how to get the look

how to get the look

Richly textured, colourful, comfortable and full of character, the country house style – whether you live in a Chelsea mansion flat or a rural farmhouse – has returned to form in 2024. Fuelled by the recent screen successes of Saltburn and The Gentlemen via Bridgerton, there’s a distinctive move away from safe neutrals and neat silhouettes towards an old-money aesthetic of verdure tapestries hung on the walls, layers of oriental rugs on wooden floors, gilt framed portraits in oils and drawing room shelves showing off Grand Tour-style collected treasures.

Country-house tastemakers 

Of all the decorators in operation today, Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler is recognised worldwide for its art in capturing English country-house design whether the firm is working on a house in London, Oxfordshire or deep in the Catskill mountains of New York state. Ironically, its story began with an American, Nancy Lancaster, who joined forces with rising star of interior decorating John Fowler just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1938. “John’s meticulous attention to historical detail – scraping back paint to find the original colours of the walls – was tempered by Nancy’s irreverence for grandeur and her ability to make imposing rooms beautiful, and also incredibly comfortable,” explains the firm’s joint managing director, Emma Burns. “At the heart of the country house aesthetic is the opportunity for everyday life to play out uninterrupted – spaces where a stray newspaper or a forgotten cup of coffee doesn’t look out of place but rather fits in perfectly. It’s generous, beautiful rooms that aren’t disrupted when a dog jumps on the sofa or 20 teenagers rock up unexpectedly to chill.” Her must-have elements include deep, comfy sofas and armchairs, updated over time with loose covers and cushions, as well as good lamps, baskets filled with logs, and coffee tables piled high with books. “It’s about comfort first and foremost.”

Emma Burns arranged a lineup of blue-and-white china on the entrance hall’s sideboard to enhance the deep navy of its banister;

Credit: Emma Burns

A well-decorated room must look effortlessly balanced, no matter how much hard work has gone into it,” say Will Fisher and Charlotte Freemantle of Jamb, the Pimlico Road emporium which is a go-to destination for those wanting to achieve the country-house look. “For us, the focal point of the room will always be the chimneypiece anchored on a hearth. It doesn’t need to be flanked on either side by a matching piece of furniture, the balance can be created instead by the proportion and scale being mirrored either side. Colour is equally important. A marble bust and a vellum lampshade could hardly be more different and yet because they’re the same tone, there’s potential in their ability to balance a room.”

This approach is being embraced and tweaked by a new generation of decorators. Octavia Dickinson agrees that comfort is fundamental to country- house style. “I often approach a room like a beautiful painting, combining colours, textures and shapes in ways which delight the senses but never jar,” she says. “I like to make grand rooms feel less grand or vice versa and most importantly, comfortable; it’s home, after all!” Fabrics, too, want to be soft and flowing, with lots of florals and a mix of patterns that feel like they’ve been collected over time, she adds. Use natural finishes such as unlacquered antique brass, which weathers over time.

Henry Prideaux, who worked for Nicky Haslam and others before establishing his own practice, is known for his classic–meets–contemporary style. His approach is to rework the main country- house design tropes of florals, loose covers and antique furniture in an updated way. “Incorporate decorative trims and wallpaper borders to add detail. For example, I use grosgrain ribbon or patterned paper borders applied to frame doorways and embellish cornicing. Modern artwork and decorative lighting are also ways of adapting traditional country-house design for today.”

Grey chair and patterned wallpaper in a study.

Henry Prideaux created this maximalist Miss Marple-inspired study for a terraced house in Putney

Credit: Rooz Ahmadian

An escape to the country often conjures the image of a historic property with space to breathe; in old houses, this is particularly true of the bathroom, which is usually converted from a former bedroom. “For a bathroom that meets the brief, think freestanding,” says James Lentaigne, creative director of Drummonds. “Clawfoot baths are perfect for a long soak while gazing out at the garden, while freestanding showers and towel rails are also overwhelmingly popular. They have a certain historical grandeur but – most importantly – they sit harmoniously in the room without disrupting its character.”

Drummonds has also seen an increase over the last year in bathrooms designed for couples; a space to catch up during the morning and evening routine. “We’re increasingly selling double vanity basins, double showers and even side-by-side baths, particularly in country homes.”

Bathroom sink with Rameau Fleuri wallpaper and prints on the wall.

The Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler managing director created a rich backdrop to this bathroom using Rameau Fleuri wallpaper

Credit: Emma Burns

Finally, decorating a classic country house today means listening both to it and the client’s needs, says interior designer Flora Soames. “A house in the English countryside often speaks to me more than anywhere else in the world. It sets the boundaries within which you can play. But do push these boundaries with colour, pattern, playing with scale and introducing the unexpected; that is where it starts to become interesting.”

A modern country house in London 

When a French family relocated from America to Kensington, they appointed the multidisciplinary creative studio OWN London to renovate their outdated four-storey house. The resulting fusion of art, colour and functionality is a fun-filled and updated interpretation of country-house character distilled into an urban format.

Kitchen with green cupboards and shelving.

OWN London’s renovation of this four-storey Kensington family home features playful country manor touches

Credit: Darren Chung for One Menagerie

Associate director of interior design Alicia Meireles was responsible for the decorative schemes throughout the house. These range from slipcover chairs in a jaunty red-and-blue striped fabric by Studio Atkinson, a banquette upholstered in a Flora Soames design and console tables with bobbin legs by Alfred Newall. In a nod to the country houses of yesteryear, the team introduced a dumb waiter from the kitchen in the lower ground floor to the dining room on the raised ground floor.

Other country house elements which are increasingly finding their way into London properties include what once would have been called “domestic offices” such as laundry rooms, pantries and boot rooms. Typically, these will be located on the lower-ground floor. Nicky Dobree recently designed a boot room and laundry room in the basement of a London house. “It’s a luxury if space allows. We used Humphrey Munson and introduced fabrics to add layers and soften the timber.”

Country homes moodboard 

Get stately pile style with rich textures and prints alongside generous fittings and fixtures. 

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