Mem­oir/in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

On the Fringe: A Life in Dec­o­rat­ing

Imo­gen Tay­lor with Martin Wood (Pim­per­nel Press, £50)

‘DAVID, We don’t want you.’ With these words, the Duchess of Wind­sor dis­missed the Duke of Wind­sor from Cole­fax and Fowler while dis­cussing in­te­rior de­signs. ‘she re­minded me, i hate to say, more of a snake than any­thing,’ the au­thor adds.

such crisp cameos pep­per 90year-old in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor imo­gen Tay­lor’s mem­oir. As sharp as an up­hol­sterer’s tack, miss Tay­lor worked at Cole­fax for 50 years and of­fers a rare ac­count of a lost world. start­ing at the bot­tom in 1949, she rose from as­sist­ing John Fowler to be­com­ing a part­ner of the busi­ness in 1966. After leav­ing, she bought her first pri­vate car at 72 and, at 78, a ne­glected house in France.

The glam­orous world of swagged silk and passe­menterie in grandly dec­o­rated houses, mostly in eng­land, un­folds through sketches of il­lus­tri­ous clients and a clear­sighted ac­count of Fowler: ‘John was, by na­ture, in­do­lent.’

For her first job, in Kenya, miss Tay­lor in­vented me­tal trays of paraf­fin at the feet of a four-poster to stop ter­mites climb­ing up and eat­ing the hang­ings. At Nancy As­tor’s, she kicked over a bucket of white paint and a great stretch of be­spoke car­pet had to be re­wo­ven. heiress Drue heinz, of the baked-beans fam­ily, was ‘spoiled and dif­fi­cult’; Vivien Leigh, although beau­ti­ful, was also ‘dif­fi­cult’. Dolly Roth­schild, the sec­ond rich­est wo­man in eng­land, slept in an iron bed­stead and drove her own Rover; she ‘would come into Cole­fax wear­ing a mack­in­tosh—but the mack­in­tosh was lined with fur—car­ry­ing a marks & spencer bag.’

The au­thor’s first en­counter with pamela har­ri­man, sir Win­ston Churchill’s daugh­ter-in-law, who only wanted net cur­tains, is mem­o­rable. Ar­riv­ing at her apart­ment she found har­ri­man stark naked on the bed, hav­ing a mas­sage: ‘All i could see was her gin­ger hair and mar­ble-white body.’

When de­signer Tom parr bought half the busi­ness in 1960, he made the ec­cen­tri­cally old-school af­fair more com­mer­cial. how­ever, like Fowler, he had a tem­per: ‘The Duchess of Corn­wall was one of the as­sis­tants who fell vic­tim to one of his tantrums.’

As well as un­flag­ging aperçus, miss Tay­lor gives a warm ac­count of the crafts­peo­ple she worked with, many of whose in­tri­cate trades are now lost. The clos­ing chap­ters, ren­o­vat­ing her home in France, are vivid. here is a wo­man with a great ap­petite for life, who, for half a cen­tury, cre­ated what she mod­estly calls—us­ing Nancy As­tor’s term—‘am­bi­ence’, for oth­ers to en­joy. Philippa Stock­ley

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