Classic English Country House Style
Taking its inspiration from late eighteenth-century designs, the English country house style is constantly being revisited. Originating in southern Europe and popularized by Palladio, the classical idiom was adopted by the English with great enthusiasm, leaving the rest of the continent to divert to other/more elaborate, gilt-laden styles.
What so attracted the English to this elegant but highly restrained way of interior decorating? Perhaps it was their love of order, or perhaps it was just that all those disciplined lines on such a grand scale contrasted so well with the small, undulating English landscape. Whatever the reason, the classical theme has become indelibly identified with English interior design and is constantly being reinterpreted by skilled exponents such as the firm of Colefax and Fowler, and designers John Stephanidis and Nina Campbell among others.
Symmetry, balance and proportion are key elements of the look. Attention, in the first instance, should be given to correcting any room shape distortions, ill-matched details or asymmetrically positioned features. For instance, a fireplace might be repositioned centrally or a second niche created to balance an existing one.
At the very core of the style are the architectural details, such features as cornices, dado rails, skirtings/base boards, panels, niches, friezes and architraves. Once in place, these details will endow a house with a genuine feel of the period and the rooms will require little more than dressing.
As with every other style that has travelled, elements of local taste and conditions have had their influence along the way. The Anglicization of the style has resulted in a much more informal, softer rendering of the classical theme. Furniture is arranged more casually, colors are soft and muted and floral motifs blur the edges.
There is much more to creating classic English country house style than simply gathering together a number of related historical components. It is about adopting a whole new attitude to decorating. If possible, all thoughts of precisely matched patterns and colors should be set aside and everything learnt about sticking scrupulously to a particular period disregarded. The essence of the style is that the contents should appear to have been lovingly collected over the years – favorite pieces handed down through the generations and added to, layer upon layer. This is not an easy task when the interior has to be created instantly and in modern times. Even more difficult to overcome is the decorator’s constant urge to co-ordinate the ingredients: this goes against the very nature of English decorating. It is those slightly quirky, discordant features that make the style unique and stop it from becoming too predictable or serious.
Lest you be tempted to imagine that this style requires no special skills of assembly, do not be deceived. Eclectic the room certainly is, but it is also highly engineered, the balance of space, coolers and patterns being meticulously planned. The clever bit, after all the careful planning, is in making the room look totally unselfconscious – not unlike the well-dressed woman.
A Georgian country mansion may be thought of as an ideal backdrop for the style, but if your home is modern and of more modest proportions this should not be seen as a barrier to creating a classically inspired home. Indeed, the style may even lend to the smaller room a highly desired sense of grandeur.