Monday, November 12, 2012

The Happy English Home

"Mrs. Allonby: (surveying the room)  It looks quite the happy English home."
--  "A Woman of No Importance,"  Oscar Wilde

Recently I have been traveling to England without getting on an airplane.  When I want to get away to that "green and pleasant land," I just dip into some of my favorite English design books.  They are a dream for the anglophile in me and also inspire me with some great design ideas.  I have always loved the English country style of decoration, probably fueled by all the novels I have read that are set in the English countryside.  This style just exudes coziness and warmth and the rooms that the designers  create make me want to curl up in front of the fire with a book and a cup of tea.

As Ros Byam Shaw writes in Perfect English Cottage:

 "The word 'cottage' is surrounded by a rosy glow.  Add 'English' and the glow becomes a little rosier."

In this charming book devoted to the English cottage look, the author explores many different examples of this style and ways to create the look in your own home.   The book is divided into chapters:  Romance, Character, Holiday, Simplicity, and Elegance.  At the end of each chapter is a list of distinctive elements that create each of these looks. The books takes us on a leisurely journey through the English countryside and inside some of its most charming homes.  Put on the kettle, make yourself a cup of tea, and curl up with this one.  It will have you longing to visit England.

Houses of The Lake District by Christopher Holliday is a sumptuous book about the distinctive houses and castles of Cumbria, England, the area known as the lake district.  As the writer tells us, these homes are inextricably linked to their beautiful and romantic settings.  This is the region of England where the romantic poets lived and wrote, and where the beloved children's book writer and artist Beatrix Potter lived.  The books tells the story of twenty-one of these houses and the people who lived there.  The Lake District has always been on my wish list of places to visit in England and now, because of this wonderful book on its houses and castles, a trip to this region will be about so much more than just the scenery.  The author has written in great detail about the historic and magnificent houses to see in this region, all of which are open to the public.

The Most Beautiful Country Towns of England is one of those coffee table books that everyone picks up and reads. For the armchair traveller, it is a journey to some of the most beautiful towns in England.  We travel with the author to places such as Ambleside in Cumberland, Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, Petworth in West Sussex, Shaftesbury in Dorset, and St. Ives in Cornwall.  These are the locations of so many great English novels and it is transporting to be taken there through this beautiful book that is rich with sumptuous photography.

English Decoration by London-based architect and interior designer Ben Pentreath is a new design book about English inspiration for the contemporary home.  In this book we are given a new survey of the best of English style.  The homes in "English Decoration" include Pentreath's own country house in Dorset, which is called the Parsonage, as well as his lovely and sophisticated flat in London.  He writes in his introduction:

"What is it that gives English rooms such character, so that we can know them as well as people; like them and love them; belong in them; feel at ease in them?"  He goes on to identify the ingredients that make the best English rooms: "light, views, the relationship of one room to the next, and the landscape or city beyond; furniture and rugs; books and lamps; plants and flowers; sounds -- the ticking of a clock, or the deep silence of an old room in the country; and scents -- of garden roses, or woodsmoke.  Or maybe it is the personality of the owner that is strongest, woven into every fibre?"

This book contains many great ideas for incorporating the elements of English decoration into our own homes.  Ben Pentreath has a home decor shop in London which I dream of visiting next time I am there, but in the meantime I spend a lot of time on his gorgeous blog.  It was listed by the Telegraph as one of "The 20 best interiors blogs." Readers of it can keep up with his current design projects and also the new products he is carrying in his store.  There are great photos of his country home and London flat and I am always inspired by what I read there.  

And my imaginary voyage to England would not be complete without reading one of the best novels about an English family living in a big sprawling house in the English countryside.   I have been rereading Nancy Mitfotd's The Pursuit of Love.  In her classic comic novel, Mitford satirized upper-class English idiosyncrasies in her depiction of the eccentric Radlett family.  This is one of my favorite books because it always makes me laugh and it feeds my love of British eccentrics and British wit.  I laughed out loud the other day when I read the following description of Alconleigh, the Radletts' Gloucestershire estate.  The narrator is drawing a comparison between the dark and gloomy house that the Radletts live in and that of a neighbor with whom Linda Radlett is spending a lot of time:

"The two men and indeed their two houses and estates, afforded an absolute contrast.  Alconleigh was a large, ugly, north facing, Georgian house, built with only one intention, that of sheltering, when the weather was too bad to be out of doors, a succession of bucolic squires, their wives, their enormous families, their dogs, their horses, and their unmarried sisters.  There was no attempt at decoration...Within, the keynote, the theme, was death.  Not death of maidens, but the deaths of warriors and of animals, stark, real.  On the walls halberds and pikes and ancient muskets were arranged in crude patterns with the heads of beasts slaughtered...all lying together in a timeless jumble.

