Skip to content
Real Estate
Link copied to clipboard

London designer brings freshness, color to classics

His shop is a hot destination in the heart of London's trendy Chelsea district, but designer William Yeoward is considered a stylemaker on both sides of the Atlantic.

His shop is a hot destination in the heart of London's trendy Chelsea district, but designer William Yeoward is considered a stylemaker on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yeoward's antiques and designs - in fabric, crystal, china, furniture and home accessories - always seem fresh. Whether it's color (often bold or unexpected combinations), pattern (familiar but edgy), texture, finish or form that makes them special, his handcrafted pieces stand out.

Most of Yeoward's fan base in the United States is due to his elegant crystal and china. Many of his hand-cut vases, decanters and stemware pieces are reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century objects, but they look amazingly modern.

His fine English bone china is robust in pattern and palette compared with other traditional formal dinnerware. One collection of solids is offered in apple green, orange, magenta, lavender, powder blue and chocolate rimmed in gold and costs a cool $150 to $300 per dinner plate.

Yeoward, 48, has been producing furniture in Britain for 21 years. But only after his crystal took off (it's available in more than 200 stores, including Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's) did he branch out with lamps, rugs, and table and bed linens.

"I'm very keen on thinking outside the box," says Yeoward, who is a model for his philosophy. On a recent visit to Chicago to introduce his book, Perfect Tables: Tabletop Secrets, Settings and Centerpieces for Delicious Dining (Cico Books, $29.95), he was impeccably dressed, but not at all in the attire one might expect of a high-end designer.

There was no dapper pinstriped suit, jaunty tie, or pocket kerchief. Yeoward, a contributing editor to Elle Decor magazine, instead was happily attired in sporty chic, punctuated by black jeans, a striped shirt with a spot of orange, and lime velvet running shoes.

The fabrics he designs are available through Designers Guild, a company known for bold fabric and wallpaper collections. Yeoward's textile palette includes unorthodox color combinations such as orange and taupe or raspberry and lavender that seem to eschew trends.

His patterns may feature what he calls "blowsy" blooms such as cabbage roses in cut velvet on linen, chenille jacquards, and cotton voiles. Inspiration ranges from the American Midwest to Provence to Thailand and Japan.

What distinguishes a Yeoward design is a little tweak, something unexpected, a reflection of his personal style. When dressing a table, for example, he might select a blue plaid blanket with cobalt glasses and, at every setting, purple anemones set in miniature glass butter pails doubling as bud vases.

The stacked spheres of his handblown crystal lamps are not unusual. What pops is the fascinating crackle, deeply carved grooves, and assortment of colors - turquoise, sage, mimosa, mango, rose and lime - topped by fabric shades edged in contrasting bands of velvet.

"I don't believe in reinventing the wheel," he says, often drawing inspiration from the past. "Quality never dates."

Simplicity of line and shape are constants in his interiors, a melange of new and old, plain and gilded. In his furniture, hallmarks may be the choice of wood - rosewood, acajou (a type of chestnut), mahogany, ebony, limed oak (a whitewash technique that raises the grain) - or a particular veneer or paint finish that signals technique out of the ordinary.

So a very simple box, a buffet called Cire in his furniture collection, has a striped appearance because of a duck's-egg-blue base peeking through skinny oak bands. A clean-lined mirror is set off crisply with a bead of polished nickel that lends sparkle. Shagreen (snakeskin) pieces are produced in arresting hues such as framboise (raspberry), turquoise, aubergine, and a sassy orange called satsuma.

His pieces are pricey; a large breakfront can cost up to $30,000. His crystal is more affordable, with some glasses selling for less than $50 apiece.

But Yeoward would rather his designs be considered more inviting and comfortable than elitist. In a neutral living room, the designer may team boxy chairs and a skirted sofa with petite curvy arms. Burgundy cushions are a surprising topper to the creamy upholstery. Silky pillows are striped or polka-dotted in totally unrelated colors.

"I adore color," Yeoward says, adding that his favorite pairing is "a most delicious combination" of robin's-egg blue and coffee.

His table linens are intricately embroidered in gold, silver or white threads. Bed linens demonstrate a bit of verve with embroidery in modern motifs - squiggles, dots and florals that look hand-drawn. Pillows may be decorated with organdy ribbons, fabric appliques, embroidery, or beads in familiar applications totally energized because of hues or scale.

His advice for decorating a home?

"Do it your way. Feel jolly happy about it. Do you really care what people think? If you think it's pretty, then it's pretty."