The Luxury Beat: Chatting With de Gournay’s Founder

Claud Cecil Gurney with his dogs Jiminey Cricket, lying down, and Olaf
Claud Cecil Gurney with his dogs Jiminey Cricket, lying down, and Olaf

Photo Credit: Johan Sellen

Sacramento Street, San Francisco’s most design-forward marketplace, is the new West Coast home to de Gournay, the London-based international purveyor of luxury custom wallpaper, fabrics, and porcelain. The 31-year-old brand is mainly known for its exquisite hand-painted wallpapers, achieved through ancient techniques that create one-of-a-kind scenes and designs. Think delicate, color-saturated chinoiserie with flora and fauna and hand-gilded gold-leaf damask prints with remarkable texture. For fabrics and other goods, de Gournay hand-paints silks for custom upholstery and soft furnishings and makes hand-carved furniture and mirrors as well as hand-glazed porcelain pieces. The San Francisco space is de Gournay’s 40th showroom worldwide. To welcome the brand to the Bay Area, Haute Living sat down with Claud Cecil Gurney, the charismatic founder and CEO of de Gournay, to discuss the current climate of luxury home goods.

How has the concept of luxury changed in the past 10 years?

CCG: If it is advertised everywhere and one sees it all over the world, then it is no longer chic among the cognoscenti. There is a continual search for rarer and more niche products whose messages are more subtle and whose brands are less known.

What is the biggest challenge for any luxury brand today?

CCG: Not to become too commonplace. To continue to offer some or many unique characteristics that cannot be offered by other brands.

Why is it important for de Gournay to have a presence in SF now?

CCG: Because San Francisco is on the edge of the world in every sense. The world is being changed by the tech industries, and we want to be here to understand how these changes are being made to every aspect of our business. The city is not only a wonderful place to live, full of welcoming and friendly people, but it also has some of the greatest design talent and is a bridge to the Pacific and Asia. We cannot afford not to be there.

The new de Gournay showroom
The new de Gournay showroom

How is the San Francisco market different from other markets?

CCG: A village on a hill with amazing design talent washing up against zillions of dollars being minted from changing the world. It is exciting but still human and welcoming and warm.

What makes you most excited about opening on the West Coast?

CCG: Personally, to be able to spend more time here exploring the area. Professionally, to work with some of the lovely designers based here.

What is the current state of design and art in San Francisco?

CG: I think it is wrong to suggest that there is one state of design and art in the city. There are lots. We will learn about them in due course. Our job is to paint. So whatever is required, we will endeavor to bring beauty and art into the lives of our clients.

Is hand-painted wallpaper a dying art?

CG: As long as there are humans, there will be a desire to express one’s emotions and soul in painting and design. Whether the mood is intellectual or romantic, bohemian or orthodox, traditional or revolutionary, we will always find ways of decorating to express ourselves—and what better way than painting murals? It will never die. We are also timeless. What we painted 35 years ago we are still painting today.  What we painted for the first time last week we will still be offering in 50 years. There are no collections.  We are artists and paint to express our clients’ ideas, although we can challenge them at times. We can be revolutionary; our artists love to paint something new and different,  to see the world in a different way.

What’s the best dining experience you’ve had in San Francisco?

CG: I am very bad at remembering restaurants. I have always eaten well in SF, so much better than in Paris. They understand service. The kitchen is not closed at 2.00 p.m. They are not shy to give you a steak for breakfast or a fruit salad for dinner. The organic food is amazing. and the choice is always huge.