Sunday 25 June 2017

World of Interiors 10

I admired a friend's house: she had a dish full of blue and white sherds which she had collected from the beach, and chandelier crystals hanging in the windows. I tried to copy, but the results always looked lame.

A childhood friend had a bedside light in the shape of a toadstool house with figures of elves. She also had a collection of glass swans and Wade china animals displayed on a shelf. I couldn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t let me have any of these beautiful things.

It was a shock when contemporaries moved from grubby student houses to grown-up flats with fitted carpets and proper furniture, and hoovered the carpets and kept the place tidy. I was also surprised that it had been their plan all along.

In Crouch End you are judged by the neatness of your log pile.

It was one of those little mid-Victorian corner tables — I believe they call them "what-nots" — which you will find in any boarding-house, littered up with photographs and coral and "Presents from Brighton." (The Power-House, John Buchan)

A new building is opened with great fanfare. Within a week, it is plastered with hand-written signs reading “EXIT”, “NO WAY OUT”, “DRAW BOLT AND TURN HANDLE”, “USE OTHER DOOR” and “FOR SOAP, PRESS BUTTON UNDER COUNTER”. Twenty years later, the notices are still there – tattered, torn and mended with yellowing sellotape.

Bournemouth's ignoble coast cowers to the right, heralding the pine-trees that mean, for all their beauty, red houses, and the Stock Exchange, and extend to the gates of London itself. So tremendous is the City's trail! (EM Forster, Howard’s End)

New buildings must be “in keeping” – but with what? Apparently it’s “the local”: a style that sprang straight from the earth, like Georgian and Victorian buildings in London stock brick.

The bar’s done up in a style called “Sheboygan rec room”: dark carpet; wood-panelled walls; plush, aging armchairs; smallish TVs. (

Someone has labelled Theresa May’s picture (with her husband, to show that she’s normal): “blousy curtains, floral footstool, showroom sofa, patterned cushions, spotless carpet”. The beige fitted carpet is clean, because she doesn’t have children, a fact she had to explain away in early July 2016. She also has a coolie-hat lampshade and some neat, pointed exposed bricks round the fireplace, a brass-mounted fire screen and a bunch of flowers in the grate.

Upgrade your home! 
Add recessed lighting
Reface your kitchen cabinets and add new handles
Buy a rug
Paint the walls
Install crown molding (a cornice), but remember it “looks best in traditional homes and can look out of place if you have an ultra-modern minimalistic home”.

COUNTRY COTTAGESWhen Jilly Cooper wrote Class in the 70s, she noted that Upwards were struggling to afford second homes in the country. They were forced to buy “bolt-holes” so far out that they drove most of Friday evening to get there, and most of Sunday evening to get back to “town”. Poor loves! For most of us, country cottages are a thing of the past, but maybe Cooper moved in different circles.

I remember some friends at the time telling me about country cottages they had viewed – most of them were impossible due to improvements that weren’t, like woodchip wallpaper and carriage lamps outside. Easily removable, but what about the filled-in fireplaces? Another friend exposed the fireplace of his Cornish cottage: it had a massive stone lintel, and filled the room with smoke.

Tropicana Regency, Versailles Proven├žale (Great Interior Design Challenge)
Metallic, exotically printed fabrics scream Great Gatsby!
"My style is simple but very ornate..." (GIDC)

“Fits in with the whole country feel.” Money for Nothing on a sideboard made of a rusty feeding trough and some teak table-legs. “They have a lovely big rustic interior,” says Sarah Moores. Does “rustic” mean “living in a pigsty”, though?

“Aztec” is now applied to kilims and ikat – anything with blocks of colour with a jagged edge. I don’t know how the Aztecs would react to that, but it might involve sharp knives.

In Babbacombe’s by “Susan Scarlett” (Noel Streatfeild), mother figure Mrs Carson is always doing up rooms on a shoestring with some “gay” or “dainty” cretonne curtains and bedcovers. Cretonne is stout cotton printed with a pattern, usually flowers, and Mrs C bought the fabric in a sale. Clearly readers were meant to follow her example. But what was Streatfeild warning against? Reusing old, dark curtains?

In a 70s Archers episode, Peggy talked of redecorating in earth colours (terracotta and peach). Would Peggy really do anything so hippy? (In the 70s everything suddenly became brown, cream or terracotta because we were worried about the environment.)

IT'S DECADENT TO...Decorate your pizzeria like a shipping warehouse.

Clad your tower block in brick panels. (I’ve even seen brick panels put on the wrong way up, with the bricks vertical.)

Paper your walls in a simulated concrete design.

Antic has taken over 45 venues and turned them into “granny chic” pubs. (Guardian June 2016) Clients may not realise that the “delightfully twee establishment... is owned by an aggressively expanding business”. They combine exposed brick walls with skip and boot sale furniture. Their designer says her job is about “taking risks. You might think, is that horrible or is that lovely? I’m not sure.” (So not “taking risks” as in kayaking up the Amazon?) They turned an old job centre in Deptford into a pub and called it The Job Centre. Local people were narked, and it closed. They’ve bought a concrete pub in Elephant. The designer says: “Yes, it’s carpark chic. Maybe that’s where I should be going with it.” (The Guardian writes as if “granny chic” was new, but it has been around in East London for about ten years like a blight.)

