With so much changing in our world right now, we have been consumed with talking about and predicting what trends in design will result from the drastic changes in the ways we live and work.
With so much changing in our world right now, we have been consumed with talking about and predicting what trends in design will result from the drastic changes in the ways we live and work. But really, though most of us are interested in trends, we just want our spaces to be comfortable and reflective of our loves and lifestyles.
The country styles of the English Cotswolds and the Provence region of France are two interior styles that do not rely on trends but are traditional styles that remain consistent in their approach to relaxed, familiar, and comfortable surroundings. And the best part of these styles is that they are so easy to create and maintain.
If you consider yourself an Anglophile, you are certainly familiar with the laid-back approach to the English County interior. These early English manor houses were quite slow to appreciate "decoration", and until the 17th century, furniture and upholstery were regarded as secondary to the building. Although the walls would be bung with tapestries, interiors developed without much additional attention to detail. The English people themselves frowned upon anything resembling ostentation, but a group of early "decorators" namely Syrie Maugham , Sybil Colefax, Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler, began to draw people's attention to the historical value of decorative arts. In spite of these few talented efforts, most of the English continued to disavow the idea of any house looking "decorated". But a wise Nancy Lancaster began to intentionally fade her chintzes, fatigue her furniture and play down frills, in what became, and still remains the English Country style.
The French, on the other hand, understood the attraction of the comfortable, rustic interiors. But being French also meant being chic. The graceful curves of the cabriole leg, the distinctive lines of a Bergère chair and the simpler profiles of Louis the XV furniture are all hallmarks of the Country French style in furnishings.
Fabrics had a more finished and coordinated appearance, with large toile patterns matched in color to smaller, more refined prints of leaves, flowers, small checks and garlands. But both the English and the French country styles still had many things in common.
If the country styles are known for anything, it is the quality of " layering" that is one of the true hallmarks. A country room is full of items, both decorative and utilitarian. Artwork, of all subjects, is layered on walls, above doorways, even affixed to cabinet fronts. Vintage tole is made into lamps. Mojolica plates,
Staffordshire figurines and porcelain vases sit upon brackets that anchor the layers of artwork. Wallpapers of matching or coordinating fabric patterns are applied to the walls, all creating the warmth and welcoming effect of the Country House. The English were also known to have separate slipcovers made for their upholstery that would be changed with the seasons. And there was never a concern if they got wrinkled or pushed askew as that only made the room more comfortable and admirable. Piles of books and magazines lined the floor along with a well-worn carpet.
Even with the loss of many fabric houses over the past year, we are still lucky to have companies that are known for their high-quality country patterns. Old Work Weavers, Bennison, Sanderson, and Vervaine, are all companies that create the most seductive French and English Country motifs, many with coordinating wall coverings and furnishings. Authentic English and French antiques are on the cusp of a strong come back in interior furnishings, and now would be the time to search them out, as prices are still quite affordable. If antiques are out of reach, excellent reproductions can be found at re-sale stores. I recently re-discovered Ivy Hill Furniture located on Ivy Hill Road in Wyndmoor. You will be amazed at the high quality of their inventory. (Call them for their address, as there is no sign It is a secret resource.)
So, as always, it is great to be in fashion and following the trends, but there is nothing quite like the familiarity, comfort, warmth and tradition of a true country interior. Happy hunting!
Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and can be reached though her web site: patriciacove.com.