Picture perfect decor

Forget e-mailing your holiday snaps to friends - the latest trend is to get them printed on your furnishings instead. Nicole Swengley reports
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The Independent Online

We live in an increasingly visual world. But digital advances don't just enable you to capture prized moments on camera and whizz them instantly around the world by e-mail: similar technology drives the high-definition digital printing techniques that are giving walls, floors, fabrics and furnishings a bold new look.

We live in an increasingly visual world. But digital advances don't just enable you to capture prized moments on camera and whizz them instantly around the world by e-mail: similar technology drives the high-definition digital printing techniques that are giving walls, floors, fabrics and furnishings a bold new look.

"Photography is the most accessible art form," says Tony Davis of the digital furnishing specialist, Art Meets Matter. "People relate very easily to literal photographic images, and when they are translated into furnishings there's an element of pattern-making that people find appealing."

His company's digital image bank includes blown-up cross-sections of fruit and vegetables, touchy-feely flowers and textures such as peeling paint. These can be printed on ceramic tiles for about £7.99. Or you can use the company's more expensive bespoke service, as one client did: he ordered bathroom tiles showing his own photographs of the Arctic Circle.

"You can make the ultimate personal statement using photographic images on virtually any furnishings these days," says the designer Kate Osborn. Her company, Photo-Furnishings, prints clients' photographs and illustrations on a range of materials from silk or cotton to leather.

Her commissions illustrate how versatile the technique is. So far, she has been asked to create wallpaper incorporating family photographs, blinds covered with party snapshots, shower-room tiles with black-and-white photographs of Grace Jones, chairs covered with images of passionflowers and headboards printed with flowerbeds, sunsets and landscapes.

Osborn can also give a stylish photo-finish to cushions , lampshades and fabric. At £60 for a cushion or £80 for a square metre of fabric the service isn't cheap, but you do get a look you can't buy in the shops.

Some designers prefer to use their own photographs. Ella Doran runs a thriving business producing digitally printed, acrylic laminated place mats and coasters covered with images such as tropical fruit and flowers for Portmeirion. The company also sells her range of photo-realistic china, and Doran markets her custom-made photo-decorated roller blinds (from £200) direct.

The designer Dominic Crinson, meanwhile, has developed techniques to print computer-manipulated photographic images directly onto ceramics. His Digitiles, which are finished with a matt glaze, turn a dull shower room into an underwater fantasy or a kitchen worktop into an exotic jungle. Cross-section images of papaya, watermelon or red cabbage are particularly striking when blown up as huge wall tiles. Prices start at about £300 per square metre.

Walls, because of their size, are ripe for photo-mural treatments. Imagine a huge orchid covering your bedroom wall, or a dramatic sweep of urban architecture decorating the kitchen. Botanic and architectural images are available from Ornamenta's site-specific wallpaper collection (from £200 per square metre), and the company can also convert good holiday snaps into custom-made happy-memory wallpaper.

If you'd prefer to give your floor the photo-treatment, Harvey Maria's cork-based photo tiles will turn it into, say, a sandy beach, pebbled path or grassy lawn. A PVC laminate gives the tiles a tough surface that belies the softness of their subject matter - some of the tiles depict bubbles, feathers or petals. The £39.95 packs cover one square metre.

If the floor is a step too far for you, then Sharon Elphick's screens, room-dividers and wall-hangings, printed with images of cloudscapes, exotic flowers and urban architecture, could catch your eye. "My earlier work was on canvas, but I can now print digitally onto almost any surface - aluminium, wood and even Perspex," she says. "This increases the scope for making functional pieces such as screens, fabrics, wallpapers and floor-coverings." Prices start at £400 for a framed wall-hanging, while a custom-made, three-way folding screen standing 6ft tall costs from £3,000.

Art Meets Matter: 01672 519870, www.artmeetsmatter.com

Digitile: 020-7613 2783, www.crinson.com

Ella Doran: 020-7613 0782, www.elladoran.co.uk

Harvey Maria: 020-8542 0088, www.harveymaria.co.uk

Photo-Furnishings: 020-7575 3030, www.photo-furnishings.com

Portmeirion: 01782 743691, www.portmeirion.co.uk

Ornamenta: 020-7591 0077, www.ornamenta.co.uk

Sharon Elphick: 020-7813 3632

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