Sunday 14 November 2010

What Your Decor Says About You

They have a wine chiller, an espresso machine and his-and-hers TVs in their bathroom.

Michael Gove on Rosie Millard on Radio 4 being taken round a gazillionaire’s mansion, Times April 22, 2008: “...she was manifestly horrified by one, dominant, factor about the d├ęcor. Rosie had clearly been prepared for a vulgar display of ostentatious wealth, all gold taps, Swarovski crystal and white leather sofas. Instead, to her obvious disappointment and regret, everything was beige... The agent explained that the clientele with an interest in this place had grown used to living out of suitcases in five-star hotels, where every room is a lighter shade of beige, and they had come to associate that gentle colour scheme with luxury. Good taste even. To my ear, Rosie seemed quite moved on behalf of those in thrall to this delusion. The poor dears, condemned to thinking beige tasteful. How grimly, corporately, homogeneously, internationally, airport-loungely, bankerishly dull... beige is the colour not so much of bad taste as of no taste.”

The Stow-Crats have a drawing room (short for withdrawing room which was where the ladies “withdrew” after dinner so that both sexes could have a comfort break). Upwards have a sitting room, Weybridges and Teales a living room. Only airports and hotels have lounges. The ubertrendy Upwards have a flexible living space on the semi-mezzanine (their bedrooms are in the basement). They think this unconventional layout is fearfully “witty”.

The Nouveau-Richards’ house has huge rooms with space for several leather suites. There is nothing personal in sight. The fitted carpets are hoovered within an inch of their lives. It’s like a very upmarket B&B. There’s a vast marble-tiled hall with grand staircases curving up on either side and a huge sculpture dead centre. This room is used for nothing. The NRs buy old portraits and pretend they are of their own relatives. They – and the Definitelies – have a horseshoe-shaped sofa, which would be rather cosy.

Sam goes on living like a student for far too long. (According to Katherine Whitehorn we all think we belong with the group about ten years younger than us.) She aspires to the upper-class rotting-silk, antique-furniture, everything-covered-with-dog-hair look, but you need space for that. When she has children the toys and tiny clothes join the general clutter of laundry baskets on the sofa and catfood by the sink. Art by the children is bluetacked up next to posters of polar bears and aerial views of endangered rainforests and they all get a bit grubby and dog-eared. Her hall is full of bicycles and boots and the banisters are permanently draped with children’s pink duffel coats. In the 80s Sam rag rolled and sponge painted her walls in purple or lime. It was like living inside a boiled sweet. She covers her chairs and sofas with nonmatching “throws” instead of cleaning them. She moans a lot about people who install UPVC windows in period properties.

The Definitelies throw double-sided fake fur rugs on their beds. They also have a corner sofa plus coffee table, or a horseshoe one in black leather, plus a ceiling fan, a black shag pile carpet, an onyx table and a lifesize ceramic cheetah.

Some Bohemian Upwards add stuffed unicorns, dressmaker’s dummies and dried hydrangeas to the bicycles and coats in their halls. In the 70s, Arkana Nightshade painted her walls dark chocolate to set off her collection of antique lace garments and ostrich feathers in vases. The lace got dusty and brittle and the feathers were eaten by moths. She threw it all out and went in for feng shui. She offers to feng shui Sam’s life for a reduced fee, but Sam is terrified of becoming too tidy and Weybridge.

Sam and Caro Stow-Crat have open fires involving endless faff with coal, logs and rolled up newspaper, though the result is lovely. Sam may have a wood burning stove. The NRs have a hole-in-the-wall fire with (gas) flames coming up through a pile of pebbles. Now everyone’s got central heating, the Teales and Weybridges don’t need their coal-effect electric fires any more and either put the telly in the old fireplace or fill it with racks of wine bottles, or arrangements of fir-cones (which is what the Victorians did with theirs in the summer). The Definitelies have a wall-mounted, flat-panel, real-flame-effect number that emits heat as well. Or they have an “electric fireplace suite” (or just “electric suite”), that includes fireplace, mantel and integral electric (flame effect) fire. You can even get one that looks like a wood-burning stove, to the fury of the Upwards. Sam would call it a “mantelpiece”, with a slight shudder because she thinks there was some stricture in Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige. (It specifies “chimneypiece” – probably in reaction to vulgarly elaborate Edwardian overmantels with many brackets and shelves. Surely due a revival.)

Caro and the N-Rs have chandeliers, and so do the Definitelies, who bought theirs in the Woolworths closing-down sale. The N-Rs have theirs cleaned by a specialist company, and also hire art students to hand-paint their wallpaper and murals. Caro’s chandelier is in one of the state rooms she never uses, with each crystal tied up in muslin. It has never been converted to electricity. Every few years she takes it to bits and washes each crystal. She can give you tips on cleaning marble fireplaces, too.

