Monthly Archives: November 2016

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“From altars and temples as far back as the Stone Age our forefathers sent up to the skies the smoke of resins and scented woods in order to please the unknown heavenly powers.  From these burnt offerings comes our word perfume, from the Latin per fumen meaning ‘by smoke.’  Similarly, our word ‘incense’ is from incendere, meaning ‘to burn’ and it reminds us of the earliest uses of aromatic substances burnt as part of religious ceremonies.  Incense and the use of perfumes in ritual and civil ceremony were also an important element in the early Chinese culture and have a long and continuing history of use in the Christian church.

“During the 18th century perfume was sold to be decanted but as it was extremely expensive the containers into which it was decanted were similarly opulent.  Perfume flasks were produced by Sevres and in Britain rococo porcelain bottles were made at Chelsea and in jasper-ware in the Neo-classical style by Wedgwood. 

” The end of the 19th century saw the beginning of the commercial perfume industry as we know it today. Rather than producing their own scent to be decanted, perfumers such as Coty, and Roger & Gallet commissioned designs from leading glassmakers, including Baccarat (who produced bottles for Guerlain) and Lalique (who produced bottles for an estimated 60 perfumers, including Francois Coty.)

“After the First World War many of the couturiers added perfume to their collections.  In 1921 Chanel launched her famous No 5, the first scent to bear the name of a designer. Indeed, Chanel No 5 was revolutionary as it was one of the first perfumes which combined both natural floral and synthetic substances. The elegant, even chunky, bottle with the black and white graphics has become an icon of 20th century perfume bottle design and has changed little since it was first on sale more than 80 years ago.”

(from an article of mine a few years ago, but today as an introduction to my post on perfume)

 

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I have loved perfume since I was young although I don’t recall my mother using it in the early 1950s because after WW2  when all things were scarce she certainly wouldn’t have had money for anything as frivolous as a bottle of scent.  But I remember her loving her own special soap – Cyclax Skin Soap – which came in a purple and silver wrapper and it was so precious to her, she would use it, then dry it, re-wrap it and ‘save’ it for her next wash. We made do with Imperial Leather of Knight’s Castile.   But her own soap had a wonderful fragrance, but sadly, this gorgeous soap is no longer manufactured.

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One of several books I have on perfume and its history

When I was eleven a friend and I were taken by my mother to stay with friends of hers in London. She ‘delivered’ us, returning home to our shop the next day, and then collected us the following weekend.  During that second weekend she took us to Swan and Edgar’s department store (no longer there) where she bought me a phial of Miss Dior perfume.  I was delighted; this was my first grown-up perfume of my own, and to have the signature perfume of the great dress designer filled me with happiness. I felt so grown up, in my tweed costume (a jacket and matching skirt wasn’t referred to as a suit then, but as a costume) and my Russell & Bromley brown lace-up shoes and white ankle socks.  

After that, Mum and I would regularly frequent the perfumery counters in our own town’s department stores, where the elegant sales assistants soon got to know us.  They were, I think, surprised that such a young girl took such an interest in perfumes and it was their habit to save their tester bottles for me.  In those days, these were miniature bottles often held within a Bakelite stand, with ‘droppers’ inside the stopper, so that you could dab some of the perfume on your wrist, to try it out. Some were almost empty, but a few would be filled with the not-so-popular fragrances, but I liked to try them all.

My mother’s favourite perfume by then was Lanvin’s Arpege, but sadly, the modern version isn’t anything like the 1950s version.  Many perfumes which were created years ago aren’t the same today, often pale imitations of how they used to smell.  So, Miss Dior and Arpege are etched in my olfactory memory just as much as the scent of cut grass on the golf course of a summer’s evening, or the bunches of daffodils that a customer would bring my mother in our shop, so I can’t blame the diminishing power of nose.  My mother was also given a bottle of Guerlain’s Mitsuko by a friend who had been abroad – unusual itself in those days – and brought this back as a duty-free gift.  So, again my memory of this perfume goes back more than 60 years. 

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Over the years I’ve loved many perfumes, and of course,  many bring memories to mind.  One such perfume is Worth’s Je Reviens.  This was introduced to me by a school friend, a young woman two years my senior (which seemed a lot when you are 12 and the other person is 14) who lived in a gorgeous house and I unashamedly envied her beautiful bedroom, with sash windows overlooking a private park, and twin beds covered in green and purple shot silk.  My goodness, she even had a pale shell-pink wash basin in her bedroom!  Pure luxury in the days before en suite bathrooms!  I only have to smell Je Reviens and I’m once again 12 years old, having tea with her on their terrace, her mother serving it from a silver tea pot.

For my wedding in 1964 I used my then favourite perfume, Elizabeth Arden’s Memoire Cherie.  Sadly, this is no longer produced, which is a shame because it’s a floral perfume. I had used Arden’s Blue Grass in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the 1970s I used Rochas’ Madame Rochas.  I bought a bottle of this last year, but again, it’s not a patch on what it once was.  And I don’t think I can blame my nose for the change:  cut grass smells the same, but perfume doesn’t, hence the perfume has been changed, QED. 

