Of all the decorative styles throughout the past 50 years, none has been as enduring as that of the English country house. Though ‘English country house style’ has never been exclusively English, and occurs in London as frequently as the Cotswolds, its decorative themes are instantly recognisable. It typically encompasses at least one capacious sofa and several, possibly mismatched, chairs, copious amounts of cushions and rugs, table lamps with patterned fabric shades and floral themes both fresh and captured in prints and paintings. Antique textiles are commonly found together with oriental touches.
True English country house style can be hard to replicate. It emphasises cosiness and a relationship with nature and the best examples often arise from generations of inhabitants collecting objects and adding modifications. The look manages to be both timeless and liveable, grand and casual. Part of the success of this style is its tolerance and flexibility. Unlike minimalism, demanding straight-edged perfection, or rough luxe with its ban on prettiness, English country house style embraces wear and tear, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Nancy Lancaster, the American credited with consolidating, if not exactly inventing, the style after purchasing Colefax and Fowler in the 1940’s introduced American luxury to her own small stately homes including heating and carpeted bathrooms, ensuring that comfort became another key characteristic. Lancaster famously advocated having ‘something a little bit ugly’ in every room recognising that a degree of informality promotes relaxation.
Traditional colour schemes form the basis of the style, from pastel pinks and yellows to deep reds and greens. Muted neutrals can be used to layer beneath patterns and rich fabrics, however the true English eccentric isn’t afraid to be brave with colour. The style definitely embraces a ‘more is more’ philosophy; art, books, ornaments, side tables, lamps and rugs all give the feel of a genuinely lived-in room. The best way to truly achieve the look is to include a number of vintage elements giving the room a permanent look and a depth of feeling. The key is not to look over-done in terms of precision but as if the whole room has evolved over time.
A plethora of pattern and fabric abounds – chintz, damasks, checks, stripes and plaids are all there. Ikat lampshades are popular in more contemporary versions. In the bedroom you are likely to see pelmets, heavy curtaining and eiderdowns. Kitchens often include a number of free-standing units, dressers and mismatched cabinentry. A sturdy oak table is a good addition alongside a traditional style range cooker.
As we move into the 2020’s, English country house style is as popular as ever, and evolving. Many well-known interior designers favour this style. At the grander, traditional end is Robert Kime, master of the layered, timeless look and who has worked on many historically important homes, including Clarence House for Prince Charles. David Mlinaric and Hugh Henry bring an understanding of period architecture which is so important for a style that often seems a natural choice for older properties. Other practitioners include Wendy Nicholls, Emma Burns and Roger Jones of Sybil Colefax & John Fowler, together with Nicky Haslam who brings a more glitzy take on the style. Max Rollitt, Edward Hurst, Kit Kemp (see image above) and Ben Pentreath offer a more contemporary look, adding strong colour into the mix, creating rooms with a more graphic, architectural feel.
The contemporary version of English country house style tends to feature less chintz, sprigged wallpapers and draped tables. Instead there are stripes and suzani cushions from central Asia, emulsion (or even gloss) on the walls and exposed furniture legs; Persian rugs are paired with scrubbed floorboards. This is a style that can flex with fashion and fit around varied lifestyles.