For as long as I can remember, I have loved not only looking at books of interiors, but also for their descriptions of interiors. Three such books which I read in childhood are pictured above. I loved them not only for their stories but also for their brief descriptions of rooms.
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I read Nancy Breary’s Give a Form a Bad Name when I was about 12 years old. It is about the Carstair twins who are sent to Grey Ladies boarding school and where, in “The Turret Room, Shirley Lampeter – the Head-girl – arranged her books and pictures about the cosy little room with its three big windows looking out to sea, stopping frequently to examine some holiday sketches lying on the table, which were the most satisfying she had ever made.”
Of course, Ann, one of the twins, didn’t yet know to whom this room belonged when she happened upon it: “It was a dear little room, very attractively furnished; in fact, just the kind of room with its air of cultured seclusion she would have liked to own herself, and on the table were some rather lovely sketches …”
At twelve, I would also have loved that Turret Room, and pretended my own bedroom was such a room, with painting equipment, three windows with views of the sea, and an air of ‘cultured seclusion’.
Fourteen Fourteens by Violet M Methley is similarly set in a girls boarding school, but there was a similarity with myself as it was a school for only 14 girls, all called Margaret, and all aged 14. I was about 12 when I read it, and imagined what life would be like in such a place – I attended a girls’ grammar school where there were considerably more than 14 pupils! But all being called Margaret was muddling for them, and so the girls decided that each should have a diminutive of the name, so were called Greta, Rita, Pearl, Marjorie, Meg, Pegeen, and others, as well as Margaret.
Each girl had her own room and some are described … in one “the walls were plain blue, the paint all creamy-white; the cover over the sofa-bed had a pattern of blue convolvulus and green leaves, with cushions of plain blue. The big soft rug on the floor was blue and green, the furniture white – and altogether is was as delightful a room as the heart of a girl could possibly desire.”
“All the rooms were exactly the same, except for colours … Madge’s room, which was a deep, glowing delphinium blue, quite different from Greta’s turquoise. Then came deep purple, biscuit colour, cherry red, and a delightful magpie room of black and white … finally, a green and an orange room. The last – number fourteen – was Margaret’s, the nicest of all … the walls were a lovely glowing orange gold, which made it seem full of sunshine even at night, the curtains and cushions were a deeper orange, the chintz patterned with marigolds – a flower which Margaret had always loved. The rug was all orange and yellow and tawny brown; Margaret sat on the edge of the bed, snuggling et into it, and positively hugging herself.”
In Jean Becomes a Nurse by Yvonne Trewin (herself a nurse) and one of several books about Jean Hunter, following through her career (such career books were popular in the 1950s) the story focuses not only on Jean, but also on her friend Hamilton. Hamilton is impressed with Jean’s lovely home when she stays with her for a weekend break.
“The hall was cool, a lovely old oak chest stood against the wall, draped with a vivid Egyptian shawl. Richly coloured Persian rugs lay on the parquet floor, and in the corners gleamed lovely copper bowls containing massed flowers most beautifully arranged to harmonise with the surroundings.”
Mrs Hunter, Jean’s mother, leads the way into the drawing room:
“It, too, was a delightful room, with French windows leading out to the garden. Something struck Hamilton as being different to other drawing rooms. Whatever was it? Of course! It was a black carpet made to fit the room. A black carpet – how queer! It was just right for this room, though. The dove-grey walls glowed softly in the sunlight, the curtains and chair coverings were in cretonne with a pink and wine flowery design. The effect of the black carpet was one of relaxation, and the room offered a feeling of friendliness in which one could indulge in cosy chats by the fireside in winter. It was a room belonging to someone who obviously loved it, and had taken pains with everything. Flowers and books were profusely distributed, the flowers in tall cream-coloured vases. Above the mantelpiece were three exquisitely hand-painted Dresden china plates. There were several photographs of young children … “
Other books I read also had lovely descriptions of rooms, but these were three of my favourites. They also demonstrate how rooms have changed – how now we have en suite bathrooms with bedrooms when in the 1950s it was considered a luxury to have a basin in a bedroom and a fitted carpet. And the drawing room belonging to Jean’s parents doesn’t exactly sound much like the Retro 1950s look, with all its primary colours,which is now so popular, does it? A black carpet, too; that would’ve been very avant garde, and perhaps more than a little difficult to keep clean. But in a well-to-do household, in the middle 1950s, undoubtedly they would’ve employed a cleaner as they might’ve also employed a gardener.
I wonder which of these rooms you would love to inhabit, if any at all?