Book Review: De Gournay Wallpaper and Scandi Rustic Interiors

Suddenly there are new interiors books coming out every week after years of it being a massively unfashionable subject and it’s becoming hard to keep up. Today I’m going to show you two books from either end of the spectrum – in a vain (probably laughable) attempt to try and keep all of the people happy all of the time!

Askew designer Jeffrey Bilhuber photo William Waldron
Askew designer Jeffrey Bilhuber photo William Waldron

This, in case you couldn’t tell, is perhaps the supreme coffee table book and, indeed it is happily residing on mine. It is the De Gournay. Hand-painted Interiors (Rizzoli) and is a feast of their papers and murals. And it’s definitely a feast for the eyes, or, as my podcasting co-host Sophie Robinson would say: “It’s a flicker not a reader.”

And even the author, and founder, Claud Cecil Gurnay agrees writing on page 38: “Within you will find few facts, for others are better at amassing and recording such things; few truths …. for decoration is not a science searching for formulas and truth; and, indeed, few pages of the rich history of design, for that subject has been dealt with elsewhere far better than I could ever attempt.

Houghton designer Rose Cholmondeley photo Simon Brown
Houghton designer Rose Cholmondeley photo Simon Brown

“So, what’s left? The meanderings, anecdotes, experiences, epigrams, opinions, aphorisms and prejudices of an eccentric old Englishman. If you are already bored, my advice to you is to enjoy the photos and have a cup of tea.”

And, that is the kind of honesty I want from my coffee table books. Because the photos truly are magnificent. I remember reading an interview with Claudia Winkleman where she said that her father would regularly take her to art galleries but they would look at only one picture. They would stare and absorb and contemplate and then go home for tea. I think, if you are lucky enough to live nearby, that’s a great way to do it rather than a whistle stop tour where you don’t really take anything in but are left with a fleeting impression of good or bad. And I’ll say this for the pandemic, the social distancing rules do mean that you’re in with a chance of seeing the work rather than having to fight your way past the crowds.

Bespoke Vases hand painted wallpaper - interior Kelly Wearstler 1 (1)
Bespoke Vases hand painted wallpaper – interior Kelly Wearstler

That then, is how I might approach this giant book (it’s large and fat) – ration yourself to a few images at a time and really look. See the details, absorb the colours and note the styling. That is how this book works. Just don’t spill the tea on it.

St. Laurent designer Greg Natale photo Anson Smart
St. Laurent designer Greg Natale photo Anson Smart

For those that do want some of the detail de Gournay, is frequently referred to as the haute couture of wallpaper. The company was founded in 1984 by Claud Cecil Gurnay and fans include Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss, whose silver papered bathroom is in the book as well as Kelly Wearstler (above).

The studio employs only skilled Chinese artisans versed in the centuries-old practice. Each panel goes through a meticulously-controlled journey: silks are dyed, antique finishes are added, metallic papers are gilded, and composed scenes are sketched in pencil. The results are intricate and detailed works of art for your wall.

Amazonia photo R. Brad Knipstein
Amazonia photo R. Brad Knipstein

Now the second book, in complete contrast, is Scandi Rustic, Creating a Cozy and Happy Home (Ryland Peters & Small) by Rebecca Lawson and Reena Simon (otherwise known as Malmo & Moss and Hygge for Home. And yes I am mildly offended by the z in cozy/cosy but assume that was for the American market.

p55 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards
p55 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards

What I think is probably clear about both books is that they will preach to the converted. You will probably be drawn to one more than the other. You might like both. But I think it’s unlikely that the De Gournay will convert you to florals any more than the rustic look will persuade those who like their interiors a little more honed. That said, I’m wary of any echo chamber and the one thing that social media has done for us is create more of those so I’m showing you both and let’s have discussion about what we like and why in the comments below. Keep it nice.

p55 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards
p55 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards the home of Lisa Brass of Design Vintage

So this book takes you through creating a scheme starting with colour and working through lighting, textures and materials with a section on finishing touches. Then we get to visit various homes which, in similar vein to Pearl Lowe’s Faded Glamour, explore the different types of rustic style from industrial to coastal via by the sea and in the woods as well as architectural and city with country and cabin.

Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards
p117 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards

Each house is discussed and dissected in detail to give the reader a clear understanding of how to create the look in their own home via pointers on why it works or styling tricks to use. I always think it’s fascinating learning how other people decorate their homes the way they do and this will provide ample fodder for those who agree with me.

p141 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards
p141 Scandi Rustic image by Benjamin Edwards

The key takeaway from both these books though is that texture is key; whether you chose to layer delicate florals with silk, gilt and velvet, or prefer a more earthy palette of textures and materials, make sure your home includes plenty of different surfaces to create spaces that not only look good but feel good too.





Tags : coffee table bookDe GournayDe Gournay Wallpaperinterior booknew interior booksScandi RusticScandi rustic book
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I like both! I think I’m more drawn to the fancy wallpaper though, that peachy one with the green in the bathroom looks great!

  2. The images in the de Gournay book express a high art form admired for its longevity of hand crafted skill and delicate detail.
    To see these wall coverings in print provides an accessible vehicle by which one can appreciate the timeless beauty of these wall coverings through their visibility, and in the knowledge the cost to own one is not likely.
    My own home decoration is influenced by the Scandinavian design of minimalism and the use of natural materials. I cannot appreciate the rustic primitive aesthetic in the book Scandi. The image of the animal skull on the wall is becoming a trend in interior decoration (page 117). I see it often on Instagram pages. The American artist Georgia O’Keefe incorporated animal skulls in her art, as a documentation of the landscape in which she lived. I do like the potted olive tree on page 55. I have the container but yet to find the tree. A good post; hope you will receive many comments.

  3. I love both too. That’s my trouble. It all looks fantastic and I appreciate being shown a mix of styles, that’s why I’m here.

  4. The Amazonia wallpaper is so good. Those of us with real world budgets might look at Lucy Tiffney for a similar shot of colour and a painterly vibe.

  5. Is it possible to like elements of both? A bit of rustic maximalism? Or perhaps Rustic Luxe?!!!!

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