I can’t get enough of the 1980s. It might be rose-tinted glasses but my happy childhood holds fond memories. The music, the TV shows, even the shoulder pads were exciting and a vibrant positivity seemed to buzz in the air.
And, of course, there were the Laura Ashley interiors.
On a recent charity shop rummage I discovered the 1985 edition of The Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating. I was transfixed. Flicking through the pages took me back to the glory days of mid-Eighties decor. Clutching my priceless find got me thinking about the astonishing rise of this much-loved brand.
By amazing coincidence, I met the lady who worked on the very first Laura Ashley interiors book published in 1982 and spent time with the Ashleys at their chateau. The book she produced, like my charity shop find, is packed with stunning photographs of their home along with how-to soft furnishing projects, decorating tips and style advice to achieve the ‘look’. It was a huge success.
Romance was key and as you’d expect, there are large doses of ruffles, festoon blinds, drapes above the beds and stencilling on the walls. Colours were contrasted between rich darker schemes with a nod towards William Morris and lighter muted tones.
To fully embrace the style, everything had to match. The soft furnishings, wallpaper and even the lampshades were in the same design.
As I devoured the book, it surprised me how many of the style elements are in fashion today. The Eighties boom in Victorian pine and mahogany furniture seems to be coming back around. I’ve seen a number of antique pine kitchen dressers heaving with blue-and-white china and, not only that, looking through the Laura Ashley book I was also surprised to find vintage enamelware and a heavy black and gold singer sewing machine displayed on kitchen shelving.
Plus, if you thought using large old keys as a quirky display was a recent trend, the book shows that Laura Ashley got there first. A true vintage pioneer of what was to come nearly 30 years later.
The company’s story began in 1953 when Laura and Bernard Ashley began printing textiles from the kitchen table of their tiny London flat. The first item they produced was a headscarf in a small square geometric design and thanks to Audrey Hepburn’s glamorous headscarf-bedecked turn in Roman Holiday, which came out the same year, the orders soon began to flood in.
Not long after, the family moved to Wales, where the business laid down firm foundations and grew with the development of the first flatbed printing machine that could produce 5,000m of fabric per week.
When they opened their first London shop in 1968 trade was slow initially, but after Bernard took out 100 adverts on the underground, business boomed.
These days Laura Ashley is an international concern with more than 200 stores in the UK and Ireland and a growing global franchise operation. For vintage sellers it’s a heartening success story from humble beginnings and it goes to show that a sprinkle of vintage magic can go a very long way.
Tweet Sarah-Jane at @vintagehomeshop