In the 1980s I had a brief affair with YLS’ Opium.  Oh, my goodness, what a rich perfume that was!  Similarly Rive Gauche, one perfume which has remained much the same since its creation. 

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And then my mother bought me a Christmas present one year of Hermes’ Caleche.  This was one of the most unusual fragrances I had ever smelt, and I still love this although its formula has been changed slightly. Diminished, I’d say, as with many of the great fragrances of the past.   I also now use Hermes’ 24 Faubourg, and only last week bought Hermes’ Jour d’Hermes. It’s OK, but by no means outstanding.

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In the summer I felt I needed something a little lighter and bought my first rose fragrance.  I’ve never been one for very floral fragrances, but Acqua di Parma is pleasant but, again, not outstanding.  Ditto Lancôme’s O de Lancôme, created as a unisex fragrance. 

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So where do I go next in my perfume journey?  I have no idea, I only wish that some of the fragrances of my past, Coty’s Chypre, Goya’s No 5, Yardley’s Bond Street, were still available.  Some were at the cheaper end of the perfume market but they remind me of my young self, in my first pair of high heels, my lovely shirt-waist dresses, nylons, and Yardley’s Pink Magic lipstick.  I wonder which are your favourite fragrances?  Have you discovered a new one, or do you stick to what you have always used?  Do any hold special memories for you, as they do for me?

 

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I cant have even been ten years old when my father bought this book for me:  Christian Dior’s Little Dictionary of Fashion.  I must add right away, though, that this isn’t my original copy from the 1950s, but one I found online a few years ago.  Only 92 pages long and in alphabetical order, one of the most influential dress designers of the post-war era lists ways in which women, regardless of their bank balance, might acquire what was then called “dress sense”.  In his introduction Dior says, “Many people dismiss haute couture as being something that is only for those who are very wealthy.  But it is possible for a woman to be elegant without spending very much money on her clothes, if she follows the basic rules of Fashion and is careful to choose the clothes that suit her personality.  Simplicity, good taste and grooming are the three fundamentals of good dressing and these do not cost money.”

 

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From a young age I had been captivated by the clothes, and the models (or “mannequins” as they were sometimes called) of the day (such as Jean Dawnay)  who wore them, but they seemed a million miles away from the clothes I saw on the women who came into our village newsagent’s shop, lumpen coats, headscarves and the ubiquitous string bag for vetetables and a basket for groceries.

Although my parents were far from wealthy, I had something of a privileged upbringing; not because I had presents and toys showered upon me, but because my parents – children during the First World War and serving their country in the Second World War – had been brought up by Victorian parents who believed in buying the best you could afford as “it would last and always look good.”  This homily was applied to everything, not just the clothes they wore, but the furniture in the home and the food on the table.

As such, my shoes came from Russell & Bromley, my dresses – for in those days, girls went from being children to being grown-up, there weren’t teenage fashions as such – were from a ‘gown’ shop (‘gown’ shops were a step up from purchasing material in a draper’s shop and having something ‘run up’ by a woman in the village or by one’s own mother if she was handy with a sewing machine) and even my navy blue grammar school coat came from Jaeger.  Also, as an only child, I didn’t receive hand-me-downs; of necessity everything was newly bought for me and I learned that I must “look after” my clothes and shoes.

And so my interest in dress, and in fashion, was kindled at an early age.  Similarly makeup and perfume, but that’s another story for another day.  One of our customers, a Mrs Seaton, learned of my interest and one day brought into the shop a lovely book for me, one she had obviously treasured. 

 

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Not many people would give such a book to a child, but I’m sure she knew how much I would appreciate it.  I still have it more than 60 years later. It is The History of Fashion in France by M. Augustin Challamel and translated by Mrs Cashel Hoey and Mr John LIllie, and it was published in London in 1882.  The chromolithographic prints are a delight: 

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The above fashions date (left to right) from 1395 to 1483

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The above fashions date (left to right) from1668 to 1760

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And these fashions date from (left to right) from 1879 to 1880 and, in the book are referred to as “fashions of the present date”

Of course, there are many other colour plates in the book, similar in quality to these, all quite beautiful and highly detailed.  The book itself is a marvellous social history of fashion, who wore what and when, when wigs were worn, when waistlines were high, when they were low, how dresses were trimmed, the kinds of jewels or flowers worn.   I had to smile when I read that in the period 1814-1815, women [in France] were seized with Anglomania.  “A caricature of the time represents ‘Mme. Grognard’ trying to force her daughter to dress herself ‘a L’Anglaise’. The young girl replies – ‘Gracious!  How frightful! What dreadful taste! To think of wearing English fashions!'”

If there is one designer whose look captured the zeitgeist of the immediate post-war period it is Christian Dior and one ‘look’ is synonymous with the period:  Dior’s New Look.

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As it says in the book (above), “In 1947, few people outside the Parisian couture houses knew who Dior was [and] it was not until Dior’s second collection that the name ‘New Look’ really stuck.”  But there was nothing very new about the ‘New Look’ .  “Dior’s hemlines were not any longer than those Balenciaga had unveiled the year before, though the skirts were voluminous.  Dior insisted that his designs were not revolutionary, but only conservative. They harked back to the style of the Belle Epoque, the secure and comfortable period before World War 1 when Dior had grown up.”

