Several months have passed since I started my relationship with the Gazette, and I must say that I have so enjoyed visiting with you every Saturday. I believe you have gotten to know me a bit as a designer—and, hopefully, a little bit as a person. One aspect of who I am may not have become apparent during my visits with you: I absolutely adore the English lifestyle, in fact I love it. I have told many dear friends and now I share this with you my readers. In my former life, I must have been English! I’m sure I lived in the English countryside, had horses and probably some chickens and called a cottage my home. This is more likely a dream, not really another life, but it’s a clear indication of strong connections to the English lifestyle. My Grandmother Robinson’s maiden name was Trowbridge, so very English. Perhaps that, along with my maiden name of Robinson, led to my English lifestyle appreciation. God Save the Queen!
Let me share with you the reason for my romance with the English way of life and maybe you might join me in my affection for it. I’ve observed that the English have two distinct sides to their lives: a properness and love for decorum balanced with such a relaxed yet beautiful way of everyday life in their homes. There is, most definitely, a recognizable trait to their country homes, including collections of heirlooms that blend beautifully with purchases made recently. Their homes aren’t rigid as some of our American homes can be. Color palettes are much easier and less demanding—meaning every red in the room does not match exactly and combinations of florals, stripes, plaids and detailed prints reside happily side by side. No complaining, just easily comingling together to create such a harmoniously pretty room. The English have a way of so effortlessly pulling rooms together—rooms without an ounce of contrived appearance. You’ll find no model home exactness to their homes, but you will see very old, stately pieces mixing so easily with one another. Perhaps a weathered sign from a bygone egg market hangs above a chintz sofa. Gentle, historical and, yes, pretty—oh so pretty! This is not a word we use to describe rooms as much anymore. And yes, like beauty, pretty is in the eye of the beholder.
So what items lovingly live in an English cottage and would allow our homes to say “Cheerio old chap!” Here is a list of my favorite English assets!
Staffordshire dogs (always a left and right, bought in pairs) and porcelain flatbacks from the Victorian period. Flatback figurines, as they are known, were made without decoration on the back because they were usually placed against a wall or the fireplace mantel wall in Victorian houses.
Hunting scenes in either oil or print. These depict horses and their riders in their lavish hunt wear gear, red jackets and all, dogs and foxes.
Chintzes. Yes, the lacquered fabrics of the 1980s are showing a rather shy return to home interiors.
Garden roses. Large, lovely garden roses in fabric design, wallpaper, needlepoint pillows and indeed fresh from the garden in a bouquet placed in crystal vases or any appropriate container.
English transferware, in tea services, chargers, pitchers, and of course dinner ware from companies like Spode. Pictorial and charming, so British!
Painted furniture. Think white-washed ivories and creams or soft pastel painted pieces with the translucent feel of water color.
Stained finishes in mahogany and cherry, classic 18th-century furniture, pieces that have stood the test of time. For some reason, these remarkable pieces seem to be more accepted along the East Coast and into the South. I really don’t know the reason for this preference.
Silver pieces, including trays, tea services, compotes and bud vases. Almost anything silver, with a tarnished patina or polished to a mirror like finish, says England.
Polished brass, yes polished brass, bold and beautiful and reappearing. With some new finishes making an appearance, dull and worn. I am telling you it is coming back just wait and see chum!
Needlepoint pillows or “cushions” as our friends across the pond call them! As detailed as a painting.
Slip-covered chairs and sofas along with upholstered headboards, which too may be slip-covered. Slip-covers that are fabricated from a lovely light and airy linen or well laundered cotton. Delightfully casual and yet elegant, it is the English way of doing things.
In addition to these items, what English home would dare be without a selection of teas and china cups for your afternoon beverage. The attention to detail and, yes, the time the English allow themselves to enjoy a wonderful cup of tea and some sweets. I have borrowed the following instructions from an Englishwoman on the art of preparing a proper cup of tea according to authentic English standards. Enjoy!
What you need:
A kettle (no microwaves, please).
A proper teapot (with more than one hole inside the spout!).
A tea cozy to keep the teapot warm (which can also warm your hands on a cold day).
Loose tea or loose tea bags (round tea bags with no tags, string, outer wrappings or staples).
A tea strainer if you use loose tea.
What to do:
1. Bring a freshly drawn kettle of water to a boil. THE WATER MUST BE BOILING!
2. Pour a small amount of the boiling water from the kettle into your proper teapot and swirl around.
3. Empty out the hot water from the teapot. This is called “warming the pot” and is absolutely essential. According to my expert you cannot make a nice cup of tea in a cold pot.
4. Return the kettle to the stovetop.
5. Bring the water in the kettle back to a boil. Our English expert could not emphasize enough the importance of having the water ABSOLUTELY BOILING before pouring on the tea in the pot—but beware of steam burns!
6. Place the tea bags (or loose tea leaves) in the warmed teapot. The number of bags or spoons full of tea will depend on the size of the teapot. (My English expert's rule of thumb is one tea bag or spoonful per cup of tea required. She added a bit more, as she enjoyed a strong cup of tea!)
7. With the tea bags/leaves in the pot, take the teapot to the kettle (not the other way round). Make sure the water is still boiling and pour it in the teapot. Replace the lid and immediately cover the teapot with the tea cozy.
8. Let the tea in the teapot stand for a few minutes for the tea to brew. The tea cozy will keep the tea warm for a long time.
9. Get out your teacup and saucer (preferably of the finest English bone china), pour a little milk (milk only never cream) into the cup (milk in first, please!) and then fill with the clear, hot, amber liquid of life! If using loose tea don't forget the tea strainer. Add sugar to taste and there you are! A nice cup of tea—all ready to drink!
The proper English preparation! Cheers!
I firmly believe that Ralph Lauren, a true blue American from the Bronx in New York, has captured the English way of living as skillfully as any U.K. resident. I thank Mr. Lauren for guiding us along the path of admiration for this way of life. A tiny tidbit for you: Mr. Lauren’s name is pronounced just like Lauren Hutton. Lots of people try very hard to French it up and say “La-RENN,” but it is not the correct pronunciation. Mr. Lauren’s birth name is “Lifschitz,” but his father changed their last name when Ralph was 15.
Regardless of the name and its pronunciation, this genius of fashion and home furnishings has invited us into the quintessential life of the English with his designs. Above all, Ralph Lauren has shown us how to blend and combine fabrics and patterns with the ease I believe he borrowed from the English (purely my observation!). Mr. Lauren has guided the American shopper toward home fashions that are not only timeless, but easy to live with. He is a gifted designer whom I believe has shown us that an English wool windowpane suiting plaid can live wonderfully on a wicker chair and be positioned next to a velvet sofa. Being thoughtful as well as daring with fabrics and prints—so English and so charming. My admiration for Mr. Lauren began in the mid 1970s and I have followed his brilliance to this day. My advice to you is quite simple: If you are as captivated as I am with the allure of the English way of life, look to Mr. Lauren for inspiration. His website will send you off shopping with a proper English accent!
I hope you take a bit of time and consider the beauty of the English-style home. I think you will find it blissfully content! Now, put the kettle on, pull out Grandmother’s china cup and saucer, and brew yourself some English delight. I leave you with some thoughts on the ritual of tea!
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
HYPERLINK "http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/159.Henry_James"Henry James, HYPERLINK "http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1434368"The Portrait of a Lady