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“China: Through the Looking Glass,” the Metropolitan’s new exhibition, unfolds cinematically under the art direction of Wong Kar Wai. Its opening night unfolded on film, too—as the most photographed, most shared, most glittering fashion event of the year.

The Silk Road

From top: Tiny (five and a half inches long) embroidered shoes for bound feet: Li Xiaofeng’s dress of porcelain shards; and chinoiserie-inspired de Gournay wallpaper used throughout the gala.

Botany Club

With their voluminous shapes and delicate prints, these two robes à la polonaise from the late 1700s are complemented by Stephen Jones’s whimsical headpieces and de Gournay’s sylvan wallpaper.

Up All Night

Guests ascended the grand staircase—carpeted in hand-stenciled sisal rugs designed by Avila and lined with 6,000 towering stalks of bamboo—to greet the evening’s hosts and view the exhibition.

Ladies in Waiting

Gem-toned cochair line up to receive guests at the top of the grand staircase. From left: Marissa Mayer in Oscar de la Renta, Gong Li in Roberto Cavalli by Peter Dundas, and Wendi Murdoch in Oscar de la Renta.

Paper Palace

Hannah Gurney’s London home—a kind of exquisite research lab for her family’s wall covering-and-interior design business—bursts with Eastern-inspired whimsicality.

By Emma Elwick-Bates
Photographed by Simon Upton

Bed of Roses

A carved headboard in the master bedroom tests against antiqued sterling sliver-glide paper. Sittings Editor: Sam Ranger.

Mint Condition

It’s springtime all the time in the guest bedroom, where the walls are adorned with verdant nature scenes on painted silk.

Memories of London’s busy Gloucester Road evaporate the moment one steps into Hannah Cecil Gurney’s remodeled Georgian apartment, every inch of which carries the bucolic grandeur of a mythical county seat. Hand-painted chinoiseries and exotic landscapes meet ornithologist’s catalog of birds swooping from wall to wall—each room alive with a fantasy of de Gournay, her family’s design house, which specializes in unique wallpapers.

“We often try out new paper designs in my house—it has become the perfect testing ground, “says Gurney, 28, a director in the world of sumptuous interiors created by her father, Claud, just over 30 years ago. And while some might bristle at the inconvenience of an endless cycle of redecorating, Gurney clearly adores the constant metamorphosis of her pied-à-terre, which she shares with her racehorse-underwriter husband, Eddie Harden, and a silky collie called Jiminy Cricket. “My only fear in terms of interior design is greige, “ says the six-foot-tall blonde. “I am attracted to crazy color.”

Gurney’s relentless (and enviable) travel schedule—she oversees showrooms from New York to Shanghai—is evident throughout the apartment. “I first visited rural Shanghai to see the company’s artists when I was eleven,” she says, and she’s gone on endless flurries of far-flung excursions ever since, both with her father and without. Oriental artifacts are scattered among an Art Deco coffee table and quirky finds from London’s renowned Les Couilles du Chien antique store (coral velvet-swagger uplighter, anyone?), with the collisions of periods and styles adding up to a kind of Technicolor effect.

Contemporary art provides further canny contrast: A Kate Palmer snowboarding abstract hangs against hand-painted peacocks inspired by the Left Bank apartment of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, while a complimenting slub silk Roman shade blends into the wallpaper, creating a pretty 360-degree trompe-l’oeil effect. “It all makes the room feel a little cooler and makes the walls feel even more alive,” Gurney says. Such self-assured juxtapositions are also evident in her personal style, which today features an appliquéd Mary Katrantzou dress teamed with a Welsh gold-and-aquamarine necklace (a wedding gift from her mother-in-law) recently reset by S.J. Phillips. “Beauty should be available every day,” she says, “In your home, in your clothing. It should be non precious. Take my 1920s emerald engagement ring—I’ve chipped it already, but it’s still perfect.”

Our tour continues to the master bedroom, with its walls in a floral chinoiserie painted over gilded silver-leaf paper. “It was actually a client’s forgetfulness that inspired us to make the wallpaper,” Gurney says. Allow us to explain: Fashion design Erica Tanov purchased a gilded silver-leaf paper that had been constructed to tarnish over time, then promptly left it rolled up in storage to age for a decade or so. Devoid of both fresh air and sunlight, the silver tarnished rather more extremely than expected—but far from unpleasantly, and de Gournay soon created a technique to replicate the look without a long wait.

The galley-shaped guest bedroom has a custom-built bed, with both the head-and footboards upholstered with de Gournay golden-yellow silk velvet, while the color-saturated kitchen continues the bijou effect with gilded paper and cobalt lacquer paintwork. A madcap painting by German artist Alf Löhr and a collection of mismatched glassware, meanwhile, provide and informal and festive backdrop to dinner parties. “If we ever thought about selling the place, “ says Gurney with a laugh, “we’d have to find one very eccentric buyer.”