Merlinford (the neighbor's estate) nestled in a valley of south-westerly aspect, among orchards and old mellow farmhouses.  It was a villa, built at about the same time as Alconleigh, but by a very different architect, and with a very different end in view.  It was a house to be lived in, not to rush out from all day to kill enemies and animals...It had Angelica Kauffman ceilings, a Chippendale staircase, furniture by Sheraton and Hepplewhite; in the hall there hung two Watteaus; there was no entrenching tool to be seen, nor the head of any animal."

"There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry."
-- Emily Dickinson

Have you been doing any traveling lately?


  1. Sunday,

    What a perfect way to travel! I love, love, love books about living in England, in big drafty rambling houses, and their walking, hunting and out door activities.

    I hope you have a fabulous week Sunday,

  2. Sunday, Your posts are always a delight to read. You always have something beautiful and/or interesting to share. Thank you!

    I, too, love the English country homes. I can loose myself in design books for hours. I am especially intrigued with "The Most Beautiful Country Towns". I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in and around Oxford so many years ago falling madly in love with the more rural areas. I am in with the UK in general.

    Have a wonderful week. Bonnie

  3. What a perfect medley of books, Sunday! I love Ros Byam Shaw's books, have a library hold on English Decoration (being a great fan of Ben Pentreath's blog), and will have to check out Houses of the Lake District. I adore fiction set in English country homes and decorating books are the perfect accompaniment to those sorts of novels!

  4. How wonderful to be an armchair traveller.
    Books are the perfect way to transport us to ports and lives that would otherwise be foreign.
    Add a cup of tea and I am in heaven!
    Hoping that you are keeping well.

  5. You have a beautiful collection of books here, and indeed, this is a perfect way of travelling. And for us, who do not have these books, we just travel to Engeland via your blog!

    kind regards,

  6. Is Blackwell in your Houses of the Lake District book? It is one of my favourite places to visit in the Lakes and I can recommend it if you make a trip to the area.

  7. I go through periods when I look at a lot of art books that I own. So, it's a bit like traveling for me to somewhere else. I do want to read that Nancy Mitford book.

  8. One of the most prolific travelers of the library armchair, was the great YSL....when asked if he had been to China or Russia after the famed collections so Iconic...NO was the answer, I prefer to relax within my home and read books letting my mind much easier, and why does one have to leave home to travel?

    I love my books...and countries!

  9. We're huge fans of English design and our monthly escape comes in the pages of British Homes & Gardens. Thank you so much for stopping by The Buzz and for leaving such a kind comment. We look forward to exploring more of your blog and reading your inspiring posts!
    C + C

  10. Sunday, I adore books and magazines that take you away! Thank you for the inspiration!

    A Special Scalamandre Giveaway

  11. My favorite design style is 'English cottage' so I love the books you've showcased here. It's hard to incorporate that style into desert homes in Phoenix, but I can dream!

    I didn't know that Ben Pentreath has a book out - I will have to find a copy soon.

  12. I'm a little bit obsessed with Beatrix Potter. She's a perfect example of a writer who is attached to place. Someone who's creativity is linked to landscape. A kindred spirit from way back...

  13. You and I have been thinking alike! When I think cozy, I think England. I've been watching the old BBC miniseries, All Creatures Great and Small based on the books by James Herriot. Being carried away to England is the perfect antidote to stress. I will look up these books you've shown. They look wonderful.


  14. Ina actually got the barefoot contessa name from her purchase of a Westhampton food shop by that name from my dentist John Stratta who bemoans the fact every time the topic is brought up.