Above the shop
As the decorating firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler moves to Pimlico Road, the design of Nancy Lancaster’s upstairs drawing room is now a distant (and very yellow) memory
ACOUPLE of years ago, I went to a fashion brand’s lavish dinner for a famously sexy and beautiful Spanish film star who, having given her name to their line of lingerie, was showing it off with a plunging décolletage. This gorgeous display I scarcely noticed, being completely distracted by the room in which we were eating: Nancy Lancaster’s famous ‘buttahyellah’ drawing room on Avery Row, Brook Street, W1.
The room had been stripped of its furniture and set up as a grand dining room, beautifully candlelit but with no real character beyond its deepyellow walls. As I sat there, surrounded by fashion folk who’d never heard of Nancy or the room, I dreamed myself into the old pictures of it as lived in by her, full of flowers from her garden at Haseley, crowded with comfortable furniture and endless pairs of eccentric, beautiful things.
From her first married home in New York, where she and Ronnie Tree rented Ogden Codman’s impeccable Louis XVI chic town house at 7, East 96th Street, through Kelmarsh (decorated by Mrs Bethell) and Ditchley (done by Boudin) to houses done with John Fowler, starting with Charles Street in Mayfair, Nancy was not so much a designer as the best kind of client: one with an incredible eye for lovely things, the imagination to make magic happen and the natural elegance to live beautifully in the result.