Country calm with city cool
A touch of comforting rural style need not mean frumpy interiors. Paula Robinson shows how
In bleak times we all crave comfort – especially in our homes. While stark, minimalist interiors may have been fashionable when things were booming, they offer precious little cheer as a retreat from the world at the moment. One way to soften the interior of your home is to take inspiration from “country style”, influenced by the relaxed rural homes of France, Italy and America as well as Britain. The style assumes many guises but, at its core, it is about a slowerpaced lifestyle; practical, comfortable elements; and the celebration of nature. Adapting these attributes to urban dwelling requires a twist if the results are not to look incongruous. Clever blending is the key to creating a new look that will bring the comforts of country to your home, without losing any of the style of city living.
COLOUR AND TEXTURE
Muted colours and natural textures are two signature elements of country style, and can soften a room. Deep rusts work beautifully with slate, stone and light woods; soft greeny-blues contrast perfectly with creams and parchment; earthy yellow (ochre) and warm orange are reminiscent of Tuscan colours and work wonderfully with wood; grey-blue takes on a life of its own, particularly when contrasted to stark white. Typical country textures include linen, heavy cotton and wool – soft to the touch, but hard-wearing.
One of the easiest ways to add country colours and textures is with scatter cushions and fabrics. Nina Campbell’s “Promenade” is a toile (available in a variety of colourways) with a twist: it depicts a Forties British park scene instead of the classic 18th century themes. Have some big cushions made up to throw on an austere leather couch and draw a smile or two. The family-run Welsh firm Elanbach has attractive country fabrics that are pleasing to behold, but don’t lack style. It offers a made-tomeasure curtain and blind service, and bespoke printing if you have a particular design in mind. To tone down the florals, team Nina Campbell or Elanbach fabrics with striped cushions or fabrics from Ian Mankin. “Ticking Union” in Petrol, and “Empire” in sage strike a good, masculine contrast. Have some loose covers made up for a stiff sofa, or use a drape of double-sided fabric as a throw.
AVOIDING AN OVERLY FEMININE LOOK
Typical English and French country styles tend to have an overly feminine feel, but there are ways to achieve a more relaxed, rural look. Old farm implements are a good compromise and look stunning when put to new uses: large old grain sieves make great wall lights; wine strainers turn into unusual light fittings; a few tractor seats mounted on a wall can double as unusual art. The rustic appeal of these elements blends beautifully into a contemporary home, softening without looking incongruous.
Leave overhead and halogen lights off, and use table lamps instead. They create soft pools of relaxing mood light – especially if you choose darker lampshades for winter (change them for cream or white cotton lampshades in summer). Parchment lampshades give a warm glow, but try to avoid shaped silk lampshades. They usually feel stiff and formal – and they are more expensive than cotton or card. Jim Lawrence (www.jim-lawrence.co. uk; 01473 828176) stocks a range of styles including mock suede candle shades. This is worth adding in, as the light through suede will be very mellow. Of course, you can’t beat the charm of candlelight in the evenings: church candles are hassle-free and last much longer than pillar candles or votives.
Hint of fire: a clay chimenea
ADD A FIRE
These days, you don’t need a chimney, a flue or even a gas supply to enjoy the relaxing effects of a fire. Gel flame fires give off no smoke, smells or toxins and come in many different styles and sizes. For real character, add a gel flame fire to a clay chimenea – those wonderful bulbous, freestanding chimneys that originated in Mexico.
Cottage industry crafts add the perfect finishing touch to country-style interiors. For a list of local craft fairs, which are always worth a look, in November and December, visit www. bit.ly/craftfairs. I was enchanted by the creativity of one Cornish artist, Poppy Treffry (www.poppytreffry.co.uk), who designs and makes items including coffee cosies for small and large cafetieres, tea cosies that are anything but frumpy, cards and pictures. All have a unique country style.
BOOKS FOR INSPIRATION
I recommend Enrica Stabile’s Comfortable Country (Ryland Peters & Small, £12.99). It is full of ideas that won’t involve reworking the entire look of your home. Enrica favours French and Italian country styles which have a relaxed elegance that adapts easily to urban and contemporary settings. Another useful book is Katrin Cargill’s Easy Country (Ryland Peters & Small, £8.99) which is divided into influential country styles (including Swedish and early American), individual colours, furnishings and rooms.
No fuss: A natural look need not be cluttered. Left: Elanbach’s Voltaire collection is offset by cushions
Pattern with attitude: Promenade linen fabric by Nina Campbell (above) and from the Pardalote collection by Welsh family firm Elanbach (below)