Talk to the hand

The rea­son the Bri­tish haven’t had a do­mes­tic guru since Mrs Bee­ton is that we don’t like to be told

Country Life Every Week - - Interior Design The Inside Track -

GIVEN our na­tional fix­a­tion with in­te­rior de­sign, it’s sur­pris­ing that we have never spawned a totem with the om­nipo­tence of Martha Ste­wart, an iconic fig­ure in the hearts and minds of Amer­i­can home­mak­ers (de­spite a five-month spell in a fed­eral cor­rec­tion fa­cil­ity). The clos­est we ever had was Laura Ash­ley, whose Vic­to­rian re­vival had us all dry­ing flow­ers and strip­ping pine in a fren­zied at­tempt to cre­ate a Lark Rise To Can­dle­ford-style fan­tasy.

Why have no Bri­tish de­sign­ers suc­ceeded in achiev­ing sim­i­lar do­mes­tic su­per­star­dom? Some of those who showed early promise ei­ther made so much money li­cens­ing their names that they lost their hunger or suc­cumbed to the tragic af­flic­tion of T.P.F.T. (Too Posh For Tele­vi­sion).

At the heart of the is­sue is the fact that we don’t re­spond well to ad­vice that is too pre­scrip­tive. You only have to wan­der down any picket-fenced res­i­den­tial street in Mas­sachusetts or Maine to re­alise that there’s a more con­form­ist ap­proach to home­mak­ing in the USA than Bri­tain, where we’re more likely to see it as a form of self-ex­pres­sion (of­ten with dis­as­trous re­sults).

Over the past two decades, the most po­tent in­flu­encers have not been peo­ple but places. When the pri­vate mem­bers’ club Soho House opened in 1995, it wasn’t long be­fore the lan­guid look of its pared-back in­te­ri­ors per­me­ated beyond its front door on 76, Dean Street, W1. Its coun­try cousins, Babing­ton House in Somerset and Soho Farm­house, have demon­strated that liv­ing in a ru­ral idyll doesn’t mean hav­ing to sit on so­fas that look as if they’ve done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

At the same time, the Lon­don ho­tels cre­ated by Tim and Kit Kemp (The Covent Gar­den, The Hay­mar­ket and The Ham Yard to name just three) ap­pealed to those who wanted some­thing a lit­tle more for­tis­simo than sotto

voce. The Kemps’ sec­ond New York ho­tel, The Whitby, opened its doors last month, of­fer­ing in­te­ri­ors dec­o­rated in Mrs Kemp’s eclec­tic mix of colours, pat­tern and style that demon­strates the trans­for­ma­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of brav­ery in in­te­rior de­sign—as well as of­fer­ing sanc­tu­ary to New York­ers who have tired of the cur­rent wave of in­dus­trial chic that has taken a gloomy grip on the city.

Some­one else who looks set to make an im­pact is Fox­tons founder Jon Hunt, who is de­mon­strat­ing the pre­vi­ously un­ex­ploited pos­si­bil­i­ties of the coun­try cot­tage. The houses on his Wilder­ness Re­serve, a 5,000-acre Suf­folk es­tate, just in­land from the stretch of coast be­tween Alde­burgh and South­wold, have been not just been painstak­ingly re­stored but also reinvented with sleek, pared-back in­te­ri­ors, un­der­floor heat­ing and wall-to-wall en-suites that would dis­pel the fears of even the most hard­ened city dweller.

The im­pact of all this hard work and cre­ativ­ity is more sug­ges­tive than boss­ily pre­scrip­tive; with­out telling you how, it sim­ply pro­vides the con­fi­dence re­quired to stray from the well-trod­den path.

Top: An eclec­tic mix cre­ates this unique look at New York’s The Whitby. Above: The pared-back in­te­rior at Wilder­ness Re­serve

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