However, the impact of the New Look was unprecedented, especially as most of the people in Europe were still in the midst of austerity following the Second World War.  “Americans saw it as nothing short of a scandal:  how could a Frenchman be so unpatriotic as to squander huge amounts of material when his country was nearly bankrupt? 

Nonetheless, the New Look captured the imagination.  At a stroke, Dior had given women back their natural shape, although when you considered how structured his garments were, there was little that was natural about them!  Gowns were lined with taffeta and cambric to give them body, and slim models had to wear ‘falsies’ to produce a rounder bust-line.  But after years of wearing austerity clothes which had just sufficient material to cover a body, his ballerina length skirts were  considered an extraordinary extravagance:  the centrepiece of his winter collection had a skirt forty meters in circumference. 

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It could be said that Kerry Taylor’s lovely book,  Vintage Fashion & Couture – From Poiret to McQueen, starts where my 1882 History of Fashion in France ends. Taylor talks about each decade from 1900 to the 2000s, beginning with Paul Poiret, Lucille, and Mariano Fortuny through Jean Patou, Jenne Lanvin, Coco Chanel,  Pierre Balmain, Cristobal Balenciaga, Mary Quant, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Zandra Rhodes, and Jean Muir to John Galliano, Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen and many more. 

Fashion and style aren’t necessarily the same thing:  someone who isn’t at the cutting edge of fashion might still have style, and someone wearing fashionable clothes needn’t be stylish.  An example might be HM The Queen who has her own inimitable style, just as Iris Apfel, with her layers of bangles, costume jewellery and iconic gargantuan spectacles, has style.   Fashion is fleeting, style lasts.  Bear this in mind when magazines and newspapers promote a new look or a new colour for the spring, the summer, the autumn or the winter.  As I read today in Stella magazine (free with The Sunday Telegraph), “Don’t forget that in a Sale, fashion – as opposed to stylish – items are, by definition, no longer fashion:  they’re there because the shop needs to refresh its stock. “

Have you cultivated your own style?  What is your own favourite ‘look’?

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dsc_0003The Bridge, Walberswick, 1887

It is so long ago I can’t now recall when I first became interested in the artist, Philip Wilson Steer.  Perhaps it was through a book by the novelist, the late Maggie Hemingway who, according to her obituary in The Times in 1993 was “a very distant relative of Ernest Hemingway.” Her novel, The Bridge was “an interesting melange of fact and fiction” and it is about the artist, Philip Wilson Steer and a summer he spent at Walberswick, the small Suffolk fishing village.  Perhaps it was because we had been to Walberswick (while staying in nearby Aldeburgh) and I had stood on that exact same spot on the bridge which Steer painted in 1887.

Wilson Steer was born in 1860 near Liverpool and was a painter of landscapes, seascapes and portraits.  On a visit to Cambridge more than two decades ago, when I accompanied my husband on a business trip, he went off to an engineering company and I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum and there was a most delightful Wilson Steer painting entitled Hydrangeas but which is more about a woman and her cat than the flowers!

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Wilson Street studied at the Gloucester School of Art from 1880 to 1881 and then at the South Kensington Drawing Schools.  Sadly, his work was rejected by the Royal Academy of Art and so he studied in Paris between 1882 and 1884, where his work was influenced by the work of Edouard Manet and the French Impressionists.  On his return to London he continued to develop his Impressionist style and is known as the English Impressionist.  I love his paintings of Suffolk, of children playing, of girls running, there is a wonderful open-air quality, a freshness to his work, but it wasn’t always praised by British critics. In his later work he moved away from his impressionist style and thereby gained more praise.  Looking at these lovely light-hearted pictures, it is hard to imagine that during World War 1 he was recruited to paint pictures of the Royal Navy and spent time at Dover painting the ships in naval formation. 

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Walberswick, Children Paddling, 1894

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Two Girls on a Pierhead, Walberswick

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Watching Cowes Regatta

A film of the book, The Bridge, was made some years ago and starred Saskia Reeves, David O’Hara, Joss Ackland, Rosemary Harris, and Geraldine James.   How strange that such a small bridge should have captured this artist’s (and my) imagination so strongly, but I hope you will enjoy seeing these paintings by a lesser-known (by today’s standards) English artist.

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Anyone who has been reading my blog since I started it last August might have cottoned on to the fact that (sorry, cliché!) I am rather enamoured with the design company, Colefax & Fowler.  It was founded by Sybil, Lady Colefax (1874-1950) who   was widely admired for her taste and, after losing what has been described as “her fortune” in the Wall street Crash, she began to decorate professionally. 

Even though she lost her fortune, Lady Colefax was still able to purchase the decorating division of an antiques company called Stair and Andrew in Bruton Street, London, and it was there that she became established as Sibyl Colefax Ltd, in partnership with Peggy Ward.  The partnership didn’t last long, Peggy retiring from the business, and it was she who, in 1938, advised Lady Colefax to take on the young John Beresford Fowler (1906-1977) as a partner.

