Liv­ing Neale

Bri­tish style is classy and com­plex. But is it cur­rent?

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - By Neale Whi­taker Neale Whi­taker is co-host of Fox­tel’s Love It Or List It Aus­tralia on Life­style, and a judge on Nine Net­work’s The Block.

Whi­taker de­mys­ti­fies Bri­tish style.

I’ve re­cently re­turned from my an­nual trip to the UK and, as usual on re­turn­ing, my ac­cent (ap­par­ently) is a lit­tle more clipped than when I left, and I’m wear­ing brogues and – most star­tling of all – socks, de­spite the un­sea­son­able Aussie heat. That will all, of course, wear off very soon. But be­fore it does, let’s talk about Bri­tish style.

It’s a won­der­fully com­plex thing and, like the Bri­tish class sys­tem, quite mys­ti­fy­ing. For ex­am­ple, if I tell you that Hy­acinth Bucket is work­ing class with lower mid­dle-class as­pi­ra­tions, that Posh Spice is ac­tu­ally any­thing but, and the Duchess of Cam­bridge is de­cid­edly mid­dle class, you’d be con­fused, right? But if you’re born in Bri­tain those things are as in­tu­itive as putting the milk in the teacup first and get­ting in the back of a taxi.

And style is sim­i­larly con­found­ing. My favourite Lon­don ho­tel, The Beau­mont (the­beau­mont.com), of­fers ex­em­plary ser­vice and de­li­cious food, yet de­trac­tors quib­ble that its Art Deco in­te­rior, whilst beau­ti­fully de­tailed and lux­u­ri­ous, is ac­tu­ally new and there­fore Not The Real Thing.

Yet down the road at Clar­idges (very much The Real Thing), I was served one of the worst – and most ex­pen­sive – meals, not just of my trip but my life, in an in­te­rior that is not so much kitsch as daggy. No­body’s told Clar­idges that Brus­sels sprouts are no longer boiled to obliv­ion be­cause, pre­sum­ably, that’s how Princess Mar­garet liked them half a cen­tury ago. Why change?

As a loose rule of thumb, the shab­bier the Bri­tish in­te­rior, the posher it’s likely to be. The late and gor­geously dotty Is­abella Blow, ar­guably one of the great­est of Bri­tish fash­ion icons, rat­tled around a draughty old home that was doubt­less cold and damp. The car­pets would have been thread­bare and the chan­de­liers dusty, but the pedi­gree? Im­pec­ca­ble.

The neat and func­tional Scandi look we so love here in Aus­tralia barely passes muster in the UK. The Brits pre­fer their chairs wob­bly and their so­fas without springs. Of course I’m gen­er­al­is­ing, but while I was in the UK I had the good for­tune to spend a night in a 17th-cen­tury farm­house and an­other in an 18th­cen­tury cot­tage. I have mid­dle-class friends with up­per-class ten­den­cies. The floor­boards creaked, the pipes banged, the stairs were per­ilous and the ceil­ings haz­ardously low. But if I can bring even half as much magic to my new home here in Aus­tralia, I will be a happy man.

“The shab­bier the Bri­tish in­te­rior, the posher it’s likely to be”

CLASS ACTS (be­low) Neale Whi­taker loved the Bri­tish pedi­gree of late fash­ion icon Is­abella Blow’s Glouces­ter­shire home, Hilles House; (right and be­low, in­set) in­te­ri­ors in Eng­land lean to­wards a lived-in look and favour au­then­tic­ity over func­tion­al­ity.

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