Brightening the Day
The best time to visit Joan Peters’ shop may be on one of those cold, dreary New England days.
This may seem like a strange idea—better to visit an interior designer’s shop when the natural light is ample and available, right? But finding what’s behind the pale pink door of Peters’ shop on Main Street in Osterville is all the more dramatic against the gloomy weather. If there is one thing to know about Joan Peters’ style, it is all about sunshine, light, and color. Darkness has no place here and cannot be seen beyond the shop’s brightly embellished windowpanes and pink awnings.
More than 20 years after opening her shop in Osterville, Peters has established herself by interpreting the Cape Cod world all around her in a sun-soaked, joyously over-the-top kind of way, and her pieces have garnered local, regional, and national followings. Today, the shop offers full interior design services, furniture, paintings, custom carpets, and most recently, a growing line of textiles and wallpapers. A high-energy craftswoman of many products, including the lines of toile that she has been making since 2005, Peters has a simple philosophy: “I don’t want to do just one thing—I want to do all of the above!”
Peters is a New England girl, having grown up in Concord, New Hampshire, and trained in commercial art at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. She started out in advertising, but always wanted to run her own business. “It’s funny, my grandmother said to me, when I was probably in the sixth grade, ‘You’re going to be an interior designer,’” Peters recalls. “I said, ‘No no,’ but she was right!” In 1979, the designer took a leap and started custom-painting furniture.
Flash forward 10 years and Peters’ beautiful hand-painted lamps were being offered in shops likes Neiman Marcus, some pieces winning national awards. After that, she says, “I got into the fabrics because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the design centers.” Her textiles eventually were featured in showrooms in Boston and New York. These days she sells the fabrics exclusively through her Osterville shop.
A visit to the small, intimate Osterville shop brings to mind lighthearted visions of coastal tea parties, seaside picnics, hot air balloons, and mermaids. Peters’ designs are rendered with a whimsical, bright palette of pastels on textiles smooth like buttercream frosting, full of decorative flourishes on every surface imaginable, and bright with white—lots of white. Peters’ look is Cape Cod cottage with the volume turned to full blast. For Peters, less isn’t more. Quite simply, more is more.
The piece de resistance of Peters’ creations is a line of modern toile fabrics featuring places and landmarks specific to Cape Cod and the Islands’ coastal world. Formally known as Toile de Jouy and first made in the mid-1700’s in France, toile is traditionally single-color printed, usually on a white cotton ground, and typically depicts pastoral scenes. The printed fabric exemplifies all that is Rococo, an 18th century arts movement defined by ornate, lavish decoration and frivolous subject matter.
While Joan Peters is not the first artist to reinterpret the 250-year-old textile, her designs have an unmistakeable Cape Cod flair. Peters’ drawings are printed in hues like raspberry, sage green, mustard yellow, beige sand, periwinkle blue, and slate gray. Her palette is softer, as if Louis XV left his drapes out in the sun for a while. Each textile depicts ink drawings of everything from the iconic to the everyday.
Peters says, “We try to pick out familiar spots as well as the places people don’t really see.” The textiles are equal part tourist map, historical record, personal anecdote, and picturesque imagery. On her Boston Toile, you can amuse yourself for hours picking out any Bostonian’s favorite landmarks like the Citgo sign, Fenway Park, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Make Way for Ducklings statues in the Public Gardens and the giant Hood bottle that stands outside the Boston Children’s Museum.
On Nantucket Toile, you’ll discover bikes resting against a wooden fence, an overflowing window box of flowers, catboats, and lifeguard stands. On Martha’s Vineyard Toile, there are beech trees, ferries, and the Flying Horses Carousel.
Charming with a fine quality of line and carefree movement, Peters’ drawings are different than the stiff, intricate copperplate etchings of traditional toile work. Her toile is masterfully rendered, but spare and sketchy, as if done quickly on a scrap of paper while lounging on the beach.
Of course, the reality behind her art is much more complex. Peters starts by going through an exhaustive, yet exuberant period of research, taking trips to places like Boston and the Vineyard to gather ideas. She collects armloads of sketches and photographs.
Once back in her studio, she begins to choreograph her response to places, people, and moments. Then, she slowly crafts a 54-inch long, 18 ½-inch wide pen drawing directly on cloth. This is a lengthy process of editing, revising, cutting, and pasting. When the compositions are just right, when the repeats are perfect, and when the negative spaces are just enough, she sends the finished drawing to a screen maker in Webster, Massachusetts, to be digitally scanned and transferred onto a screen. The textiles are screen-printed onto a cotton/sateen ground by Griswold Textile Printing in Rhode Island.
Separate screens, made for wallpaper, are sent to Geenwood Lake, New York, where they are printed by Barnaby Prints. Peters is quick to note how proud she is that the production is mostly locally done and entirely made in the USA.
As a celebration of a famous coastal world, Peters’ fabrics would make any New Englander proud. Of course for each vignette in her creations, Peters has a story—the kinds of stories that can brighten any Cape Cod day, rain or shine.
For information on Joan Peters, go to www.joanpeters.com.
Amanda Fiedler Wastrom is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.
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