"It's a wonderful look. It's peaceful and can show a variety of scenes, from cows out in a pasture, or the genteel society of French paintings," said Paula Brown, co-owner, with her husband, Peter, of the Paula Brown Gallery. The couple recently used envelopes decorated with blue-and-white toile lining for invitations to one of their gallery shows.
She added that the recent popularity of toile, a textile look dating back to the 17th century, extends beyond home decor to accessories such as stationery, cocktail napkins, bathrobes, and linens, including bed sheets, duvets, and hand towels. In the Browns' adjoining linen store, toile looks are offered on hand towels, pillow cases, and even on a terry cloth robe. The popular textile is often offered in a sheer linen or cotton fabric, especially for bed linens.
“Toile can be put on anything,” said Mrs. Brown, who also offers items such as cocktail napkins and diaper bags in toile.
While many toile lovers enjoy the look of the pattern, which often showcases intricate 18th-century scenes, and stories depicting pastoral life in the French countryside, as well as flowers, children playing, landscapes, Oriental designs, and mythological scenes, few know its history.
According to various publications, the patterned textile is said to have originated near Dublin, Ireland, and is named for Jouy-en-Josas, a small town near Versailles, France. It was here that German brothers Frederic and Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf founded the Manufacture Royale de Jouy, a successful factory that produced printed cloth.
The brothers, who were textile dyers by trade, employed many popular artists of the day to draw birds, florals, pastoral scenes, chinoiserie, historical events, Chinese and mythology-based vignettes printed on cameos and also on fabric, later called toile de Jouy (cloth of Jouy).
One popular book on toile, Toiles de Jouy, written by Judith Straeton, an archivist at Brunschwig & Fils, explores the textile's use in the palaces of French royalty, and how King Louis XVI became familiar with the print on the road to Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution.
Interior designer Linda Nolan Szymanski of Toledo, who used black-and-white toile to decorate her master bedroom, said some of her clients are drawn to the timelessness of toile and its ability to tell a story through its intricate scenes and patterns.
“It's a look that will never go out of style. It's popular in bedrooms, but can be used anywhere in the home,” said Mrs. Szymanski, who used black-and-white toile on window treatments, the bedskirt, and pillows in her bedroom, which has a king-size wrought-iron canopy bed accented by a soft prink matalesse spread and deep rose-colored throw pillows, and an Oriental rug.
Although toile can be used on wallpaper, bed linens, and window treatments in one room, it is wise to break up the extremely detailed pattern with other patterns, such as stripes, or a solid-colored trim, Mrs. Szymanski said.
One client designed her 3-year-old son's room with sage-on-off-white toile linens for his full-size bed. She added a striped bedskirt and toile throw pillows trimmed in the same striped pattern.
Toile is usually found, but not limited to, in a white or off-white background with a single contrasting color, such as the ever-popular blue on white (or off-white), black on white, crimson on white, yellow on white, and sage (soft green) on white colors.
High-end toile looks can even be found in bold colors such as crimson on blue, and can be custom-designed. Some fabric stores and wallpaper companies are beginning to offer toile in white or off-white with a variety of colors as contrast.
An Internet search discovered several fun home decor uses for toile. There are such toile cabinet knobs and switch plates at www.adelasfunctionalart.com, a shower curtain done in toile at www.countryporch.com, and hand-painted toile mailboxes and floor cloths at www.beulahmaedesigns.com. Another popular site is www.toiletoiletoile.com, which explains toile's origins.