Painted in flamboyant jewel colours, with spindly and oh-so-fragile stems, crystal glasses stand witness to many a dinner party: the gossip, the scandals, the romance. These elegant drinking vessels are one of Rachel Bates’s passions and, like most of the things she loves in life, could be described as opulent, refined and bursting with character. A glance at her drawing room will tell you that Rachel isn’t one for subtlety, or for playing things safe. Textiles are heavily patterned – and certainly not matching – countless colours come into play, while gilding, carving and detail are everywhere. ‘When it comes to interiors, I do tend to veer towards the more daring side of things. I love the feel of stately homes and Italian palazzos,’ she says.
Her own home, although consciously ‘not palatial’, was designed by Rachel and her husband Justin from scratch. Georgian country houses were their inspiration: ‘I haven’t ever lived in a Georgian house but I love the windows and proportions – the light-filled rooms. It’s a clean, crisp look that enables you to really go to town with the textiles,’ she says. And go to town she certainly did. Although most of the furniture in the house is antique – a passion for which she developed during childhood shopping trips with her antiques-loving parents and aunt – the upholstery is contemporary. As an interior designer, Rachel has a honed eye for unusual designs along with the spirit to experiment with contrasting colour and pattern. ‘My design is heavily influenced by my mother and how I grew up,’ says Rachel. ‘My mother, aunt Patsy and aunt Maureen have always been very into their homes, interior design and antiques – and even bought and sold antiques when I was a child.’
While Rachel wasn’t inspired to begin a career in antiques, she has launched her own products that she hopes, one day, will become antiques of the future. Her design process involves studying the pieces that fill her home, whether it’s her line of crystal glassware – influenced by her collection of coloured Edwardian and Georgian pieces – or her dining chairs that take elements of their shape from two of the antique upholstered chairs in the drawing room. ‘I love the fact that antiques have a story attached to them,’ she says. ‘I often wonder about the dinner parties that have occurred around a certain vase or item of glass. I want people to wonder about my objects in this same way, which is why quality and longevity are so important to me.’
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Rachel is continually adding to her collection of antique glass, which she arranges en masse on fireplaces and occasional tables, bringing them out for dinner parties. Other favourites include pillboxes and portrait paintings. ‘My pillbox collection started when I was 21. My mum told members of our family that I loved Limoges boxes so I received two for my 21st birthday. They were probably rather odd gifts for a 21-year-old girl but I still have them today.’ As for the portraits, these she ‘just adores’. ‘I hope one day to fill my walls with them. Sometimes you find out about them – sometimes you don’t, but it’s fascinating when you do. My favourite is the unnamed work above the drawing room fireplace. I bought it because it reminds me of Justin – not that he dresses like that, but he should!’
A number of pieces that Rachel has designed came about because she couldn’t find what she wanted elsewhere – such as the peat bucket in the drawing room, and even this home. ‘We had our hearts set on a property with Georgian architecture but couldn’t find anything from that period in the Cheshire countryside,’ she says. So, when they came across a derelict 1950s building with trees growing inside, they saw it as a challenge that they could get their teeth into. Where possible, they opted for reclaimed materials and, if they couldn’t find what they wanted, went for new, locally sourced materials to lend authenticity. The finished house is exactly what they had in mind and although Rachel says that she makes the occasional tweak here and there to the decor, they don’t feel the need to make any other changes. ‘Once I get something to look the way I want, I tend to keep it that way. I’m not someone who hankers after the next new thing – I have my clients’ homes to work on to satisfy that urge,’ she says.
With its three dining tables, wine cellar and numerous seating areas, this is a house that was clearly designed with entertaining in mind. At Christmas, it comes into its own: ‘Our parents come from huge families so Christmas is always fun. And crazy. It inevitably ends up as a party,’ says Rachel. Perhaps the tableware – both old and new – will collect a few more stories this Christmas…
Words: Katie Pike
Photographs: Christopher Drake