Luxury fabrics brand de Le Cuona recently turned 25 years old and celebrated with a new flagship shop in the heart of one of London’s most chi chi design districts, Pimlico Road. Interior design company Waldo Works created a boutique to suit owner Bernie de Le Cuona’s desire for a neutral space for customers and designers to rifle through her tactile collections of linen, wool, silk, velvet, cashmere and alpaca. Waldo Works director Tom Bartlett pointed out that “Bernie has a superhuman ability to see colour.” His client agreed that, “the first thing I wanted to do was to put all the colours on display. It was important for me to show that white isn’t white, there are lots of different shades.” The shop’s drawers are crammed full of samples and the basement level is dedicated to artisan headings and hardware, along with large pieces of colour on boards so that customers can choose fabrics alongside their paint colours. It is, in other words, a haven for colour lovers. Below Bernie answers some questions we put to her about colour generally, her background in South Africa, and how the two are entwined.
Can you put into words the colours of the African bush that are so much part of your dna?
“When I came from South Africa and started the business I knew nothing about interiors – I just produced the colours I liked. I was introducing the colours of the African bush, colours of nature from where I was from. Everyone has a colour sense that is their own. I have early memories of the natural beauty of South Africa and that has informed my palette. The colours are strong but bleached and often delicate. There are so very many shades of sand and thunderous skies, warm sunsets and sunrises and none of those colours can be found in a Pantone chart. These colours live and change like landscapes. They are not harsh and modern, but natural and timeless.
One of our latest linens called Artist Canvas takes colour beautifully and has twelve shades inspired by Africa called Veld, Baobab, Bloom, Tawny, Thorn, Sky, Lake, Night, Swamp, Sunset, Red Earth, Terracotta.”
When you are working with those colours is it a painstaking exercise to get the right tones? Are you referring to nature imagery – or, if not, how does it work?
“Yes, colour is always a challenge and particularly with our understated palette, however everything we produce, and with every new collection, the colours work and combine seamlessly with each other. Our signature naturals and even our bolder shades have a knocked-back elegance and mix beautifully. Stronger colours also cease to be overwhelming when given texture and that is what de Le Cuona’s collections are about.”
What colours do you have in your own home? What do you feel you need to be surrounded by colour-wise?
“I like simple, natural shades, but recently I have been introducing deep fruit and pink colours mixed with soft brown and tan, plus off-whites and sun yellow with grey and amber gold. It’s all calm, which is what I need.”
Was it important to you that Tom, as your architect, could understand your own internal colour references? He mentioned that you and brown were a big conversation!
“Yes, and he did. What he referred to was that different tones and shades matter enormously. Brown is not brown. There must be a myriad of brown hues from red browns, grey browns, yellow browns etc. The new Pimlico Road store has a long earthy brown terrazzo top set within the white walls. Above that is the colour wall where a grid of pigeon holes show our fabric swatches running from the palest to the more colourful, which gives an immediate view of the breadth and scale of the shades in our collections.”
Tell us about your attitude to the environment?
“Something we’ve started to do more and more is focus on sustainability and longevity. I can tell you who the farmer is who planted the flax for the linen. I know where the Alpacas come from. Our gold-ish shelves are all reycyled and recyclable. It’s important to us.”