I promised you a more detailed look at this most classic of interior design styles last week so here you go. It’s seen as quintessentially English and yet it was popularised by an American. It’s a maximalist look that’s even better when it’s messy and mismatched. While some will say it’s having a revival others claim that it’s never gone away. It’s about whether you prefer the classic version or the contemporary. Read on to find out more.
1 The English Country House style – to give it its full name was established in the 1920s – and was about colour and comfort, pattern and period detail. It is unashamedly maximalist but there are certain ingredients you must include if you want to pull off this classic look successfully.
2 You will need: at least one large, slouchy, supremely comfortable sofa which must be covered in an array of mismatched cushions and throws. Keep the colours tonally simple and throw all the patterns at it. Add in some antique furniture – slightly wonky and scratched with marks from Martinis past is completely acceptable. Throw in lots of floral motifs – in the pictures on the walls, the lampshades and on the rugs – of which there must be several. Add a dash of wit – a wig on a bust, or even a china leopard or bowl of fruit for irony and you’re there. A sprinkling of dog hair and even a couple of hounds themselves and you’re there.
3 The joy of this look is that it’s not about perfection. Everything needs to look as it it arrived well-loved and pre-loved from somewhere else in the house or family and not that it was bought in specially. The late Tory MP Alan Clark was oft quoted on his Conservative colleague: “An arriviste who… bought all his own furniture”. That being one of the most damning things he could say about him.
4 While this style developed in the UK, as people sought to bring the style of large country houses into their smaller homes, it was the American Nancy Lancaster who popularised it. She bought Colefax & Fowler in the 1940s and added carpet and heating to the mix. She also decreed that every room should have something a little bit ugly and that decorating a room was “like mixing a salad” insisting that rooms should feel informal enough to be comfortable.
5 Original country house style involved lots of tiny chintzy florals, often mixed with stripes in an Edwardian style fabric but bigger, bolder flowers are currently in vogue. The way to bring them up to date is in new, and more modern colourways – think neo mint and cobalt blue rather than soft pastels.
6 Keep the walls plain but use a strong colour to make the florals really stand out and make sure you use wallpaper on all four walls. No single feature design here.
7 Every room must have books and magazines. English people really don’t want to talk to each other all the time so a collection of books and newspapers they can dive into will avoid the ghastly small talk scenario perfectly. Ditto a large gin.
8 There must be lots of flowers – real – and plants – likewise. Faux plants must be ironic such as ceramic bowls of fruit – the one ugly thing that Nancy decreed every room must have.
9 Gallery walls are very English country house, particularly when hung over wallpaper. Family photographs should never be hung on walls but gathered in frames on side tables. In fact collections of all sorts are good – jugs, ornaments, statues, whatever you like.
10 Look at designers such as Ben Pentreath, Robert Kime, Christopher Howe and Rita Konig for inspiration.