We recently caught up with the editor of House & Garden Magazine, Hatta Byng, who, to coincide with the launch of the House & Garden Country House supplement (featuring Lucinda’s recent ‘Berkshire Mahal’ scheme), has given us her thoughts on Country House Style.
Country House Style has evolved over time, how would you define it in 2016?
I think that today country house style tends to be more pared down, more edited, with a focus on the architectural, than it was in the past. Designers are still using chintz, but minimalism has played a part – there are less swags and tails on curtains, more upholstery as opposed to loose covers, and a more restrained use of pattern and florals. Things aren’t quite as loose or blowsy as they once were. That said, it’s definitely an evolution rather than a change, the key components are still there.
Who do you feel are the best current exponents? Anyone to watch?
The Colefax and Fowler designers are still creating wonderful interiors, such as Emma Burns and Wendy Nicholls, as is Ben Pentreath; Penny Morrison is another designer who creates beautiful, layered, comfortable interiors. I would also add Max Rollitt, Piers von Westonholz and Robert Kime to that list, all of whom come from the perspective of being antiques dealers. Antiques dealers tend to understand country house style and do it particularly well, as they have the ability to choose good and interesting pieces to underpin their schemes.
What essential elements should a country house contain?
Comfortable sofas, big fireplaces, a large kitchen and a good boot room immediately come to mind. I also think of antiques, plenty of pretty fabrics, lots of flowers in vases or geraniums in pots; a good informal mix. Another important element is perhaps decoration that doesn’t take itself too seriously, there’s room for a bit of whimsy, a bit of a sense of humour.
What advice would you give to someone who has newly moved to the country and is decorating?
My advice would be to take it slowly, an evolved look is softer and more layered and therefore more sensitive to country life than something instantly put together as a complete scheme. I would also say don’t forget pictures: they are vital in a room, giving focus and adding a layer of interest. Rooms without art can be very bland, however well decorated they are.
Any address book secrets you can share in terms of suppliers, decorators etc?
It’s definitely worth mentioning a couple of paint specialists whose colours are particularly sympathetic to the country and to country house style. Patrick Baty and Edward Bulmer will both advise on paint and have created their own ranges.
In terms of an address book House & Garden’s The List is a fantastic resource for anyone looking for an expert, be it a landscape gardener or a curtain maker.
What’s your view on ‘Brown’ Furniture?
I grew up with it and think it’s a pretty essential part of any country house: it has patina and it can anchor a room. But I think the way it is used has evolved, brown furniture is more carefully edited: the likes of Max Rollitt and Edward Hurst tend to buy the more architectural, ‘handsome’ pieces. I think this is reflected in the pieces that OKA are creating too.
In a country house there is room for the juxtaposition with more modern pieces – it gives an interesting edge and can make for a really exciting interior. Not every house can support that juxtaposition – a pretty country cottage for instance doesn’t necessarily require an edge – but in a larger country house there’s room for everything and there really should be a bit of a mix.
How important is it that the inside of the house reflects the outside?
I think it is vital. A house in the country needs to feel like it’s in the country. I think that a good designer will always respond to the architecture of a house rather than impose a style of decoration.
Do you have links to any particular place or county? And if so can you tell us what it is you love about it?
I grew up in Hampshire and it was very much a country upbringing. My parents now live in Dorset and my parents-in-law live in Yorkshire so our weekends are often spent in Dorset or Yorkshire.
What does a typical day spent in the country involve for you?
I’ve got little children so at the moment it all revolves around them. A typical day is spent, usually at their grandparents, pottering about trying to get them involved in and enthused by nature and being outside.
Seaside or rolling hills?
I love the coast but if I had to choose a place to live I’d choose rolling hills.
Poolside or fireside?
Pub lunch or Picnic?
Depends on the time of year. Both!
Flower garden or kitchen garden?
In an ideal world, both.
Village or middle of nowhere?
Middle of nowhere, a house with a view is my ultimate aspiration.
Nancy Lancaster or Ben Pentreath?
I think there’s a place for both.