Ultra-cool Rowena Upward is building a new house modelled on ad hoc temporary dwellings, and filling it with orange plastic stacking chairs picked up from pavements. As she says, “It's no more patronising than doing up a thatched cottage that used to be a rural slum, or my ranch-style bungalow, modelled on the cabin of a settler in the Wild West”. Samantha is still wondering if Moroccan chic has gone out.


He had... a very large flat overlooking Marble Arch, impersonal and full of antiques which he paid a friend to choose for him. 'This is one of the biggest flats in London, and I can prove that', he said. 'It has ten rooms, three bathrooms and the furnishings are worth a fortune.' (Nik Cohn on the late Irvine Sellars of Mates boutique, a feature of Carnaby St in the 60s)

In the 50s, it was terribly grand to own a house which still had a powder closet – it showed that the house dated from the 18th century when the gentry needed a small room for powdering their hair or wig. But have we stopped trying to pretend we live at Chatsworth or Versailles at last?

Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires (“brown” pieces) have become furniture non grata.

Could hipsters save the antique furniture trade? (Apollo Magazine)

While the modern style has stayed the same forever - people still have Eames chairs and Bauhaus chairs or whatever - because it's all about functionality and use and iconicism, the 'traditional' goes through huge fads almost in cycles. (

See the 30s Tudoresque vision of Merrie England, with a lot of brass and oak. It was a debased form of the late 19th century Arts and Crafts, and the fad for vast refectory tables and carved wooden chests. Late 19th century Louis IV revival (baroque, rococo) ended up as flimsy reproduction furniture and would-be Aubusson carpets: pensioner chic.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Modern Manners

There are no social rules any more – but what about queueing and correct use of the checkout divider? Yesterday a young man let me go in front of him in the checkout queue – what a gent!

Never comment
on what other people are eating, even if they’re on the “clean, paleo, detox” diet and longing to tell you all about it.

I'm sure none of you would do this: You bring a bottle of the kind of wine you like (very dry, ready chilled) to a party. The host/hostess puts it to one side and never opens it, and gives you a glass of warm chardonnay.

And don’t forget Miss Manners’ good advice: If you know your IQ score, don’t tell anybody.

Some people imagine etiquette is all about this kind of thing: "As at dinner, it is the duty of a hostess to give the signal for leaving the room, which she does by attracting the attention of the lady of highest rank present by means of a smile and a bow, rising at the same time from her seat." The same site gives rituals for arranging your train over one arm correctly when attending a vice-regal drawing-room.

Anyone harking back to the “simpler” days of the 1950s has got it all wrong… Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette… offers advice of enormous complexity on issues such as, should a gentleman always remove his hat in an elevator? (Alexandra Frean in The Times) Miss Manners (Judith Martin) was asked the same question by a polite fellow who said he would like to remove his hat, but then what do you do with it? Miss Manners suggested he clutch it lightly to his chest. She also hoped that a few remarks about the weather to a lady lift-sharer might lead to a cup of coffee and – who knows?

“The unreal set of manners and bizarre systems of etiquette that they force themselves to follow, like our own upper classes.” (New Humanist) OK the poshos have some odd codes, like tilting your soup bowl away from you and not wearing black stockings in the country, or any jewellery but pearls before dusk, but they’re not really as bizarre as people imagine.

Middle-class unwritten rules are far weirder. Writer John Mortimer had a schoolfriend to stay, who at the end of the holiday remarked: "I'll tell you something about your father. He can't see. He's blind, isn't he?" Mortimer comments: "It was a question our family never asked. Naturally, I didn't answer."

You didn’t raise your voice in public, because you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself, and you didn’t want everybody to “know your business”. Some older people are still a bit shocked at others talking loudly in public. Upwards and Weybridges even kept the radio or gramophone turned down low.

Women used to be warned against “clanking” jewellery and “squeaking” shoes – circa 1880. Were you supposed to glide silently? Rustling taffeta petticoats were probably out, too. (It was fashionable to wear several very long chains, and multiple brooches. How did you stop them “clanking”?) Your voice was supposed to be soft, gentle and low as well. This got transferred to jangling charm bracelets when these became fashionable in the 1940s and 50s.

More etiquette here.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

The Upwards: Update

What comes across... is the charmed, lazy life of overpaid Oxford academics – the short hours, endless long vacations and sabbaticals, the high-table boozing, international conferences, holidays to sponge off the Cecils, the Spenders... the general unaccountability. (The Times on Iris Murdoch’s letters.)

The upper-middle-class Upwards think it’s OK to make cracks about people who breathe through their mouths, can’t do joined up writing, and eat at Harvesters. They are far the most snobbish of the classes: I knew a woman who judged boyfriends by their mothers' curtains.

