Belgian interiors imprint Calcutta’s 165 years in the business

Founded all the way back in 1848, interior design firm Calcutta is a business steeped in tradition. The little Belgian town of Sleidinge is still home to the production site, where Calcutta’s world-famous wall coverings are manufactured. Uniting past and present, the company gives textile wall coverings a modern look, ‘dedusting’ them from their somewhat antiquated image. This is not only thanks to contemporary designs, but also a perfected production method: the company’s wall coverings are Teflon-treated and waterproof, and they’re also light-resistent. We went behind the scenes and spoke to the outfit’s two creative heads, designers Jo Goossens and Mariette Ryckaert, to get a first-hand account of their fascinating job.

“We always start out with collecting a lot of samples, to see what kind of look and feel they have. We find a lot at fairs. In our studio we pin everything to a wall, our ever-changing large-scale moodboard. We don’t do the drawings ourselves, actually, we are more product developers, in a certain sense. To have a good drawing, you have to make 60 bad ones, and we just don’t have time for that. We both have an artistic education and could do it ourselves, but we want to focus on the texture and the right colours instead. Also, you have a wider variety when you work with design studios, not just two personal styles. Last week we went to London Design week for example, just to get some influences. We saw a lot of natural, soft wood there, often combined with metal. So structure and surface will be very important for our next collection.

We want a structure that shows that our wall coverings are really made out of textile. We also find samples at polsteries or a shop for curtains. Our sources are very varied. The birth of a collection is a long process. It’s very important to find good yarn. A good yarn is one that really shows the textile aspect and a good performance. We want the consumer to see that it’s real, hand-made textile. But our moodboard changes every day. What’s important is that one collection always tells a story. We need to decide which story we want to tell. One design we like a lot is from the 60s, we found it in a shop that sells stuff for movie sets. We don’t copy anyone, we just get inspired. We never use a design 1:1. Of one sample we really like the weave effect, somewhere else we like the drawing of a flower.

It’s very complicated to explain how a collection starts, because each one starts in a different way. Sometimes you are attracted to a design, sometimes it’s a structure or a yarn. Something catches your eye like the vintage wall covering we just mentioned and you keep it in mind while you continue working. When we know what we want we give all the composing elements to a design studio and there they make the final drawing on a computer system. They only execute what we decide. The final file is then put in a system that’s connected to the weaving machines here. First we only make some samples, to see if it actually works and look if we have to change something. The whole process of developing a new collection, including five different designs, takes about one year, and each year there are two collections. From maybe 800 samples 40 make it into one collection. And everything starts out with just a little piece of yarn – it’s fascinating.”