The English country house look is a style that never goes out of fashion; It is characterized by lovely florals, antiques, and large comfortable sofas.
The English country house style is timeless. It means floral patterns, lovely antiques, rooms that are wallpapered and lined with books, have rich Persian carpets and plenty of accessories; such as sumptuous cushions and vases of flowers. It has elements of “shabby chic” and can be a mismatch of patterns. It is formally informal, it is comfortable and welcoming – there is no perching on hard minimalist sofas with perfect lines of symmetry in these sorts of interiors. Furniture is well made and tends to be oversized – huge sofas with fat feather seat pads to sink into.
Colefax & Fowler
The most brilliant exponents of the style, and whose skills many try to emulate today, were interior decorators John Colefax & Sybil Fowler, who founded their interior decoration business in London in the 1930s, and the American-born decorator and hostess Nancy Lancaster, who subsequently bought into the business. Indeed don’t forget that many aspects of the country house look come from the US East Coast, brought to the UK by wealthy hostesses like Nancy Lancaster.
Colefax & Fowler is today an international fabric and wallpaper company, headquartered in London, and it’s a good place to start when thinking about decorating rooms in the country house style. That’s because it is predominantly about the fabrics used – which tend to be floral in design. Colefax’s designs are quintessentially English and its extensive collections are perfect for big billowing curtains, to upholster furniture and to cover walls. Choose linens, cottons and chintzes and don’t be afraid to mix florals with checks or stripes, because that element of mismatch is key to the style. Colefax & Fowler collections are widely available in the US and Canada as well as in Europe.
Choose Fabrics With Larger Floral Elements
When choosing florals, remember that patterns that are too tight and symmetrically repetitive could well become hard to live with because they are too intense. The trick with florals, says London interior designer Paul Warren, is to choose bigger patterns on a cream background that are randomly spaced on the cloth. This gives the pattern room to breathe, and it won’t become monotonous to look at. “But the key to this style is not to have all florals. You need to break up the room with checks, stripes and some plains. So if you have lovely floral curtains, have a sofa in a plain or a check. Don’t go flower mad.” Another point Paul makes is that “the country house style is not suited to very small rooms. Decorate your largest rooms in this style, but too much pattern in small rooms becomes oppressive.”
Bennison is another high-end, UK company that has wonderful collections ideal for the country house look. It was launched in 1985 to offer hand-printed fabrics, based on the designs of original 18th and 19th century French and English textiles, that had been discovered by the late Geoffrey Bennison; a highly respected antique dealer and interior decorater. A characteristic of these historic fabrics is that the cotton and linen was stained in tea before being printed, giving an appealing faded or antiqued look. So any sticklers for perfection should not choose fabrics that have the pattern printed on a white cloth, rather they should look for the off-white to tea-stained background.
Bennison, which is based close to Sloane Square in London, and which has showrooms in New York and Los Angeles, now offers some 150 beautiful designs, including some early silk prints and an East Coast collection of country cottons. Designs are printed in England on linens and silks and the “tea-stained” faded look is achieved, albeit using a more up-to-date method than soaking the fabrics in tea before being printed!
You can also choose wallpapers in Bennison designs, which are printed on hand-made paper.
Osborne & Little
Osborne & Little is another celebrated name in British decoration. A fabric and wallpaper company founded in 1968 by Sir Peter Osborne (father of British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne), and Antony Little, its collections tend to be perceived as offering a more modern take on traditional florals and patterns. The company’s extensive collections provide rich pickings for those wanting to create a warm, colourful interior suited to today’s smaller homes.
There are many other textile companies with wonderful florals and patterns. A few suggestions are:
US firms Brunschwig & Fils and Schumacher
Spanish fabric houses Ybarra & Serret and Gaston Y Daniela
French company Lelievre.
Marimekko, the Finnish textile house known for its big bold modern prints. Marimekko celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.