This month on The Edit, we explore the timeless charm of the English country home: discover the new guard of designers bringing these traditions into the 21st century with a captivating air of eccentricity.
The Cotswolds home of former Barneys fashion director Amanda Brooks is a masterclass in the new country style, blending laid-back Hamptons luxury with a very English eclecticism.
If asked to describe the typical English country home, the answers could probably be divided into two camps. First, there’s the fusty, formal world of chintzy floral wallpapers, polished Regency furniture and equestrian paintings. Alternatively, there’s the shabby, odd-ball charm of a rambling country farmhouse — wildflowers on every windowsill and upholstery shredded by the owner’s army of whippets. As a new generation of English designers move the style forward however, both of these conventional approaches are swiftly evaporating into the realm of cliché.
This Max Rollitt-designed dining room captures the humorous spirit of a new generation of designers, winking playfully to the British seaside obsession with a galleon for a light fitting and a St Ives School painting.
These groundbreaking voices — figures from across the worlds of architecture, art, antiques and interiors like Max Rollitt or design duo Salvesen Graham — have an uncanny ability to draw out elements of the English country home that have given it such an enduring power and lend them a fresh and youthful spin. Instead of blindly perpetuating these ideas of either an old-world decorum or a shambolic farmstead, they instead choose to focus on its more universal aspects: an unfettered use of colour, an embrace of Britain’s flora and fauna, and a relaxed liveability.
“For me, an English house has layers of history and stuff... nothing goes together. Everything is completely random, but it’s the randomness that makes it.”
One of the most visible practitioners of the style is Ben Pentreath, a Renaissance man whose practice spans architecture, interiors and an impeccably curated store off Lamb’s Conduit Street, Pentreath & Hall. His fresh interpretation of traditional British interiors even caught the eye of the Duchess of Cambridge, who hired him to oversee the renovation of both her family’s living quarters in Kensington Palace and their Norfolk estate, Amner Hall.
In Ben Pentreath’s Bloomsbury apartment, a substitute for windows comes by way of an unlikely view over London — a floor-to-ceiling archival map.
Despite all of this major-league success, the purest realisation of Pentreath’s vision is the idyllic country retreat he shares with his partner, florist Charlie McCormack. A Georgian parsonage nestled in a Dorset valley, it marries that instinctive British understanding of balance and proportion while tapping into a more eccentric vein of the national spirit. There are ikat cushions next to marbled lampshades, a red bamboo chair pushed against a wall painted baby blue, and the lobby features trompe l’oeil wallpaper that imitates the architectural details of a Gothic cathedral. It’s eminently tasteful, but with a perfectly-judged splash of personality. You can see why that balance might appeal to a (potentially) future Queen.
At Ben Pentreath’s Dorset farmhouse, Piranesi prints sit alongside wildflowers and contemporary marbled lampshades in a joyous, colourful riot.
Looking more broadly at the projects Pentreath and his contemporaries work on, it’s clear they share an aversion to producing homes that feel visibly “interior designed”: all of the spaces are put together with a unique sensitivity and sympathy to the character of the owner. It’s so convincing that you could almost believe it was assembled spontaneously by the inhabitants themselves, if it wasn’t for the in-the-know antiques and prints that punctuate the rooms and lend them that elevated oomph.
“There is a formality to living with beautiful things; but that can’t be constraining. It has to be joyful, beautiful. There has to be colour.”
Case in point: Nicole Salvesen and Mary Graham, the brains behind interior design practice Salvesen Graham, who are making waves with their off-beat take on English décor traditions. They too are at pains to emphasise that above all else a great project starts with a genuine engagement with the client and their lifestyle: to make the home work around them, rather than force them to fit into an over-designed, intimidating environment. In a previous interview, they noted that they “like to really listen to what a client wants from their home. Not just how they would like it to look but also how they live.”
To fully appreciate Pentreath’s skill, look no further than this architecturally significant Hampstead Arts & Crafts mansion: restored and decorated with both historical sensitivity and a carefully balanced dose of the new.
It’s a mantra that should be commonplace, and yet it strikes a remarkably selfless tone at a time when many starry interior designers expect their clients to the bend to the will of their uncompromising artistic vision. For these designers, turning over a new chapter for English interiors doesn’t mean throwing away the old. It’s a genteel, tasteful iconoclasm, both in its aesthetic style and the way they go about their business. At the end of the day, what could be more English than a subversive creative renegade with impeccable manners?