Sheila Bownas: The Grey Sofa

sheilabownas edwin sofa in grey
the Edwin sofa in Grey by Sheila Bownas

Meet Edwin. He comes from the Sheila Bownas store and these are the very first pictures of him in grey courtesy of Chelsea Cefai, who bought the Bownas archive in 2008 and has been gradually bringing three decades of undiscovered patterns back to life.

In addition to Edwin the sofa, which also comes in blue, there is Edwin the turned wood table lamp and lots of gorgeous cushions and prints.

Sheila Bownas, who died in 2007, was a talented artist who studied at the Slade in London and had five paintings accepted at the Royal Academy of Art. During the 50s and 60s, she  worked on numerous commissions for Liberty of London, Crown Wallpapers, Marks and Spencer and the German firm PW Bruck-Messel. She was also commissioned to work on pictures for the National History Museum, mainly in the botanical section.

mid century modern grey sofa from sheila bownas
mid century modern grey sofa from sheila bownas

In later years she returned home to Yorkshire where, unbeknownst to her family, she continued to work on textile designs in her tiny Dales studio until her death. Then hundreds of paintings and drawings were discovered.

Chelsea was renovating her kitchen at the time and looking for some interesting patterns to break up the white space. “I came across Sheila’s vivid designs at an auction and instantly knew they were perfect. However, I also discovered the collection consisted of a lot of original works and the whole lot was about to go under the hammer.

“I was aware of the importance of keeping such a significant body of work together as it was part of our heritage and secondly because I loved the patterns so much I had a sudden urge to save it in the hope that one day I could bring the designs back to life. So we took the plunge and bought the lot .”

Sheila Bownas patterns brought to live by Chelsea Cefai
Sheila Bownas patterns brought to life by Chelsea Cefai

After a year of research and careful consideration, Chelsea produced a range of giclee prints from Sheila’s designs as well as several cushions using a selection of the prints. Edwin has a laser pattern of one of her patterns cut into the wood on the base, which is a brilliant detail that I love.

This first grey Edwin has gone to his new home in Surrey, and Chelsea is busy preparing for a major exhibition on Bownas to take place next year.

“For me, her work captures the mood of each decade perfectly. The early patterns from the 1950s are neatly abstract and thoroughly modern, mirroring the futuristic styles of other more, well known designers such as Lucienne Day and Robert Stewart. The later designs of the 60s and 70s are both vivid and bold showing off her skill to form a clever pattern repeat,” she says.

edwin lamp by Chelsea Cefai for Sheila Bownas
edwin lamp by Chelsea Cefai for Sheila Bownas

Edwin was the result of a six month collaboration with Garry Smith from Parlour. “I felt this simple mid 20th century design would work well with the clean lines of the 1950s inspired fabric,” says Chelsea.

“It’s been an absolute joy working on this project and I would consider further pieces maybe a coffee table or a footstool but I’m working on another exciting collaboration using different patterns at the moment.”

And she will say no more. I’ll make sure to update you as soon as I wheedle the information out of her.

Tags : grey sofamid-century modern
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.