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John Fowler left school at the age of 16 and joined a decorating and antiques company, Thornton Smith. It was there that he learned all kinds of paint techniques – marbling, graining, stippling and so forth – and in 1934  he established his own company on the Kings Road, Chelsea, before going into business with Lady Colefax, together founding Colefax & Fowler, a name which has remained until this day.

The privations of war meant a slump in the decorating business and it was bought by the wealthy Nancy Tree (1897-1994) who was then married to Ronald Tree, and later to Claude Lancaster, mainly so that the company could redecorate her own house, Haseley Court.  John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster often clashed and their relationship has been described as “the most unhappy unmarried couple in England.”

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Together, Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler created what has become known as the English country house look.

dsc_0006Roger Banks-Pye (1948-1996)  studied Interior Design at the North London Polytechnic, there gaining an Honours degree.  He joined Colefax & Fowler when he was 29 and worked there until his death.  “Scale, form, pattern and colour were the essential qualities he looked for in interior design”, said Chester Jones (also of Colefax & Fowler) in his obituary of Banks-Pye.  I love this book which demonstrates what a clever and imaginative designer he was. 

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Which brings me to the very lastest book based on this iconic interior design company. On the Fringe by Imogen Taylor is a memoir of this 90-year-old’s fifty years at Colefax & Fowler.  Imogen joined the company in 1949 and her clients have included HM The Queen and members of the British aristocracy.  Her career started with her working for John Fowler and she worked with him on the redecoration of the Audience Room at Buckingham Palace.  This recently-published book (Pimpernel Press Ltd) is fascinating in its detail, from how the Queen used to buy fabric by the piece (60 yards), “as it was cheaper that way and she knew she’d be able to use it at some point,” to  how Prime Minister,Edward Heath wasn’t interested in the redecoration of Chequers, only the display cases for his model yachts!  This is a truly delightful memoir, not only for simply for someone interested in interior decoration but of the history of the past half century.  I would also add that this book has been beautifully produced, the beginning of each chapter accompanied by a facing page of one of Colefax & Fowler’s gorgeous wallpapers. 

I am aware that we can’t all employ the services of such a company for our own redecoration schemes, but reading books such as these and learning about proportion and colour, we can all learn something that could be of use even in our own rather more limited way. 

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Our hall decorated with Colefax & Fowler’s wallpaper, Saltram Trelllis (now discontinued)

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Apples in a pink lustre bowl, Fielding’s Crown Devon ware

  For a complete change, I thought I would post about the colour pink. This isn’t a particularly autum colour but as it has been chosen for the mast head of the magazine for which I write for the month of January (yes, the January 2017 magazines are now hitting the newsstands and we’ve not  yet kissed goodbye to November!) perhaps a post on pink is now appropriate! A colour which might be considered suitable for a wrap dress mightn’t look as good when used on a wall. For who in their right minds would choose a colour the very name of which conjures up images of Barbie, or even the grande dame of romantic fiction, the late Dame Barbara Cartland?  Conversely, who would not use pink once they have seen some of the interiors which have been enhanced by this colour? imgp4425

This is an architect’s design from a portfolio of his prints that I have (from the 1920s.)

Shocking Pink is a bold, intense colour. It takes its name from the shade of the box used for a perfume called Shocking, designed by Leonor Fini for the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937 and so, next year, will celebrate it’s 80th birthday as a particular shade of pink, one that was always favoured by the avant- garde.

Indeed, pink was first recorded as a colour in the 17th century to describe the pale red flowers of Pinks, plants of the genus Dianthus, named not for its colour but its ragged, or ‘pinked’ edges and it was only by the early 18th century that it came to be associated with the rosy tint.  Equally confusingly, ‘hunting pink’, the coat of the huntsman, is actually scarlet.

In Western culture, pink is for girls, and has been since at least the time of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV of France.  “In 1754 she moved the French national china factory from Vincennes to Sevres, not far from her home at Bellerne south-west of Paris,” says Oliver Garnett of the National Trust. “She was much involved in Sevres’ s success over the next decade, and gave her name to the pink ground used on many of its wares – rose Pompadour.”

But can pink be taken seriously?  The Marble Hall in one of Robert Adam’s grandest interiors, Kedletson Hall in Derbyshire, is painted a dusty pink. A colour considered suitable for Kedleston can certainly be taken seriously! Similarly, when the doyenne of décor, Nancy Lancaster, first arrived at Kelmarsh Hall, Northamp;tonshire, in the late 1920s, and found the walls of the Entrance Hall painted ‘a dark, rather sad green’ she immediately set about painting it a warm Italianate pink.

“When it was finished,” Nancy wrote, “the effect of the room was breathtaking.”  The interior has never since been changed, and the effect of the paintwork, which has received successive glazed coats of oil-bound distemper, is as striking today as it was then (or so I’m told, as I’ve never yet visited this historic house.)

John Fowler, a contemporary of Nancy Lancaster, in choosing the colours for the Cloisters at Wilton House, Wiltshire, looked at the rich ink sandstone of the exterior courtyard walls and translated what he saw into paint.  For many years Farrow & Ball produced a colour of paint called Fowler Pink (named for the interior decorator) but it is no longer on their colour chart although I believe that it is possible to order colours which have been discontinued from their archive.  

