Her home studio may have changed little in 40 years, but Pauline Caulfield is revisiting and reinventing her work
Tucked down the side of a London terrace is an enclave of 12 red-brick studio houses built in the late 1800s. Pauline Caulfield moved into hers in 1975; previous residents include the painter John William Waterhouse, the abstract artist John Hoyland and the illustrator Arthur Rackham. The interiors have barely changed since. A pair of red checked sofas she bought in the 1970s have been re-covered, but in a fabric very close to the original. Likewise, the squat coffee table in front of the fireplace has been repainted, but in a similar shade of yellow. A precarious fibreglass sculpture by the pop artist Nicholas Monro has balanced on top of a wooden chest in the corner for decades. “I love it. It’s always been here,” she says. “I don’t like the idea of hanging on to the past, but some good decisions were made when we moved in.”
The cottage is thick-set, with a generous hallway. To the right as you enter is a guest room that was originally one of two double-height studios. Opposite is a compact, colourful kitchen, with a faux-marble table. At the end of the hallway, the building turns into an expansive open-plan living room and double-height studio, overlooked by the master bedroom. The bright workspace – in contrast to the darker, cosier living area, warmed by a coal fire – is dominated by a vast printing table: it’s from here that Caulfield, 75, a textile designer, recently relaunched a career that began in the late 1960s.
Caulfield “wandered into” the then Chelsea School of Art at the age of 17. She went on to study textile design at the Royal College of Art, where she met Patrick Caulfield, the artist renowned for his sparse compositions of interiors and still life. “I married Patrick the week after I left the Royal College in 1968, aged 25,” she recalls. The couple had three sons together before their marriage was dissolved in 1999 (Patrick died in 2005). His presence is still felt in the house, which is in London: he painted the kitchen table and signed it underneath. Above it hangs a copy of his Red, White And Black Still Life.
For Caulfield’s final degree show, she produced 11 printed panels and four ecclesiastical robes (she was brought up a Catholic). For nearly 50 years, she kept the designs in the wooden chest in her living room – shut tight with the Monro sculpture on top. Over the years, she received occasional commissions for ecclesiastical vestments, but her time was largely taken up looking after the children and working in various part-time positions (receptionist, librarian, archivist) at an engineering firm. When the firm went paperless in 2015, she was made redundant, and decided to make a full return to textile design.
In the following two years, she revisited each of the designs from her degree show, reissuing them as a collection of curtains. The designs are bold and abstract: on one panel, geometric shapes tumble down the length of the fabric, on another rhythmic waves of graduated colour run across it. “They’re vibrant and adventurous – I’m still excited by them,” she says.Advertisement
Caulfield found the process of revisiting her designs fascinating. “I had to really try to remember why and how I’d done certain things,” she says. Of the 11 panels, only one – Airmail – had gone astray. “I gave it to somebody years ago, feeling that I shouldn’t hang on to things, but when it came to recreating it, it was much more difficult to do.” Apart from tweaking one of the yellows, the designs – much like her interiors – remain completely unchanged.
Last summer, a church in Hammersmith staged a retrospective of Caulfield’s ecclesiastical vestments and altar fronts. Many of her designs are printed in vivid liturgical colours: golden sun rays beam down one satin robe; a crisp white and blue border on another echoes the style of her panels. On the day I visit, one of the robes is draped over a dressmaker’s dummy in the guest bedroom. It stands sombre on top of a multicoloured, crazy-paved rug that Patrick designed in 1975. The vestment was one of a set initially designed for an order of German monks, but the commission fell through. Instead, it was worn by the priest at the funerals of Caulfield’s mother and father.
Three days a week, Caulfield works with a small team of assistants in the studio on bespoke commissions for blinds, curtains and wall hangings for private clients. A rail system in the studio allows her to view her designs at full length and experiment with the way each panel is hung. On her printing table is a recent design she has been working on, called Back Of Canvas – a series of blinds hand-printed to look like the reverse of an artist’s canvas. A hand-printed, grained wooden frame supports the fabric/canvas, which appears to be held in place with a border of delicate, silvery staples. “It’s a very simple idea,” she explains. “What I enjoyed was that I actually felt as if I was making a canvas” – something she hasn’t done since her art school days.