Sam can’t have anything fitted except her kitchen and possibly not even that. She buys a dresser and a table and a Belfast sink (ripping out old 70s units) and hangs pans from hooks on the walls. She either strips the dresser or paints it white. She complains that people never cook in their “state-of-the-art” kitchens (and besides they cost £10,000). All her equipment is either bought in France (made of enamel to a design nobody’s changed for 50 years because there’s no need to) or in antique shops (also enamel, but cream/green rather than blue/red). She likes blue and white striped Cornish ware, or green Denby ware. Upwards have always loved hardware shops, maybe because the products are generic and never change. And because they love working class paraphernalia - but only when it’s 50 years out of date.

The Nouveau Richards have a fitted kitchen with many too many, too low cupboards, and “worktops” that you can’t do any work on because you’d hit your head on the cupboards. They have an “island” instead of a kitchen table. The Definitelies have black granite worktops and a breakfast bar.

Caro wonders: If you have a sitting room with an open fire, where do you put the television? Most people put it next to the fire. And what do you put it ON? A cabin trunk? A specially made low table? In the olden days, you put it in a separate room (and hotels had a “television room”).

Neither Sam nor Caro can use coasters (small, rigid mats you slip under people’s drinks or teacups to save your furniture). Caro leaves magazines on her furniture for people to put drinks down on. Sam doesn’t care, or else all her furniture is so covered with nicknacks, toys and old coffee mugs that there’s nowhere to put anything down anyway.

Eileen Weybridge has a set of coasters that matches her table mats: Indian red or forest green framing 18th century hunting scenes. She has large rooms with acres of pale, short-haired fitted carpet. Sam wonders how on earth she keeps it clean – but then Eileen is disciplined and efficient, and probably has a cleaning lady. The furniture is new repro, very shiny. Safe, unexciting pictures may include a bad oil or pastel portrait of Eileen or her daughter, or a meticulous painting of elephants. In her kitchen Eileen has a red Aga, and linen teatowels printed with unreliable legends about places she’s visited on holiday, or “old Cornish prayers”. She keeps her biscuits in a barrel, Sam keeps hers in a tin (that probably once held a gift assortment), and Caro keeps hers in a cream and green tin marked “biscuits” that’s been in the family for 75 years. The ubertrendy Upwards have the same tin, but it’s from a boutique which bought it at a boot sale.

The Teales have leather coasters printed with wolves — they collect Lupiana. They have wolf posters, wolf mouse mats, Howling Wolves cushion covers and a Running Grey Wolf Credit Card Case, and Jen embroiders large pictures incorporating a wolf, a bare tree, a crescent moon and an Indian brave. Other Teales collect fairyana, or - if male - cast their own metal-effect Dungeons and Dragons characters.

The Teales did up their house in the 80s and never moved on - or else the interiors shops in their area never moved on. Every room has a dado: stripes underneath, flowery border, little blobby pattern above in shades of orange, jade, brick, grey, pink, lemon. The bathroom has a tiled dado. They have the last tart’s knicker blinds surviving in the wild. Their windows have elaborate draped pelmets. Though thanks to strenuous efforts by TV makeover shows this stylistic elephant’s graveyard is being obliterated by magnolia paint and very, very neat minimalist interiors.

Caro's mother has photographs of the royals in silver frames on the grand piano. Mrs Definitely has all her family in plastic cubes on the telly, or in a multi-picture frame, or in non-matching frames on the mantelpiece. Upwards don't display family photos. Out of sight out of mind – they just forget what family members look like.

Successful Teales live in new-build flats or converted warehouses in Docklands. Their flats are feng shui’d to the (non-existent) coving and contain practically nothing apart from rubber rocking chairs, modular foam sofas and glass tables. They have state-of-the-art kitchens (with islands, extractor hoods, granite and brushed steel) that they never cook in. They have a terrace with decking and bamboos in pots - they came with the flat.

Why are posh accents described as “cut glass”? Cut glass is faceted like a diamond, and cut with a diamond wheel. If you can’t afford the real thing, you buy a moulded imitation. But when the real thing becomes cheaper and moves downmarket it is shunned by the middle classes. Also it’s too shiny for them. Stow Crats carry on using the cut glass bought by their 18th century ancestors.
More here. And more here. And here. And here.


  1. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

    Shag Pile Carpets

  2. "The Stow-Crats have a drawing room" "Upwards have a sitting room"
    Yes, I've even read a country-house owning middle-class woman get insecure about whether it would be pretentious and too much Jane Austen to say "drawing room" to what was one beyond doubt.

    Would you say Stow-Crats call the room with the fireplace and the grand piano in their (comparatively) little Kensington house a drawing room or a sitting room?

  3. I'd guess they call it a drawing room.