I do not have any photos of these particular rooms mentioned above, but instead here are a few items of pink that are in our home and, as with black items, they enliven many a colour scheme. 

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This cornu copia – an inherited piece – would’ve been part of a garniture at one time, but it was always just a single piece owned by my late uncle. The figure holding the horn of plenty is in parian (unglazed) porcelain, the rest of the piece being glazed.

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A pink glass jug

dsc_2168 A posy of flowers in various shades of pink (and some flame) in our hall

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dsc_7626-001 A 1960s pink floral decorated jug, Fielding’s Crown Devon ware

Carleton Varney, president of the American interior design company Dorothy Draper & Co Inc, says:

“Colour researches who have made studies on the effect of colour on people, have come to the conclusion that pink  is a sweet and romantic colour, used extensively for packaging in cosmetics but it is also a preferred colour in stomach medicine!  No one knows quite why stomach-medicine pink elicits a calming effect on the upset consumer, but it seems to do so.  When I think about the big Renaissance-style stucco houses of Palm Beach, I think of soft pastel colours.  Were the houses painted in deep, deep pink, the brilliance would come across as hard-looking.  Used with cooling colours (blue or green) pink can give a warm glow to a room.

“However, you might use a pale soft pink in an urban apartment. Paint the walls a soft shell pink and put shell-pink damask drapery boarded by a simple beige at the windows. Line the drapes in a rose-colour print. The carpet in this shell-pink room with shell-pink draperies could also be soft shell-pink, but in a Chinese style with a border of light blue and soft green.”

While such a room would undoubtedly look elegant – given Varney’s experience and expertise – in less-capable hands the scheme might be just a little too pink nd even cause some to agree with a statement made in 2007 by Germaine Greer that “nothing beautiful was ever pink.”  Perhaps Dr Greer has never seen a beautiful pink rose?

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Whatever your reaction to the various shades from the palest shell to the deepest magenta, there is a pink for everyone.

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I haven’t baked our Christmas cake yet, this will be done shortly, perhaps this weekend, but there is really no rush. Regardless of when it is made, the  Christmas cake recipe I posted a while ago is excellent.  But I know some of you, if making this cake, will soon be considering the almond paste (or shop bought marzipan, which I personally dislike but it’s all a matter of what you enjoy, so don’t allow me to put you off buying it rather than making it yourselves if that is what you prefer) and finally, closer to Christmas, icing the cake.

I use the recipe, just as I have the cake and the almond paste, in my Cordon Bleu part-work from c1968, and it is Royal Icing.

Ingredients:

1 lb icing sugar

2 egg whites

Method:

Finely sift the icing sugar. Whisk the egg whites until frothy (not until they are opaque as if for meringue, just whisked gently until they are frothy) and then add the icing sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.  I use a large bowl and a wooden spoon for this.

Continue beating until the mixture stands in peaks.  If you add too much icing sugar, slacken the mixture with a little lemon juice.

Once the icing is of the right consistency, not too stiff, certainly not runny, spread on the cake and work it down the sides, too.  Not having an icing turntable, I use an upturned dinner plate on which to stand the cake while I am doing the icing.  I then transfer it to a ‘silver’ cake board.   I don’t bother with flat icing nor any piping, but just leave it rough iced and decorate with a little (artificial, of course) Christmas tree, but you can decorate it in any way you wish, once the icing has dried.  Leave in a cool place for the icing to harden and then wrap the cake carefully until it is required at Christmas.  

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We have had rather a busy week, hence no posts, so apologies for that.  We went to Salisbury on Tuesday to attend the funeral of an old family friend the following day, and after the service and the wake (a delicious afternoon tea in a Salisbury hotel) we returned home.  While it was a sad occasion is was made better because our friend had lived a long and eventful life, didn’t need to go into hospital or an old person’s residence, and lived in her own flat in the city (after a career as a high powered civil servant in London) and died there at the age of 98. A life well lived.  So, as I say, while it was a sad occasion, there was also  much joy, and none more so than seeing the glorious countryside in autumn. We chose to drive on the A30 rather than the A303 and for those familiar with the west country, the A30 meanders through all the towns and villages, it is not a ‘fast’ route.  But there was little traffic and it allowed me time to photograph some of the countryside as we motored along (husband driving, me snapping the trees through the windscreen, so my photos are sometimes a little blurred.)  The photo above was, however, taken in Salisbury.

 

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The above photo shows the glorious autumn colours of the trees on our journey out of Salisbury on Wednesday afternoon.

All these wonderful autumn colours reminded me not only of one of my favourite Ladybird books, What to Look for in Autumn, which I’ve mentioned on a previous occasion, but also the paintings of Victorian painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw.  He was born in Leeds in 1836 but moved with his family to Norwich in the early 1840s.  He began painting while working as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway and painted mainly for private patrons, and in 1874 one of his paintings was accepted by the Royal Academy.

I won’t go into great detail here about his life and work, but he is known for his paintings of moonlight, many of the North Yorkshire coast, and street scenes by lamplight.  I love his paintings of autumn. They might, by some, be considered somewhat romantic, but when I looked through the car windscreen at the trees in sunlight on Tuesday and Wednesday, I could not dispute his accuracy.

