The designer Jasper Conran O.B.E. is the author of Country ( Conran Octopus, 2010), still the very best book of its kind and a subject on which he is eloquent. He says that country life is about ‘getting back to the root of what makes us tick.’ Now read on:
Waking up this morning I realised that our house, the things in it and I have much in common. We are mostly chipped, frayed at the edges, quite old and sometimes, especially in my case, desperately in need of restoration.
This however is the way I like it, I find houses and furniture and objects that have lived a life and have stories to tell far more attractive than the shiny and new.
It was ever thus. As a very small boy old houses and especially country houses and their settings were a primary obsession.
It has been my good fortune to know most of the undisputed Kings and Queens of British style from an early age. Firstly Christopher Gibbs and Peter Hinwood with their unrivalled savour fair in how rooms and furniture and objects should be put together and insistence on the value of charm, provenance and patina above all else, whether in an 18th century rug, a 16th century Persian tile or Marie Antoinette’s marble milking table from the Hameau at Versailles.
Peter’s flat in London has always been my favourite interior of all time with its arsenic green walls, softest pink kitchen with checker board floor and bold coloured stripes chairs and sofas….I love it so much that I have made a Peter Hinwood tribute library which he promises to move into very soon.
Then lately Edward Hurst and Will Fisher (always ‘Dolly’ to me), who have always advocated the sleepy, the gentle and the dusty. It has been my privilege to have spent nearly every Friday afternoon for almost ten years with the poised and elegant Edward discussing variously William Kent at Rousham, the differing merits of the great 18th century designer/makers, door handles, panelling, leaded glass, chinoiserie and just about anything else house related.
His knowledge of his subject and the detail that he insists on going into is spellbinding and our lunches have without a doubt been a great benchmark of happiness in my life.
Other Gods of insouciant style who take human form are Isabel and Julian Bannerman whose deceptively casual and practically thrown together approach to home making leave one drowning in wonder and admiration.
The Bonnie and Clyde of garden design have eyes as precise and exact as Exocet missiles when it comes to spotting a 17th century bust sulking in a corner of some forgotten antique shop, which on arriving home gets slung in to just the right endroit surrounded by absolutely perfect neighbours.
Their several stately homes have all been marvellous, apparently nonchalantly put together places without (supposedly) a tremendous amount of planning and with as little dusting as possible. Isabel giggles at my house-proud ways and frankly she is right to but, hey ho…..
Tessa Traeger and Patrick Kinmonth have been great mentors to me. This friendship has lasted for over forty years, packed full of belly aching laughter and sharing of beauty. They have been unfailingly generous all this time in steering me towards imagery, music, textiles, food and flowers.
Things that I didn’t know existed before and might never have known of had it not been for them. Their sublime manor in Devon is an object lesson in how to live; restrained when it should be yet completely unrestrained when strictly necessary.
Following on from there is the Master of Design, David Mlinaric whose encyclopedic knowledge of historic detail is delivered with thoughtfulness, politeness and rapier sharp accuracy. His patience also appears to have no bounds, my favourite expression of his being “Oh, do you really think so?” David’s contribution to this country’s beautiful buildings has been, in my view, sans pareil.
The great Pasha of Tangier, Gordon Watson is frankly something quite out of the ordinary. He is one of my dearest friends who does not live in this country. The house and garden that he built in that fabled city is a wonderland of disparate objects from all countries and many centuries, festooned liberally around the all of the rooms.
The marvellous thing about him is that EVERYTHING in his house is for sale and so going for a drink there always feels somehow profitable as one leaves clutching an embroidery of a parrot or a charming water colour of a ferret.
Nicky Haslam really knows about the art and design of living well.
It was he who pointed out to me that furniture in the garden is just as useful as in the house “Darling Jazzy, do you think that we might have somewhere to sit outside?” An important Nicky lesson is that a well-stocked and readily available drinks tray is easily the most important accoutrement in the home “Daisy Fellowes told me that and of course she was absolutely right.”
I suppose that what links all these terrific people together is that their taste and style has never been about being monied (though in most of their cases money does help) but by truly creating HOMES not showplaces and a real appreciation and love of the manmade objects that they deal in, or the houses they decorate.
They have been and are a continual source of inspiration and hilarity to me and for that I am eternally grateful. Finally, let’s have a shout out for Min Hogg who really set the ball rolling when she started ‘The World of Interiors’. What a woman, what a star. With her slightly smudged ruby red lips, her headscarf, fag, ubiquitous smock and BRILLIANT eye she was quite as big a shockwave to interiors as Diana Vreeland was to fashion and her influence is possibly felt even more now than when she started her magazine many, many moons ago.
Grateful thanks to Jasper Conran,
All photographs and text copyright Jasper Conran.