Earlier this week Kaffe Fassett, one of our favourite world-renowned textile designers, opened his retrospective exhibition 'Kaffe Fassett’s Colour' at the National Trust's Mottisfont Gallery in Southern England. To celebrate the opening of this vivid and vibrant exhibition, we take a look back at our visit to Kaffe's home in London...

Abundance is a lovely word and one that lends itself to descriptions of Kaffe Fassett’s London home. Exuberance follows close on its heels, as this is a space where colours, textures and techniques join forces to create a virtuoso display of creativity.

In this interior the enthusiasm for pattern and colour is tangible in the form of hundreds of paintings, pots and textiles – and it’s contagious. Artfully arranged collections draw you in: a shelf of vegetable-shaped ceramics raises a smile and lets you know that this is a place where beauty is enjoyed and interacted with on a daily basis. Nothing is behind glass or in cabinets.

Without pausing to reflect, you might begin to use phrases such as ‘a riot of colour’, but this is a house like no other. Objects are gathered on a larger scale than usual – why have three needlepoint cushions when you can have thirty-five? (The answer might be that abundant means ‘full to overflowing’.) Nevertheless there is a peaceful centre to the profusion and it is Kaffe himself; a man who expresses himself in measured tones and has a patient, thoughtful air.

A glance through his new autobiography shows that this is a man who, in design terms, hit the ground running and has never stopped. Really he should be charging around, issuing orders and trying to balance the five or six projects he has on the go. Instead, the day we visit he is at his easel taking five minutes to finalise a new design. In 20 minutes a car will arrive to take him and his partner, Brandon Mably, to a photo-shoot with Bruce Webber. For now it’s a chance to do what he loves best; work with colour. ‘Colour is my most passionate obsession,’ he admits, and no one who has stepped past his mosaicked front porch could doubt him.

Kaffe was born in San Francisco in 1937. He spent much of his youth in Big Sur, California, where his parents bought a log cabin from Orson Welles and transformed it into the famous Nepenthe restaurant; a gathering place for artists. At the age of 19 he won a scholarship to the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, but left after three months to paint in London. He settled in England in 1964.

Kaffe has embarked on a kaleidoscope of ventures in the 48 years since. One of the first was a trip to a Scottish wool mill with fashion designer Bill Gibb (you can read more about that in issue 26). There, he bought Shetland wool and some knitting needles, and on the train back to London a fellow passenger taught him how to knit…

To read this article in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 48 here.

Kaffe Fassett’s Colour at Mottisfont, 16 September 2017 - 14 January 2018

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