The English have always had panache for comfort and understated style, be it in a Mitford Sisters drawing room or a less than grand ruined country cottage, certain elements and style prevail. Color! Light! Remnants of a life well lived and traveled seem to fill the nooks and crannies of an Englishman’s home or this case an English Woman’s! Though ‘English country house style’ has never been exclusively English, was perfected by an American, and pops up in Clapham nearly as often as in the Cotswolds, its decorative tropes are instantly recognizable: a mix of antique furnishings, at least one capacious sofa with a generous serving of cushions, rugs, table lamps with fabric shades, and flowers both fresh and recreated in prints and paintings. Antique textiles, a dash of modernity, a flourish of the oriental, and a couple of dogs can be added for extra flavor.
Part of the success of this style is its tolerance and flexibility. Unlike minimalism, which demands straight-edge perfection, or rough luxe with its ban on prettiness, English country house style embraces wear and tear, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Shabby can be chic, and a bit of silliness – sunglasses perched on the nose of a marble bust – is allowed, even welcomed. Nancy Lancaster, the American credited with crystallizing, if not exactly inventing, the look after buying Colefax and Fowler in the Forties, teaming up with John Fowler, introduced American luxury to the small stately homes she decorated for herself – heating, carpeted bathrooms – ensuring that comfort became another characteristic. She famously advocated having ‘something a little bit ugly’ in every room, and described decorating as ‘a bit like mixing a salad’, recognizing that a degree of informality promotes relaxation – no one enjoys feeling that their presence is a blot on the immaculate landscape.
Contemporary English country house style features less in the way of blousy chintz, sprigged wallpapers and draped tables. Instead there are stripes and ethnic woven cushions, mat emulsion-chalk paint on the walls and exposed furniture legs-that would make the Victorians blush. Minimalism has left its mark and helped to control the clutter. Rough luxe has encouraged scrubbed floorboards and the stripping of later layers of paint and paper back to mottled sub-strata with the texture of history and use. It’s as if the children of the greats have taken the sensibilities into the faster moving age and that is what makes this style endure. This is a style that can flex with fashion and fit around lifestyles. It doesn’t seem likely to fade away any time soon.