Upwards hate “celebrities” because they are celebrated for success in common fields like football, pop music, reality TV and Hollywood movies. Also they make a lot of money. Upwards resent popular culture, because it’s evidence that they aren't the only people in these islands – or the world. They like to say that “vacuous celebrities” are celebrated for doing things that don’t take talent or hard work. But then they manage not to “see” stage schools, or footballers in training. Unfortunately writing literary novels or even acting in Shakespeare will never get Upwards anything like the media exposure. And they aren’t allowed to go on X Factor.

They like to think that they have chosen their friends, and that they aren’t a “type”. They're very touchy about being classified or given a label (hipster, chatterati). Some of them like to say that if everyone stopped talking about class it would disappear. They’re not aware that databases like Mosaic ("consumer classification for consistent cross-channel marketing) are dividing us into finer and finer categories so that people can sell things to us (they’d be outraged).

Upward grandparents are the ones who worry about the whole family sliding down the social scale.
Fifty years ago, Upwards and Stow-Crats told their children that certain things were Done and others were Not Done. No further explanation needed. If you drank wine out of a tumbler or ate peas with your knife, in no time at all you'd find yourself living in the kitchen, using an old newspaper as a tablecloth, and pouring milk into your tea straight from the bottle. And you'd probably be dropped from polite society.

Upwards don't become aldermen, they sneer at them, also at Freemasons, Rotarians and Roundtablers, who have worked out a way of having a social life while doing something useful. The Upward equivalent is the book group, the poetry workshop, the writing circle, the music weekend - and that’s about it. They aren’t very organised about meeting people and making new friends – perhaps because they are terrified of mixing with the Wrong People. They shudder at “public speaking”, but if required to do a book tour they may take lessons in "presentation skills" from an out-of-work actor.

Middle-middle-class Weybridges celebrate English culture – change-ringing, topiary, battle re-enactments, Morris dancing, narrowboats. Upwards are keen on preserving working-class culture once it’s safely in the past – see the current fad for plaid shirts and distressed wood.

The Middle-Class Handbook has all the dope.

More here.

The Teales: Update

Miles and Juliet lived in a neat circumscribed executive estate in Pangbourne and did everything right. They bought every possession (including the right opinions) that the young executive should have and their lives were organised with a degree of foresight that made the average Soviet Five-Year-Plan look impetuous. (Star Trap
, Simon Brett)

The lower-middle class Teales, Jen and Bryan, and their children Christine and Wayne, are admirable. They join Rotary, raise money for charity, and become aldermen. They are hard-working, sensible and organised. They are also conscientious, kind and polite, though they can be scrupulous and judgemental. Teale respectability may be a relic of the Low Protestant sects their grandparents grew up in. The attitudes lived on while the chapels were converted into flats.

There used to be some Teales who would never discuss other people in any way. It made talking to them quite difficult. Was it  Protestantism forbidding “all uncharitableness”? Jen always knows when to stop talking for the two minutes silence, and when the clocks go back/forward. Poor Samantha Upward is always being caught out, and frowned on.

Jen retrained as an aromatherapist when the children became "adults". Christine is a wedding planner, Wayne a cosmetic surgeon. (Downmarket Sharon Definitely runs a nail bar.) Aromatherapy fell out of fashion, and Jen now helps Christine with her wedding business, thinking up elaborate, “unique” and expensive additions for your “special day”.

The early 60s were so Teale! They smelled of face powder, Yardley lipstick and lavender. Then it all went wrong and we were forced to whiff of patchouli and avoid ironing our clothes. Thank goodness the 70s brought the Teales back: American tan tights, A-line mini skirts, man-made fibres. Long hair parted in the middle became a symbol of conformity rather than rebellion as long as it was “healthy and shining” and went with over-plucked eyebrows, highlighter on the brow bone and a vapid smile.

Jen folds letters very neatly, lining up the edges and pressing down the folds. When her colleague Sam makes a mess of something she says: “I got carried away!” Teales, especially co-workers, take the Upward “scatty act” at face value, and are very disapproving.

But even Teales have their dark side. When not holidaying at nudist camps, they join suburban covens. And Geoffrey Crossick has written a book all about them.

Picture by Versluys and Uittenbroek.

More here.

The Stow-Crats: Update

The Stow-Crats, Harry and Caroline, are very self-deprecating — they can afford to be.

Poor Lady Lucan! The TV audience found her “cold”, and thought it incomprehensible that she’d had no contact with her children for 35 years. She said: “I bumped into George once in a park. We didn’t say much.” George is her son. Her abusive husband provoked her into emotional outbursts and filmed them as evidence that she was “unstable”, so that he could get a divorce and custody of the chidren. She made it clear that people of her class weren’t allowed to experience or show emotion of any kind. It was redefined as madness. (This was clearly a shock to people who are used to reality TV, and interviewees breaking down in tears on cue.)

From a Times obituary, 2014: After a rackety youth on the continent gambling and having affairs, she settled down. Her husband had to teach her how to make a cup of tea. When she moved into a flat, she wondered why it was so cold – she didn’t realise you have to turn radiators on.

It used to be the thing for Stow-Crats and Weybridges to despise all foreigners, while Bohemian Upwards fawned on them.

More here.

And more on the aristocratic lifestyle in David Cannadine's The Country House.