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Photo credit:  Atkinson Grimshaw, by Alexander Robertson (Phaidon)

As well as delicious paintings of dappled light and shade, sunsets and autumn colours, he also painted portraits, often of his wife, in their home, Knostrop Old Hall.  I was made aware of his work by my late mother, who had always loved his work, and one year she sent me a birthday card featuring one of his paintings (Summer, 1875) with his wife gently lifting a blind and gazing out at their garden. In his biography of Grimshaw, Aledxander Robertson says that “Knostrop Hall symbolized everything that was most sought after in Victorian daily life … the figure paintings can be seen as celebration of this peaceful domesticity, free from the cares of work or the problems of an increasingly urban society.”

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Photo credit:  Summer, 1875 by John Atkinson Grimshaw (Accord Gallery greetings card)

And what a gorgeous painting this is, you can even spot a ruckle in the rug in front of the doorway.

And so, after last night’s storm named Angus, the autumn leaves are almost all down, and before long we will be heading towards winter.  But there is still time to enjoy autumn, leaf gathering in the garden, making the Christmas cake (a task I have still to do, but then I’m always late doing this), and to indulge in some fireside reading.

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imgp2846I am currently reading two novels, one I might mention another time, but I felt that the above novel by Judith Lennox might be suitable for a fireside autumn read.  I do feel books can often suit one’s mood, or the season, and this strikes me as being such a novel.  Only time will tell!

Also, autumn flowers are now taking up weekly residence in our sitting room even though roses are definitely not autumn flowers, but now with roses-all-year available in the supermarkets, sometimes those in shades of apricot are suitable for the season; I have put some in copper lustre jugs.

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And on the sofa table, some rust and  plummy red chrysanthemums, gerberas and roses.

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And so to make lunch. I had planned on doing so much today, but it’s not going to happen … never mind, it’s the kind of day when the fireside calls.  Whatever you are doing, have a lovely weekend. Speak again soon.

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When I wrote about decorating our bedroom, I mentioned that I thought it was interior decorator, the late Roger Banks-Pye of Colfax & Fowler who decreed that every room should have “a touch of black”.  It might’ve been the late Tom Parr, also of Colefax & Fowler, or even designer Nina Campbell – I have been unable to find this quotation but I know I’ve read it somewhere!  And so  I thought for my post today I might expand upon this theme, especially as the header to my blog mentions décor and I have, to date, written few décor pieces.

Above you will see a silhoutette which ‘lives’ on our fireplace, and also the black japanned box with mother-of-pearl decoration which is on my dressing chest in the bedroom (until recently a tallboy, but one which has been reduced in size.)  Along with flowers, this box really does add a bit of interest, glamour, what-you-will to the bedroom’s colour scheme.  This is why make up houses and food manufacturers major on black in packaging  – it looks both expensive and glamourous.

Historically, black has long been associated with mourning so few homes use this colour for decoration (I use the term ‘colour’ advisedly because as we know there are only three primary colours and black isn’t one of them) although, according to Oliver Garnett of the National Trust, “in 1939 Duncan Grant experimented with a black stencilled wallpaper for the dining room at Charleston in Sussex.  In 1932 Paul Nash specified all-black fittings for the famous bathroom he designed for Tilly Losch, the dancer wife of the surrealist collector, Edward James [and] Ralh Dutton built himself a completely black bathroom at Hinton Ampner in Hampshire in the 1960s.”

“Black has a role to play in any scheme where you wish to inject drama or sophistication,” says Alison Dalby, of the National Trust, in her book Design Ideas for your Home.  Indeed, black can punctuate a scheme, lending a visual exclamation mark, but rather than smothering large surfaces with this non-reflective, light-absorbing colour as might a teenager in his or her bedroom, I suggest we use black with discretion.  However, if instead you want the ‘wow’ factor, Alison says, “take a look at the striking and opulent bedroom at Lanhydrock (NT, Cornwall) decorated with the spectacular black-and-gold patterned wallpaper, a copy of the original created by Augustus Pugin for the House of Lords.”

I am fortunate in that I inherited my mothers antiques and collectables.  Not all were to my liking, but some were black and these have now been used in our own rooms.

dsc_5810This papier mache vase was one of a pair – sadly, the other was damaged beyond repair and so I have just this one in our sitting room. It is on a built in bookcase.  Indeed, my mother ‘collected’  it by default – it was in the hotel my parents bought in the early 1960s and I can’t say that it would’ve been my mother’s first choice when it came to antiques!  But she was reluctant to part with things, and so it has ended up, rather than in a junk shop, but in her home and then in ours.

Other items in our home are  a pair of King Charles II Staffordshire dogs.  These dogs were very popular with Victorians and were designed to sit on the hearth or on the mantelpiece, as did Staffordshire flat-back figures, and were often known as “companion” pieces.

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After my father left the RAF at the end of WW2, he and my mother had a newsagent’s shop in the north of England.  One day, on her way to market, a woman called in the shop.  She was a regular customer and my mother asked her what she was taking to sell that week?  “I’ve got these,” she said, showing my mother the two dogs. “Oh, you don’t need to take them to market,” said my mother, “I’ll buy them!”  And she did, and now they are sitting by our own fireside.

