Skirted furniture, glazed cotton fabrics and more frills than the Moulin Rouge. Is the resurgence of traditional decor more than a passing fad?
If you were around in the 1980s (I’m giving away my age by admitting I was) you might have noticed that decorating fell into two distinct camps. The distinctly Pop Art Memphis inspired interiors which were known for their bright colours and geometric shapes, and often with a side order of kitsch. This trickled down to the high street with black ash being the “wood” of choice for all manner of furniture. The other top trend of the decade was the traditional English country house style, with it’s ‘more is more’ philosophy featuring chintz fabric, swags and skirted furniture influenced by the Sloane Ranger Handbook and Princess Diana.
While many of us thought that “miniature stately home” interior styles were all wrong in the 1980s, especially when they popped up in urban terraced houses. We knew we could squarely blame Laura Ashley, the retailer who started in 1954, who was a central player at the time, plying the country with floral motifs and country house style furniture. Interestingly they collapsed into administration at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, if only they could have held on a little longer they might have seen their fortunes change. I digress.
Over the past 12 months or so, I’ve seen the creep of incredibly traditional elements in interiors reappearing. With quirky collectables that seem to have been gathered over the years, passementerie on all manner of soft furnishings and sofas and cushions adorned with frills, such as the Edit 58 cushions I spotted in Liberty below. I’ve also noticed a number of retailers with ‘brown furniture’ that has been lacquered and upcycled. This formerly unpopular style is growing in momentum. To be fair it’s not the same as the 80s edition but its roots are definitely in traditional decor that populated the country then.
You could argue very reasonably that this style has never been out of fashion. It’s a classic tale of evolution, it’s been around since the landed gentry built manor houses and even castles; Highclere, Blenheim, Cliveden. English country house style may have prerequisite aesthetics but its relentless adaptability is what has enduring appeal. While we’ve all been at home more isn’t the desire for a spacious sofa with a generous serving of cushions just what we all need? Traditional decor and English country house style embrace wear and tear, it’s not about clean-lined perfection. An underrated attribute in this lockdown-stay-home time. Period features are booming on Instagram especially on the feeds of renovation influencers and Interior designers like Sarah Brown. I’m personally hankering after a chintz eiderdown as we head into winter (see below by Belinda Davies, alternative versions available at Caravane). Another twist on the English country house style that I’ve seen gaining momentum is upcycling “brown” furniture. The online emporium that is By Alice has the most charming home accessories and furniture, including a line of upcycled lacquered furniture. It’s inspired me to move my hidden-away-for-years music stand with barley twist legs to my living room. I might even give this inherited brown piece of furniture a bit of a makeover with some modern drawer pulls. I’m not sure I’m ready to do a DIY version of By Alice’s lacquered furniture (see below), no matter how much I covet red lacquer for the music stand.
My favourite pastime usually involves falling down the rabbit hole that is research. And I don’t think I’d be doing this post any justice if I didn’t share some of my favourite images that I’ve come across while researching this topic. They include some world-class designers, enviable properties and most importantly, colourful interiors. In my humble opinion, all of them demonstrate a level of cosiness that is almost like an English version of hygge. Also, in a time when embracing sustainable living is all too important, this revival of antique furniture brings me so much happiness. I have plenty of vintage pieces in the home (antiques of the future is unlikely), and rooting about in a flea market is always my idea of a good day out.
So what do you think, is English country house style having a comeback? Is it a look you can embrace and feel comfortable in? Or maybe you just think its just too old fashion and shuffle off back to the archives? I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and if you’d like to see more posts on decoration, take a look here.