For a while now, the central focus of interior inspiration has fallen primarily within the realm of Mid Century and Postmodern design. Whilst we continue to appreciate the merits of this aesthetic, we believe it shouldn’t hinder the discovery of other rich and characterful design genres. The annals of design history are coloured not just by formal design movements but also, as Vinterior seller Kitty Walsh puts it, by the popular culture of the past: the things which ordinary people themselves liked to make and do. This is what we call ‘folk’ and an immensely rich area of design which deserves to be placed back under the limelight.
Vinterior is immensely proud of our collaboration with many of the leading vintage and antique furniture specialists in the UK and beyond. After all, our mission is to seek out the remarkable and to shine the spotlight on people, places and pieces with real character, real soul and real stories. Behind the exceptional pieces on Vinterior stand some equally brilliant and highly knowledgeable collectors, who bring life to the stories behind the furniture you buy.
This week, I’m speaking to folk expert Kitty Walsh. As the founder of London gallery and collection Modern Folk, Kitty is bringing fresh attention to folk design, a genre richly woven with vibrant colours, patterns and the echo of many lives lived. We are inspired by the joyful union of colour and print which adorns so many of the pieces in the Modern Folk collection and the instant character which they lend to a space.
But what actually is folk design?
As Kitty explains, ‘Folk culture simply means the popular culture of the past, the things ordinary people liked to sing, eat, drink, make, and do. Folk art is the material part of this culture – from the clothes people wore, to the homes that they lived in, and the tools that they used to work. Just as favourite recipes and songs were passed down from century to century, so were the methods of making particular types of clothing or objects. As each generation added to the knowledge of their forefathers, rich cultural traditions gradually emerged.’
Kitty travels across vast regions of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in pursuit of finding folk treasures. Most recently she travelled to Transylvania, unearthing rare finds at Negreni, an ancient Romani market in the Carpathian mountains. I asked Kitty about the origins of her interest in folk and what makes it stand out from other vintage genres.
How did you become passionate about collecting the folk genre?
I’ve always been drawn to folk art – I began collecting Norwegian knitwear and folk slippers as a teenager and I used to make piñatas for extra pocket money. Then when I was studying History of Art at Cambridge I found a book on Hungarian folk art in a charity shop and was really hooked.
Why folk in particular?
With the folk genre you get to see the crafts person’s process – it’s great to see how people all over the world have responded to a particular design problem. Plus, I’m a bit of a maximalist so I love the patterns and colour!
What makes folk stand out from other vintage genres?
The stories attached to the pieces – you get such a strong sense of their history. These are pieces from a much simpler time – people had far fewer items in their home and most of them would have been made by people in their immediate community. This furniture marked important moments, when they got married or had their first child, it’s really a record of their lives.
Do you have any interesting stories behind the pieces currently in your collection?
A great example is our beautiful painted wedding chest, dated June 1891. It would have been used to carry the bride’s – Kata’s – possessions to her new home. But you get the same sense of history with the more minimal pieces, like a so-called bachelor’s table covered with knife marks.
Which is your favourite piece and why?
It has to be the ‘fancy country’ wardrobe – it’s so full of life! It was made in Transylvania in the mid twentieth century and is covered with flowers, fruits and birds. I’d love to know if the painter was thinking of William Morris’ strawberry thief when he painted the cheeky birds.
Kitty’s Modern Folk collection is bursting with folk curiosities, from intricately patterned chairs to simple carved wooden chests and vibrant glass paintings. I love the unique imperfections found in vintage and antique furniture for their ability to spark conversation and how they speak of crafts loved, lives lived and memories lost. What I find particularly special about folk furniture is that each piece is created with such purpose and to provide a sense of place. We can keep these exceptional pieces of furniture alive by bringing them into our homes so that our own unique family stories become woven around them.
View the Modern Folk collection here.
Portrait of Kitty taken from Wharf Magazine.