How to decorate with florals in a non-frumpy way

When it comes to florals, there's a fine line between chintz and chic – here's how to strike the right balance

While floral prints will always be a perennial staple for breathing fresh air into the home, there’s no reason for them to feel traditional or chintzy. This season’s raft of new collections are overflowing with striking modern blooms, but making them look contemporary also rests in how you use them. That might be upholstering an old chair in a new and vibrant way, hanging lengths of floral-patterned fabric like panoramic panels, or pulling out a zingy tone from a particular print to use as a bold paint colour for panelling and woodwork. Here, design experts share their tips for updating florals for modern living.

Do: try pattern drenching. Don’t: stick to a feature wall

“We are seeing a huge trend for complete pattern drenching, where the pattern is taken across all surfaces, enveloping the whole space in wonderful print,” says Caroline Aston of House of Hackney. This approach, where the same pattern is used for walls, upholstery, curtains and even the ceiling, can transform the most traditional floral into a strikingly modern pattern. Another modernising touch, suggests Aston, is to pick out a key tone from the pattern to use on woodwork, cabinetry, cushions or upholstery.

Do: Combine florals with graphic patterns. Don’t: Use lots of similar prints together

Minnie Kemp, design director at Firmdale Hotels group, recently decorated a reception room at the offices of Bloomsbury Publishing, and has injected florals into every inch. A hand-painted mural by Tess Newall frames the fireplace; while contrasting floral fabrics have been used on the curtains and armchairs. Kemp trimmed the chairs with cherry-red leather piping by Samuel & Sons to give them an “outline”, and what she calls “the Keith Haring effect”. Elsewhere, she has teamed the floral prints with punchy graphics, such as the large abstract rug, which adds to the modern effect.

Do: bring blooms to any surface. Don’t: limit yourself to curtains and upholstery

Floral prints needn’t only be the preserve of curtains and upholstery – you can splash them across your dinner table, the floors and as artwork on the walls. Take a tip from Bridgerton-esque style and introduce a touch of contemporary chinoiserie through the new collection from Addison Ross, which includes table mats, salt and pepper shakers and candlesticks (from £46). Rugs are another option: check out the new collection of rugs by Shame Studios with artist Cindy Leveson, and the eye-catching new tablecloths and aprons by chef Clodagh McKenna for Yolke.

Do: coordinate your woodwork to your wallpaper. Don’t: play it safe with neutrals

To lend florals a modern feel, “mix them together with bright or surprising colour combinations,” suggests James Watson, of wallpaper brand 1838. He recommends contrasting florals against bold swathes of colour (think hot-pink, apple-green, sunshine-yellow and turquoise-blue) painted across panelling, woodwork and even the ceiling to transform the most traditional pattern. Brands such as 1838 and fabric house GP & J Baker are taking archive patterns and giving them a fresh twist with bolder colours – picking out such colours, as with the panelling shown here, instantly gives a contemporary energy.

Do: combine tactile textures. Don’t: make it too flouncy

Mixing florals with geometrics and stripes in layers of different textures is a great way to modernise florals, says Genevieve Bennett, head of interior design at Liberty. “Layer in printed florals through different fabrics – teaming linen with a cut-pile velvet and woven jacquard, for example,” she suggests, as in this room decorated with the brand’s new Botanical Atlas collection. Also, don’t forget to consider the other textures in the room: a chunky raffia rug on the floor, polished plaster walls and the grainy finish of a wooden cabinet or stone table, “gives a rhythm to a room that’s not too formal, much more fun, and takes you away from traditional floral decoration,” says Bennett.

Do: make old look new. Don’t: go too trad

A new collaboration between fabric house Sanderson and the fashion designer and illustrator Giles Deacon has ushered in a collection that evokes a certain feeling of grandeur and nostalgia, but is intended to be used in any style of home, whatever its size. Existing designs from the brand’s archives have been repainted and re-coloured, and complemented by illustrative touches by Deacon, such as bows, calligraphy and trompe-l’oeil motifs that incorporate draped curtains, bows, ribbons and tassels.

“I have found myself increasingly drawn back to the natural world, especially in our age, with its emerging dominance of technology,” says Deacon of the miniature insects that feature in some designs. The archive patterns that he worked with were originally designed on a grand scale, but the intention is that the new patterns don’t have to be used only in large spaces. “These are for those entranced by eccentricity, decadence and comfort, who wish to live among enduring and timeless beauty, whether in a pied-à-terre or a stately home,” he says.

Do: lighten the mood with sweet-shop shades. Don’t: Go too saccharine

Sweeties and puddings have served as inspiration for the colour palettes for many collections this season. For example, paint and wallpaper brand Little Greene used shades of burnt caramel, apricot and mint to update its Spring Flowers wallpaper, an Arts & Crafts pattern found in the National Trust’s Standen House in West Sussex, used here to add subtle pattern in an alcove. “These are real trend-led colours that ensure the pattern doesn’t feel too out of step in a modern home, especially when teamed with mid-century vintage furniture and lighting,” says Ruth Mottershead, Little Greene’s creative director. “This helps to stop reimagined archive patterns from looking too traditional.” Here, the biscuity tones of the surrounding shelving and rug dial down the sweetness, while ensuring a soft and calming overall look.

Do: try a mural. Don’t: go too garish

Panoramic murals are becoming increasingly popular for transforming a wall or perhaps an entire room, so that you feel completely immersed in nature. In the kitchen shown here, interior designer Tiffany Duggan commissioned decorative artist Eugenia Barrios Osborne to paint a wildflower meadow across one wall, “to make the space feel like it is in the middle of the countryside,” she says. She has ensured the room doesn’t look too whimsical by adding a contemporary edge with worn terracotta floor tiles laid in a corridor pattern, dining chairs with graphic stripes, and modern Crittall doors that help to blur the boundaries between inside and out.

The colours and style of the mural have been carefully chosen so that they bring splashes of brightness without the overall effect being too much. To achieve a similar effect on a budget, she suggests a panoramic mural-style wallpaper: try companies such as Little Greene, Graham & Brown or Dunelm.

Do: keep it simple sometimes. Don’t: go overboard

“To keep floral prints fresh and current, I like to use bold florals on curtains or wallpaper, allowing the pattern to take centre stage when paired with neutral tones for the remaining elements in the room,” says interior designer Susie Atkinson. Here, the floral pattern by designer Marian McEvoy for fabric company Schumacher that has been used for curtains could be overwhelming if used with a lot of different patterned fabrics; but teamed with a restrained surrounding palette of black, white and very pale pink, it looks tailored and stylish. Other brands offering bold modern prints include Barneby Gates, Osborne & Little, Molly Mahon and MissPrint.

Do: go full-length with pretty panels. Don’t: cut curtains off short

“Floral fabrics don’t have to be fusty or old-fashioned – as romantic as florals can be, they can also be dynamic and up-to-the-minute too,” says Tricia Guild, founder of fabric house Designers Guild. A new take on how to use florals, she suggests, is by creating a panel that you can use as a movable artwork, as shown here using Designers Guild’s new Shinsha Alta linen, which features delicate hand-painted cherry blossom and branches.

To copy this effect, take a length of fabric and stretch it over a frame to turn it into a scenic panel that you can move from room to room as you like. Alternatively, create an artwork at the window, as here, by hanging a single drop of curtain in a painterly pattern that hangs on one side, and a fabric drop of plain colour on the other. Using lengths of fabric like this is also a good way to save on budget if you want to incorporate a favourite fabric but can’t stretch to a set of full-length curtains.