Felt is old school. The cloth – usually made of matted, compressed wool or rayon fibres – is the stuff of granddads’ fedoras and grannies’ crafting kits. But its roots go deeper, back thousands of years, when Asiatic tribes developed the textile for clothing, blankets and to insulate their yurts.
Today, many of us use felt unknowingly – as the lining in a car bra, the scuff protector on chair legs. It’s a practical material, but its aesthetic qualities – fuzzy, earthy, a bit Muppet-like – can seem a little fusty.
Recently though, interior designers, architects and furniture makers have been using the age-old material in bold new ways, turning it into something rich, dramatic and luxurious.
As a movement, surrealism is most often associated with highbrow arts like painting, literature and film (the macabre image of ants pouring out of a wounded hand, from Luis Buñuel’s seminal movie Un Chien Andalou, is as unsettling today as it would have been when it was first shown in 1929). But it also lends itself well to more commonplace fixations like industrial design and home decor.
After all, in the original, 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, poet Andre Breton pointed to man’s general disaffection for the “objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way.” And one of the delights of surrealism is the way it electrifies the unremarkable with its strange colours, dream-like sense of possibility and irreverence for rules. The violin, for example, will forever be more beautiful because May Ray likened it to a ladies nude back with his 1924 photograph, Le Violon d’Ingres.