Tuesday 3 May 2016

World of Interiors 9

Impossibly Bohemian Rowena Upward wants a house that hasn’t been “modernised” throughout in a hard-edged loft living style (and all knocked through), so she buys an auction property which has been untouched for decades. It’s the only way to get Art Deco fireplaces, 70s Vymura wallpaper, banquette seating or Arts & Crafts panelling. Samantha complains that her cottage is plastered with woodchip wallpaper. She rips it all off and exposes the old inglenook but can never get the fire to burn without smoking.

Pyjama cases in the shape of animals were very Teale. Presumably during the day you were supposed to hide your nightclothes (if you didn’t have a pyjama or nightdress case you folded them and put them under your pillow). You were also supposed to hide your bed under a candlewick bedspread, “smooth as a millpond” and tucked under the pillows. The case went on the pillows, along with a few cushions (optional). Your handkerchiefs went in a handmade and hand-embroidered sachet, in a drawer. Your shoes went in a hand-embroidered bag. And then one day everybody went "What the hell?" and hung their nightie up in the bathroom, or left it over a chair.

In the 70s, Weybridges had spare rooms full of cupboards with long, narrow louvred doors, and pale blue curtains and carpets. They were perfect, and hardly ever used. Cleaned every week, but there was a line of dust between the pale blue carpet and the louvred cupboard where the hoover couldn’t reach. The only signs of life, taste or individuality were a few small, pale, shiny china ornaments on the window sill and dressing table or “vanity unit”. A globose pomander containing dry pot pourri, a Dalton figurine, a flower vase, a pearlised swan.

Everybody wants olde oake beames, but the original builders would have plastered most of them over and probably painted them white. They didn’t want to reveal how their house was built any more than we want to reveal pipework. And the Victorians would be outraged by exposed stone walls in the home.

My mother was always knocking herself out cleaning and polishing. She aspired to the country house style – I tried to convince her that real aristocratic houses are a bit shabby, with dog hair on the sofa. Peter York called Sloane Ranger décor “miniature country house”. Very elaborate curtain arrangements, flowery fabric (or plaid, à la Balmoral), potted palms, huge Chinese vases, dark wood furniture. Caro Stow-Crat doesn’t have to worry about arranging her furniture – it has all been in the same place for a hundred years or so, and it was placed where it could be used. Weybridges aiming for the country house look buy lovely old pieces, but shove them in corners. They can't actually sit at the writing desk, but it's just there for show. If your living-room is “the long gallery” all your furniture can be much bigger – the same goes for huge bedrooms. Our rooms are smaller, but “furniture for a stately home” has become the standard size. (Nobody wants big 30s wardrobes any more but they’re really useful.) And the aspirant Weybridges don’t use table-cloths, coasters or mats, so that their knickknacks and flower vases mark the lovely polished surface.

Jilly Cooper complained that TV set dressers ruined any drama – their taste was too downmarket. Now, per The Hotel Inspector, the décor villains are the retired couple who open a B&B and fill it with gnomes, teddy bears, miniature dragons and Tudor dados. The owners have not sought design advice, or even read a design magazine, and are convinced that they have made the place “beautiful”. (A bit like the retailers in Mary Queen of Shops trying to sell clothes without ever opening a fashion magazine.)

Sometimes young people get hold of a B&B, cover the walls with bright murals and paint the doors turquoise and purple. The Jacobethan curtains, odd assortment of grubby old furniture and 60s stained-glass panels are the archaeological remains of earlier décor and modernisations. Some furniture has been rather randomly upcycled in hideous colours and the wrong kind of paint that’s now peeling off. And in the kitchen someone has started to paint a Tolkeinesque mural all over the cupboards – oh Lord, was it me?

When film makers updated Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister to late 1960s Los Angeles, they got it: “Photographing sleazy late 60s LA in a way that emphasizes the thin veneer of ‘new’ that cosmetically covers the same old decay, it’s just Day-Glo painted now,” says an imdb.com commenter.

More here, and links to the rest.

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