Listen to this article
With house prices in London spiralling out of control – sealed bids are now the norm, not the exception – the budget most of us have left to spend on decorating our new homes is somewhat tested. Two sets of friends have been reluctantly offering up to £200,000 over the asking price for properties in London’s Shepherd’s Bush and Queen’s Park with no success.
In a quest for space and stables, I’ve recently left the capital for the countryside and swapped a small flat in Primrose Hill for a rambling old pile in Hertfordshire. While the joy of swapping patios for parkland and TV dinners for dining rooms is not to be underestimated, neither is the wallet-weeping prospect of furnishing a house whose sitting room comfortably swallowed up every crate and piece of furniture unloaded from the removals van.
If I was sensible, of course, I would decorate one room at a time, as funds permit. But I’m not sensible – well, not patient at least – and would prefer to find a way to turn the house into a home in a far more speedy style.
It was while unpacking my extensive collection of clothes – the result of a previous career at Mr Porter – that I realised I would have to approach furnishing the house in the same way we today furnish our wardrobes: a mix of high fashion and high street, old and new. In the same way I will happily order a bespoke suit from Richard James or Thom Sweeney, and mix it with a shirt by J Crew or Gant Rugger, for the house I would need to trawl both Christie’s and eBay, both Osborne & Little and Marks and Spencer.
The fashion/furnishings divide has been an increasingly blurred one for some time. Fashion retailers have been launching homeware lines for decades. From Laura Ashley in the 1970s to names today as diverse as Next and Hermès, they have been offering furniture and wallpaper alongside clothes and accessories. And there is often a synergy between the two: the fashion for florals, for example, is currently as popular for curtains and sofa coverings as it is for men’s blazers and shorts. Look at Belgian designer Dries Van Noten’s menswear collection for this summer and you can barely move for floral prints – the same passion for petals can be seen at Gucci and McQueen. Today, Colefax and Fowler would look equally at home if it set up shop on Savile Row instead of Chelsea Harbour’s Design Centre.
Meanwhile, the soft blue and pink paints currently popular at Farrow & Ball match exquisitely the pastel hues used for tailoring by both Richard James and Tom Ford. At Dolce & Gabbana, the duo sent out a collection that featured prints of Doric temple columns and plaques of Zeus and Apollo, similar to the Peter Hone casts for sale at influential Bloomsbury interiors store Pentreath & Hall. And it was Bloomsbury, too – in particular the artist Duncan Grant – that influenced the Burberry menswear collection landing in its stores any time now.
This eclectic approach to design and dressing – far more interesting than the one-look, one-designer approach of yore – is also more rewarding; even if it’s sometimes a route taken out of financial necessity rather than choice. The Delft tiles you found on eBay, the enormous rug you bought for a snip at a Christie’s sale, the faux coral you snapped up at Zara Home and the Kilkenny armchair from sofa.com all help make the price you forked out for 42 metres of Colefax and Fowler’s Amberley fabric for the drawing room curtains feel that much more justified. In exactly the same way that T-shirts from Gap and cargo shorts from Uniqlo soften the blow of falling for a Loro Piana sweater.
As Nick Compton of Wallpaper writes in the debut issue of Christie’s Interiors, sometimes it’s the journey that makes a destination interesting; a place where “the contemporary happily coexists with the antique, the hand me down with the investment piece, the fine with the junk store find, the painting with the print, the tchotchke with the treasure”. Fewer of us today want to emulate the lady featured in Grayson Perry’s All in the Best Possible Taste documentary series who cheerily bought the show home and everything in it.
Mind you, there are times when I think she had a point. Rather than go for a payday loan, we rent our house out for location shoots to cover the costs of the decoration. Sometimes this feels counter-intuitive: one can go to work on a Monday morning having spent all weekend admiring the freshly-painted ground pink walls of the sitting room only to return that evening to discover that these have been replaced by brown-patterned wallpaper, and a bronze-tiled shower unit now sits where the sofa was. Perhaps I will ring Wonga after all.
Jeremy Langmead is the chief content officer of Christie’s auction house