The Business of Beauty: Inside the Exquisite World of de Gournay



“It’s not all about the art. You need a marketing strategy and a long-term plan. That’s why our background in business with an artistic bent was a good starting point, rather than just being two creatives with great ideas but no business acumen.”

In the realm of luxury interiors, few names command as much reverence as de Gournay, the global brand renowned for its enchanting hand-painted wallpapers and silk fabrics. Behind the captivating beauty that adorns the walls of discerning clients worldwide lies a fascinating story of business acumen, unwavering passion, and a commitment to preserving ancient traditions. At the helm of this extraordinary enterprise is Dominic Evans-Freke, the director and co-founder who, alongside his family, has masterfully blended art and commerce to create timeless marvels.

From Humble Beginnings to Global Acclaim

The origins of de Gournay can be traced back to the mid-1980s when Dominic’s uncle, Claud Cecil Gurney, an ambitious young accountant at Coopers, sought to decorate his home in a grand, English style but couldn’t find the right products at reasonable prices. “It was normal for him to just get on a plane and look for what he needed,” Dominic recalls. “On one of these trips around 1985, he ended up writing a business plan on the back of an envelope.”

At the time, Dominic had just left school and was studying law at Birmingham. “I spent my holidays in London helping Claud. We were fighting legal battles in London, making some noise and achieving certain objectives. On the side, Claud was developing his business idea.”

After university, Dominic took the plunge and joined his uncle’s fledgling venture, despite his mother’s objections. “It was both terrifying and exciting,” he admits. The journey led them to China, where they began a long process of learning the business, eventually forming a private limited company in China in 1993 – a remarkable feat at the time.

The Cornerstone of Success: Complete Control

From the outset, de Gournay’s unwavering commitment to complete control over its operations has been the cornerstone of its success. “We build, own, and operate everything ourselves, which means we don’t have to negotiate with suppliers about their bottom line. This way, we can fully commit to quality and innovation,” Dominic explains.

This philosophy has been instrumental in the company’s ability to deliver unparalleled craftsmanship. “We’ve never borrowed or had investors. Complete control has been key to our success,” Dominic affirms.

The Art of Balance: Marrying Creativity and Business Savvy

At the heart of de Gournay’s success lies a delicate balance between artistic expression and business acumen. “Tragically, many beautiful artists never get known because there’s no one behind them managing the business side,” Dominic observes. “It’s not all about the art. You need a marketing strategy and a long-term plan. That’s why our background in business with an artistic bent was a good starting point, rather than just being two creatives with great ideas but no business acumen.”

This balance is reflected in the roles within the company. “Years ago, Claud and I split the business. I handle the creation and production side, while he focused on selling. Now, Claud’s daughters are taking over some of his roles.”

@de Gournay
©de Gournay
©de Gournay

The Creative Process: From Concept to Reality

De Gournay’s creative process is a testament to the company’s commitment to excellence. “There’s a big gap between creating something once and being able to reproduce it consistently,” Dominic explains. “Once you put a design out there, you must ensure you can deliver it perfectly every time.”

The family’s homes and company showrooms serve as experimental spaces where new ideas are tested and refined. “Each room at home becomes a test project, and it’s always a work in progress,” Dominic says.

Nurturing Exceptional Talent

One of the hallmarks of de Gournay’s success is its ability to nurture exceptional talent. “We seek out people with exceptional skills and develop them further,” Dominic states. “Our artisans spend years honing their craft – eight, nine, ten hours a day, five days a week, for 20 years. Their brushwork, pencil work, chisel movements are like watching an old English poet weave words. You can’t teach that kind of skill; it comes from practice and starting young.”

While the artisans are primarily based in countries like China and India, the company’s teams are spread across the globe. “We don’t really see ourselves as based anywhere in particular,” Dominic notes. “We have a big warehouse and facility here in Wiltshire, and our design team is largely in London. The creative European designers set the brief, and our artisans execute it. It’s many parts working together.”

The Journey of Craft and Sustainability

De Gournay’s commitment to preserving ancient crafts and promoting sustainability is unwavering. “We strive to improve the process wherever we can, making it more sustainable,” he says.

The company’s efforts have extended beyond wallpapers and fabrics, encompassing a range of products, including hand-embroidery, hand-painted wallpapers, and intricate wood carvings. “It’s about taking crafts with enormous skill but no modern outlet and giving them a new lease of life,” Dominic explains.

The Future of de Gournay

As de Gournay looks to the future, Dominic hints at exciting developments on the horizon. “Watch out for new handmade products,” he says. “We’re constantly exploring new ideas, though some take years to perfect. The goal is to keep innovating while staying true to our craft.”

With a legacy built on unwavering passion, exceptional craftsmanship, and a steadfast commitment to quality, de Gournay continues to redefine the boundaries of luxury interiors. Under the family’s leadership, the company remains at the forefront of preserving ancient traditions while pushing the boundaries of innovation, ensuring that the exquisite beauty of its creations will continue to captivate generations to come.

Best Loved:

  • Wall Colour: Green
  • Fabric House: Manuel Canovas
  • Artist: Mathew Alexander (Kent based artist that reminds me of Turner)
  • Hotel or bar for its interior: We have seen so many amazing hotels and bards. But in terms of its impact on me, 25 years ago when I was dating my wife, Hotel Cala di Volpe, Costa Smeralda, Sardinia – it’s a great example of ‘less is more’
  • Cocktail: Flaming Ferrari
  • Restaurant: L’Antico in the King’s Road
  • Cookbook: Mrs Beaton
  • Film: James Bond
  • Book: Biography of Ian Fleming
  • Travel destination: Paxos
  • Fashion label: Jermyn Street for quality
  • Hero/heroine: The late Queen Elizabeth
  • Happy room: Our bedroom (decorated in de Gournay)

©de Gournay
©de Gournay
©de Gournay

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