gracious rooms

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Barbara Westbrook’s rooms aren’t all in the country, but her way of decorating a house has roots in the countryside of Virginia, where her grandparents had a farmhouse that she loved and remembers fondly—and these memories infuse her work. I stumbled upon her book Gracious Rooms at my local library (I love when this happens, when I’m not looking for anything in particular, and something beautiful appears). I’m always on the lookout for unexpected ways that elegant country style is expressed. Continue reading “gracious rooms”

a mantel vignette

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The mantel, as we know, is the perfect place for a still life vignette because the fireplace is often the focal point in a room (especially in a country house), and because most mantels are shelf-like, with space (but not too, too much space, for vignettes should be smallish things) to create an artful display of objects.

(And there is indeed an art to the vignette, which I find fascinating because they might be formal or casual, and they might be short-lived or permanent, and they tell a little story of the house, and I will be exploring them much more in future posts.)

Interior designer Justin Bishop’s American country vignette in black on this bright white mantel is thoughtfully balanced and interesting (if not whimsical, then certainly curious with the dangling leg of the figurine, the top hat echoed in the antique print hanging above, the shadowy hound, and the small American flag, a trinket). There is a silhouette quality at play here that takes us back in time, but instead of being stale is crisp and fresh. And like a good vignette should, it makes me wonder: what will come next?

another transitional space

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The hanging straw hats, the long bench, the large mirror (for straightening our hat), and the freshly clipped flowering branches in the white pail suggest that this space is one where we make the transition from indoors to outdoors and visa versa. Like most transitional spaces (even the much fancier butler’s pantry from last post), it is utilitarian in nature, but also quite pleasant. This one, a mudroom or back entry hall from Martha Stewart Magazine, is spare and minimal and bright and has a touch of the Swedish country style in its look, with its unadorned windows, simple rustic mirror, painted floors and exposed beams, and the elegant wooden bench with Gustavian lines.

a chintz sofa: classic English country style

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A chintz sofa, yes, I’m aware that there is nothing at all new about it, in fact it’s a bit old-ladyish (which really doesn’t bother me in the least), but I’ve always been drawn to them (though I doubt I could make it work in my own house), and then there is this Colefax and Fowler fabric that I’ve long had my eye on: Bowood chintz in green/grey, used here by interior designer Gabby Deeming in a striking manner. It is fresh, but also full of warmth and a sense of the past.

John Fowler (1906-1977), of Colefax and Fowler, discovered this pattern in the archives of Bowood House in England. And it (along with the green painted paneling and the spare but noble feel that Deeming  has given this room) absolutely fit Fowler’s belief that, “A room must be essentially comfortable, not only to the body but to the eye…well-behaved but free from too many rules…mannered yet casual and unselfconscious.”

And I do think that that’s exactly what elegant country style is all about—being well-behaved but free from too many rules…mannered yet casual and unselfconscious.

So just a note for now…Fowler will come up again I’m sure. And his partner Sibyl Colefax. And perhaps Bowood chintz, and certainly other chintzes and lots more English country style. I hope you’ll check back and continue to follow the threads…

the story of the tulipiere

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The story of the tulipiere starts with Tulipmania (1634-1637), when tulips were the new gold, costing a small fortune and bringing along with them high social status (Queen Mary II was a huge fan). It has been said (though there are some conflicting reports on this, but isn’t that the case with all good stories) that the potters and ceramicists of the day created the tulipieres so that the much coveted, outrageously expensive bulbs could be planted in the individual compartments of the vessel so as not to be disturbed or upstaged by any of the lesser flowers. Others say that the tulipiere was not made for growing but for displaying the freshly cut tulips in an artful and practical way (as you may know, tulip stems continue to grow even after they are cut and placed in water and begin to get a bit unruly, in which case the tulipiere keeps them in place). Whatever the case may be, the Dutch, of course, made them first out of their delftware and these are the ones we are probably most familiar with.

Meanwhile, the tulip has come down, you might say (all of us common folks can get them now in the grocery store). But the story of the tulipiere seems to be having a second act. They are back in the spotlight, having their moment in the spheres of interior decorating, antique collecting, and floral design. And modern day potters (like Frances Palmer and Matthew Solomon) are reinterpreting them in whimsical ways.

blue armoire and chaise

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What would you call this shade of blue? Wild cornflower blue? Or summer lake blue? It’s the perfect accent to offset the muted and spare Swedish country look of this room. And it’s got me thinking that one of the main differences between Swedish country style and French country style is that for the Swiss, less is more, and for the French, more is more, wouldn’t you say? How perfect too is the elegant upholstered chaise and the antique mirrored sconces against the faded, peeling wallpaper?

Australian country style

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I find the elegance in the spaces designed by Australian Justin Bishop to be about what is left out. Most often his rooms are void of fuss and color, letting the architectural elements, natural light, and warmth of antiques enhance the spirit of the home (he is not afraid of a little bit of wear and tear or dust and dirt for that matter). In his book Country Style & Design he says that Australian country style “stems from the country’s beginnings, when its early settlers pioneered its rugged landscape, with bare essentials.” And that, “On the whole, the style is plain and simple.”

Justin Bishop Interior Design has recently opened a gorgeous Bed and Breakfast in Sassafras, Victoria called The Blackwood Sassafras, which embodies Bishop’s signature look.