You can’t judge a book by its cover…

“Do you have Living in Vogue (1984)?”

…was the enigmatic pencil-written note on the back of old postcard that arrived from my friend Ruth (she who was putting me off Calendar Shots last weekend).

“If not, you will like it”.

Intrigued, I began a little research. Thank goodness for the internet, hey? Within a few minutes I had an author…well, two: Judy Brittain & Patrick Kinmonth; and within another couple of minutes I had placed an order through fantastic Abe Books and my book was winging its way to me. ACROSS the English Channel.  The only copy I could find was in France. Hello?! Crazy.

(Yes, I am sorry that I didn’t pretend to find it in the 50p box of a flea market in South West Wales, but I think that truth is the best policy).

Well, a few days later, a beautifully-wrapped parcel arrived from France that gave even the Ben Pentreath packing elves a run for their money. The book was tightly wrapped in lime green tissue fastened with the bookshop’s handsome printed label. So, can you imagine that I was a little dismayed when it revealed this:

okay, okay, I can forgive a lot from the 80s, but I’m not in favour of over-pillowed beds with little pooches and kelly-green drapes, and I’m really not in favour of that coffee pot vibe.

But I trust Ruth, so I opened the cover (skipping the peach pink end papers) to find this:

Are you hooked too?

“This is a book about houses. From outside in and inside out, it is about the spirit of some marvellous places and how to come to some agreement with your surroundings by looking into the houses and ideas of people who definitely have done so. Over ten years there have been many. Big, small, historic, mythical, mellowed with age, as bring as new paint; cottages, flats; some highly and artfully decorated, some just lived in and become beautiful with the living. They all share one thing in common, that they breathe with the people who live there or have lived there in the past. Mere taste and design are meaningless without this contribution which makes the places hum, sing, and buzz”…

Oh, man. I’m glad I didn’t have this book before I started writing mine.  I would not have been able to keep up… Hello, Patrick Kinmonth, I like your style.

Anyway, it is a book of images, so here are some of my  favourites:

John Stefanidis in North Dorset; one of the serenest interiors I have ever seen; so iconic of its moment, yet timeless:

Or handsome Christopher Gibbs:

Exotic Hicks:

And historical David Mlinaric, at work at Beningbrough Hall:

Supreme comfort in Mlinaric’s own house in Somerset. I love this room, although at lunch yesterday, when I pulled out the book, that was a slightly controversial view.

Above is Nicky Haslam’s Hunting Lodge (formerly owned by John Fowler); watch out for Folly de Grandeur, the story of the Hunting Lodge, that Nicky will be publishing in the Spring. (there’s a thought to get you through the winter).

Or, above, Charles Beresford-Clark at the Fishing Lodge in Suffolk, formerly the house of David Hicks and now owned by the great Veere Grenney (see its current incarnation here).  Charles Beresford-Clark, where are you now?  I love this room.  We wouldn’t quite do it today, but I’ve got to say, it’s kind of perfect. I suspect big curtains are back.

I am told on good authority that this remarkable piece of Country House Decoration, the blue drawing room at Chatsworth, which we will all have seen before, is dismantled. Time moves on.


Two achingly beautiful photographs from Madresfield:

Bloomsbury clutter at Charleston Farmhouse:

Dreaming of summer with Roderick Cameron:

Or with Teddy Millington-Drake in Tuscany (about 5 minutes from where I go to stay with Valentina every year…. book your week now?)

I love that kitchen, but I REALLY love this room:

And I really love Craigie Aitchison’s pink painted fireplace:

Or Angus McBean at Flemings Hall, in Suffolk:

(I’m not there yet, but I could get there pretty quickly). McBean was great friends with our very own Peter Hone, whose flat I photographed for my book. Get your Christmas walnuts now.

Nearly best of all? David Hockney.  check out that photo. You should be off to buy your blue-and-yellow rugby shirt and yellow-leisure-trousers immediately.

The best is saved until last.  Faringdon.  Time to start dyeing your pigeons.

Controversy at lunch yesterday as to the colour of this room. I vote bitter chocolate.  Others thought dark green.

No controversy about this. Perfection.

Farringdon on the back cover; ‘It is requested that all hats be removed’, alongside a clockwork guard dog.


To return to the Introduction. I can’t help wishing I had just written this in my own book.  Happy dreaming:

“….Perhaps the final function of the book as as a catalyst to dreams. Cyril Connolly had a marvellous one in his book The Unquiet Grave. ‘Daydream: a golden classical house, three stories high, with attic windows and a view over water. Outside a magnolia growing up the wall, a terrace for winter, a great tree for summer and a lawn for games; behind it a wooded hill and in front a river, then a sheltered garden, indulgent to fig and nectarine’. No mention of paint, carpet, light fittings, yet a whole house stands before us. How easily we could walk across that lawn, and the other lawns in this book, in the late evening light, with the sound of a mower somewhere and voices. Inside are vases of flowers, great sprays, peonies, colours you can smell on sight, a pile of books, a tea-tray, a chaotically ordered desk. Postcards stick out from behind the clock on the mantlepiece—one of those amazing affairs with golden figures holding bows and arrows, chins propped on wrists, dwelling on time as it passes. We might go further. Into a dark and shiny passage to a kitchen all simmering pans and lemonade in white jobs, or across a hard, echoing hall with its lantern and its grandfather clock where, as the hour strikes, a ship rocks on painted sea…”


Find your own copy as soon as you can.


FOOTNOTE: Oh… and in the meantime… visit Ruth Guilding’s blog at Bible of British Taste. Perfection also on a plate.

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