On a grander scale but less personal level black was used in the print rooms in print rooms in many an historic house.  “Print rooms were a popular way to embellish interiors in the 18th century, created by pasting engravings and prints on the walls to give the illusion of framed pictures,” says Alison.  “This was a pastime enjoyed by both men and women and, as the trend grew, manufacturers began producing sets of paper prints, borders and bows.”

I don’t have any such print-room prints prints, but if you have prints, or even attractive greetings cards, that you would like to have framed, consider black frames for them rather than something more ornate.

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Here are two of three framed prints we have in our bathroom.

Sometimes it only needs a touch of black, as I have said, to enliven a scheme, perhaps even something as simple as black piping around the edge of a cushion, or a table lamp with a black shade. Search for black objects in antiques centres, brocantes, charity shops, recycling centre and reclamation yards – papier mache trays  (such as this one – below –  inherited from my mother, again one she found in the hotel she and my father bought in the early1960s – the cup ‘rings’ were there before it came into my mother’s possession and they cannot be removed without damaging the tray)

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or perhaps a teapot or coffee pot, where a black ‘ground’ has been decorated, such as this ceramic coffee pot, or the Wedgwood basalt teapot (again, once belonging to my mother – sadly, the teapot has a damaged finial but then it is rather old!)

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Or a modern piece such as this teacup and saucer I bought in the 1980s.

dsc_7619 “Black symbolises decadence,” says Oliver Garnett, “but also power and the status quo; it never goes out of fashion.”  So next time you decorate, or even change some of your items around in your home, do consider adding a touch of black.

 

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Just two of my books on bedrooms

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Photo credit:  The Englishwoman’s Bedroom, photos Lucinda Lambton (Chatto & Windus, The Hogarth Press)

Above are three examples of how I might decorate our bedroom if I had the wherewithal, but we can all dream, can’t we?  What surprises me is that blue isn’t actually my favourite colour, but it’s more the style of these bedrooms that I love – the sheer space, the gorgeous mahogany furniture and, in the photo on the left, a working fireplace. Indeed, bedroom as bedroom and sitting room combined.

We have a 1980s’ dormer house of no real architectural merit other than it is a comfortable family home.  Soon after arriving here we decorated our bedroom with a wallpaper which had just the hint of a motif, as if it were already faded, and with a pretty matching very narrow border which was placed against the ceiling coving.  We chose this paper as we had already had curtains made when we moved in and the paper complemented the fabric.

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My lovely dressing table, which we’d had in our previous home, was too large for our new bedroom and so I swapped it with my mother for an hexagonal table.  We already had a smaller hexagonal table from my mother-in-law and these we used, for many years, as bedside tables.  I like quite a large bedside table, somewhere for a reading lamp (people often make the mistake of having lamps far too small), flowers, books, a glass of water at night and a cup of tea in the morning.  These tables were really a stop-gap until we saw something we preferred, but as often happens, they were there for years and years.

Then we happened to see a pair of chests of drawers in a furniture store closing-down-sale, at a knock-down price.  They were just the right size for the space available, too.  We grabbed them and the tables were then redundant. One went to a charity shop and the other is now in our bedsitting room upstairs, as a lamp table.

To ‘marry’ these two newcomers to the room, they needed something to balance them in style, shape and colour.  So from the loft, where they had been stored (not the best place to store art work, but it was the only place we had for them) I brought down two landscape paintings which had been bought in Scotland by my maternal grandparents on their honeymoon in 1897.  My late mother had had them re-framed about 20 years ago, and the gilt went nicely with the gilt-framed convex mirror.

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They are not particularly wonderful paintings, but in colour and shape they were ideal for the position (although oils are considered by many to be too heavy for bedrooms, watercolours being more suitable.)  The only other slight adjustment was to re-hang the convex mirror a little higher, to line up with the tops of the paintings.  Furthermore, visually, a room appears wider (or longer) if you can put items in the corners, so I added vases of flowers.

Believe it or not the room scheme, first with the curtains, then the wallpaper, then the hexagonal tables and finally the chests of drawers, remained like this for the better part of 28 years.  Yes, 28 years.

Last spring my husband decided it was time we redecorated and before I knew what he was doing, he began scraping off the old wallpaper.  Before I was out of bed one morning, that is.  So up I got, showered, dressed, and began to remove the ornaments, lamps, paintings, so that he could get on with it.  Of course, this meant I had to make up my mind how I wanted the room decorated.  I knew that it would mean a total overhaul, new carpet, new curtains, fresh paint, different pictures … and as we would have a light oatmeal coloured carpet, the main colour and style would be dictated by the fabric for the curtains.

To cut this story short, we decided (I say “we” because husband took an interest, he wasn’t just the handyman) on a Sanderson fabric of roses, and a department store in a local town made them for us, with a lovely cream sateen lining.  We had bought a new bed the previous year and so already had a taupe-coloured headboard, so the wall colour had to complement not only the rose printed chintz curtains, but also the taupe headboard.  We decided against wallpaper, I fancied plain walls for a complete change – so husband had to make good the walls, first, after he had removed the old wallpaper.

