I’ve always enjoyed messing around with architectural antiques and industrial vintage, but I inevitably come back to the country house style. I return to it because it’s all about comfort. I like my modern luxuries like my mobile phone, but I also want a squidgy old sofa that I can sink into when I have a glass of red wine in my hand and the dog is jumping up to sit beside me.
This is a warm, classic English look that is about layering and being playful. The best country homes have evolved over centuries, as their various owners have added layers of history with antiques. It’s all about solid pieces and timeless appeal, but it’s not precious. In a room with a roaring fire you might find a late 19th-century velvet upholstered Howard sofa that’s worn and slightly threadbare, alongside really good gothic revival English oak furniture. There may also be Grand Tour finds nestling beside ammonites and fossils from the Victorian era when natural history was all the rage. There could be art and mirrors on the walls, some oriental touches and the air that everything in the room is an heirloom. My favourite country house is Highgrove for its quintessential look.
The country house aesthetic has been around for a long time and is set to remain, so it’s a great look to invest in. Think of the work of Colefax & Fowler or more recent interior decorators like Robert Kime, who execute the style brilliantly. Many of my clients also snap up the books of Christopher Gibbs – a designer, antiques dealer and collector, prolific in the 1960s – for inspiration. Country house style is a difficult scheme to pull off, but it doesn’t have to be expensive – if you’re clever. This is mostly down to the fact that what you put into a room can be incomplete, unpolished and worn. That’s all part of its charm. You can add a unique stamp to it, as I do, with industrial pieces.
Yet there are some essential elements you will need to evoke the mood. You’ll find my tips for these key pieces, as well as how to achieve country house style on a budget, below. But before you take a peek, here’s a final word of advice. This isn’t ideal for every type of home. Generally, if you want to adopt country house style, you’ll have a sympathetic environment such as a cottage or house with some age. Don’t try it in a modernist 1970s flat. The best country homes have developed over decades, so if you put in a great piece now, you’re adding to its history. Don’t be tempted to add modern pieces that aren’t examples of good design – if you’re on a budget, look for antique bargains. This was a cool avant-garde look for many years, so be brave, bold and a bit mad. Buy what you love, but remember – in the case of design periods such as art nouveau or art deco – because they are so specific, they are complete looks on their own. Finally, don’t rush. As you look for items to add over time, think about what will work and where. Once you start, you’ll be hooked!
KEY ELEMENTS OF A COUNTRY HOUSE SITTING ROOM
Upholstered furniture Choose wonderful patterned fabrics – the brighter and more floral the better. Wear, patches and repairs really don’t matter – it will only make these pieces more of a bargain. Layer with cushions and a blanket or throw over the back of a sofa.
Rugs Layer small ones over large ones, pattern on pattern. Faded Aubussons and antique carpets work and are cheaper than those in pristine condition.
Tables Dot them around the room from little antique tripod-leg gypsy tables, which can be bought cheaply, to a big sofa table. For the latter, use a console behind a comfy sofa with a couple of reading lights positioned on top.
Lighting Replace wall and ceiling lights with standard lamps, table lamps (such as brass column lights) on your side tables. Mix styles, eras and shades.
A fireplace Add a club fender, if you can find one.
A pair of club chairs Mix and match them – this is a cheaper option than buying a pair.
An ottoman Pile it high with magazines or books you’ve thumbed through and place in the middle of the room.
A desk A great addition, if you have space. Team with a nice old desk chair, a lamp, vintage pens, books, pictures or lots of little photographs. It makes a great surface for displaying a collection of curios.