta paper at Christmas. That's what I call high colour. Ravishing. I was very excited by Russian style on a recent trip: the Faberge Easter eggs encrusted layer upon layer with elaborate colours.
Fassett's philosophy of design is, at the bottom line, recycling pattern. The delicate blue Japanese porcelain crowding the windowsill is painted in vast still lives, printed onto fabric throws then smashed into small pieces and inlaid on tables. It is cluttered not kitsch. "When I lecture, the first project I set is use 20 colours on one design. Then use 20 more. Colour doesn't have to be garish. It could be 20 different shades of driftwood or stones. The harsh Indian colours are inspiring but you can 'do' colour with subtlety and taste," he says.
Fassett's taste for pattern and colour is very sophisticated, honed by fine art rather than chintzy English country-house style. " I am a great admirer of Vuillard. He'd paint women in floral dresses in front of densely flowered wallpapers. Then there'd be a shawl on the piano printed with flowers and a bouquet of real flowers in the forefront: lashings of pattern but still subtle. It worked as a whole. That's what I want out of interiors."
Fassett worked through minimalism as a painter in the Sixties before graduating to colour. "I used to paint still life compositions of white porcelain on white tables in white rooms. I'd occasionally use a touch of palest blue if I wanted to be daring. But after five years I got over it."
As if admitting a guilty secret, Fassett says, "I do have a lot of beige and soft stone colours in my bedroom and one of my white paintings hanging there. So, yes, I do like to wake up in a calm room. But I can't wait to get to my studio and see the colour. Then I know I've really woken up."
'Patchwork' by Kaffe Fassett, Ebury Press (pounds 25). To coincide with his 60th birthday. Fassett is exhibiting a new collection of paintings from 7-29 December at the Catto Gallery, 100 Heath Street, London NW3, 0171 435 6660.
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