We chose a Farrow & Ball estate emulsion in a shade called Bone which looks pale green to some people, pale grey to others.  The ceiling is painted in a Leyland paint called Antique White – brilliant white is not a good shade of white for our northern light, it is too stark and has a tendency to make other colours look grubby when placed against it.  The windowsill and skirting board and architrave around the door are in Farrow & Ball’s interior eggshell in a shade called Clunch, which is our go-to paint colour for skirtings and windowsills.

Once the walls were painted, the new carpet laid,  and the curtains hung, the new scheme really did begin to take shape, but as with many a Farrow & Ball colour, which changes dramatically according to the light in the room, perhaps more so than with other brands of paint, the colour looked slightly dull.  I had experienced this before when we decorated our sitting room, and it wasn’t until the furnishings were returned to that room, the sofas, the curtains, the pictures, the lamps, the ceramics, that the scheme came together.  And so I wasn’t disappointed; I knew what we had chosen was perfect for the room.

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We then chose a small cut glass chandelier for the central light, and I did something I said I would never do:  I went to a picture framer’s with a book of Redoute rose paintings, chose four of them to be framed, and thus had them removed from the book.  However, I checked beforehand online and there are many books of Redoute paintings, this wasn’t a valuable one, I could replace it if needs be for a few pounds.

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There was just one other job to do:  way back in 1966 we bought our lovely bedroom suite of furniture, the one which had the dressing table which I swapped for the hexagonal table.  The tallboy was showing signs of wear more than 50 years later and it was also rather tall for where it was placed in the bedroom. So I asked my husband to cut it down by the size of one drawer – he removed the top, cut off the drawer, returned the top and then after preparing the wood, painted it with Farrow & Ball’s interior eggshell in a shade called House White, which is a lovely shade of cream, which matches almost exactly the background of the curtain fabric, and also our bedspread (which we weren’t changing, it being plain, heavy cotton.)

The final touches were an oval mirror we found in a charity furniture outlet which was painted to match the tallboy (now a lowboy), and cushions, two cotton striped  cushions to go with the headboard, ‘marrying’ that colour to the rest of the scheme, and two silk, with a pattern of pink roses.

I am not quite sure who said it, it might’ve been the late Roger Banks Pye of Colefax and Fowler or even Nina Campbell –  I have read it somewhere but have been unable to find the actual quote –  but the gist is that someone once said that every room needs a touch of black. I am inclined to agree:  it is a visual exclamation mark, and so I placed a black papier mache box on the lowboy, now a dressing chest, which has a mother-or-pearl (nacre) design on the top and sides, an a black ring tree.  With a pretty glass table lamp with pastel grey shade, a cut glass powder bowl (holding cotton wool rather than power) and flowers, the room is now complete and I’m more than happy with it.

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Have you plans to do any decorating?  What is your style?  Minimalist or Retro?  Country or English Country House?  What colours do you always return to?  Or do you detest decorating and put it off as long as possible?

 

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I don’t have a suitable image of almond paste. It’s not something I would normally photograph, so instead here is our dining table laid on Boxing Day morning a few years ago when a couple of friends came in for mulled wine, Christmas cake and coffee (Christmas cake in the background.)

Many people buy commercially-produced marzipan but I assure you once you’ve had l home-made almond paste you won’t want marzipan. 

Ingredients:

8oz ground almonds

6oz caster sugar

4oz icing sugar (finely sifted)

1 egg

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon brandy (or sherry – I prefer brandy)

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence (make sure it is vanilla essence and not some vanilla flavoured essence)

2 drops of almond essence (again make sure it is almond essence)

a little more lemon juice if necessary

Apricot glace (for this just put a tablespoon or so of apricot jam with a little lemon juice and perhaps a drop of water, and heat together in a saucepan) and you can use this for brushing onto the cake before applying the almond paste.  It’s to ensure that the almond paste adheres to the cake.

Method:

Place the ground almonds, caster sugar and icing sugar in a bowl and mix them together.

Whisk the egg with the lemon juice and other flavourings and add to the mixture of almonds and sugar.  I don’t add all the egg mixture in right away; much depends on the size of egg and there might be too much liquid, so hold back until you have the right consistency, adding more if needs be.  Mix together, pounding lightly to release a little of the almond oil.  Knead with your hands until the paste is smooth.

Brush the cake thinly with the apricot glaze.  Now place the almond paste on top of the cake – I add a little icing sugar to the top of the almond paste to make it less sticky at this stage – and roll it over the top so that it falls down the sides.  Dust your hands with icing sugar and smooth the paste firmly and evenly on to the sides of the cake.   Roll your rolling pin across the top and around the edges for a smooth finish, or as smooth as you can. I’ve never been totally successful at a perfectly even finish, but in a day or two you will be able to ice it with royal icing (I aim for a rough, snow-like finish) so if the almond paste isn’t absolutely even, this won’t really matter.  Just get it as even as you can. 

Now, leave the cake in a tin for 2 to 3 days before icing.  The almond paste and the icing can be done the week before Christmas. 

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