Notes on English interior design

As I’ve mentioned previously, my study of interior design has been narrowed to the Brits.

There is much I admire about their homes, which I hope to enumerate here (especially in contrast to some of the more popular American ways of setting up interiors).

I feel justified in this focus for four reasons:

  1. I discovered, to my mild disappointment, that I am ethnically 75% English (and 25% Dutch). My admiration for English design perhaps has some genetic roots. (Disappointing because I was hoping for something more exciting. Even being mostly Irish is more exciting.)
  2. We live in Charlottesville, Virginia, which boasts some of the most English-looking countryside in the U.S. The landed gentry who settled here clearly agreed and fashioned for themselves estates much in the English manner of estate-making.
  3. My admiration bloomed after visiting rambling English homes during the time that we lived in London and I was able to see the homes in the wild, in their natural contexts.
  4. I am devoted to several very English pursuits—namely, gardens, tea, long walks, and dogs—and so it seems fitting that my home should also be very English.

When we first bought our home, eight years ago, I thought I would make a modern Scandinavian home, as I mentioned before, which is much in vogue among my generation. This was entirely wrong for many reasons, foremost of which was that our house was neither modern nor Scandinavian. But we also didn’t live like austere Scandinavians. I can’t have white floors or white furniture. They are utterly incompatible with dogs or small children, and they make me nervous. I also don’t really like the look of very modern rooms. My favorite pieces in our home are antiques, mostly from Guion’s maternal grandparents, who had splendid Southern taste.

Beata Heuman's 5 Stylish Tips For Updating Your Living Room Now | British  Vogue
A room by Beata Heuman. (c) British Vogue.

This realization, among others, has led me to study English rooms, through books, magazines, and websites, and I feel ready to make a few generalizations.

English design:

  • Prioritizes coziness and hospitality over minimalism and cleanliness
  • Celebrates a riot of colors and patterns
  • Emphasizes upholstery and a variety of textiles in every room
  • Insists on vintage furniture and rugs in every room; rejects the shiny and mass-produced
  • Veers toward gold, bronze, and unlacquered brass, with select uses of polished chrome
  • Invests in window treatments
  • Features art, framed prints, and mirrors on nearly every wall
  • Always picks the frilly lampshade over the plain white one

There is a boldness and playfulness to English design that seems difficult to get right. This is why I find myself studying it so closely. And it’s perhaps why I thought I was a Swedish minimalist at first; that looked easier to accomplish. English rooms, however, demand an eye for composition that I’m not sure I have.

Inside a Design Guru's Enviable London Home | Eclectic living room, Home,  Living room with fireplace
Living room by Rita Konig. (c) NY Magazine.

I also sense that English design stands in contrast to a good deal of modern American interior design, as I understand it, which is heavily influenced by Joanna Gaines: “farmhouse” style for homes that are definitely not farmhouses; cutesy signage; a faux vintage/excessively curated atmosphere; gray or white walls everywhere. I was amused to read an interview with a British designer who said that American designers were “perfectionists” — a characterization that makes sense to me. In most of the rooms by celebrated HGTV designers, there is a fussy attention to detail within a pristine environment that strikes me as unrealistic and fake.

An Interior Design Masterclass with Nicola Harding - Mad About The House
A bedroom by Nicola Harding. (c) Mad About the House

In any event, it is comforting for me to articulate English design principles here, in the hopes that I can replicate them, in some way, in our refreshed midcentury American cottage.

Ben's London house - Ben Pentreath Ltd
Ben Pentreath’s kitchen. (c) Ben Pentreath

U.K. designers I’m taking notes on

Wish me luck.

2 thoughts on “Notes on English interior design

Leave a Reply to Notes on English interior design — Little Stories | THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON... Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s