Tuesday, 30 July 2013


John Fowler  (Colefax and Fowler) was one of my heroes when I first became aware of houses and their furnishings and I would admire greatly his restorations of grand old houses, usually illustrated in the magazine Country Life, way before the birth of World of Interiors and other glossy decorating magazines.   It wasn't just the attractive patterns of the fabrics and the elegant accessories he used with good traditional furniture - it was the care and knowledge and research that he gave to all these period projects, working with scraps of old covers, snippets of fine curtains and scrapings of paints, to achieve the authentic restoration of many famous rooms in stately homes. He also had the ability to innovate where necessary to provide comfortable accommodation for his clients.  He could draw and paint, and no doubt was handy with pins and needles to demonstrate his famous silk curtains which were sometimes based on 18thC. draped dresses.His own cottage orne was testimony to his invention and perfect taste.
 He was a man who would climb a ladder to check on the plasterwork, search the attics for forgotten treasures and scrape panelling  to re-create the original paint.  When I saw the pictures of Daylesford in Glos. now the home of Lady  Bamford, but formerly Lord Rothermere's property, I was completely bowled over by the beauty of the rooms and their restoration by him, to look like the original home of Warren Hastings  No expense was spared and much of the original ebony and ivory inlaid Indian furniture was sought out and returned to the rooms.  It was lovely, and it had the very special feature of a Morning Room and an Evening Room!

I had a bit of luck at the London 'Little Chelsea' Fair which I attended for about 20 years,  when I was offered 6 identical-sized Colefax chintz covered screens by a man who told me they had been cleared from 'that Mountbatten place', which I presumed was Broadlands.   Lady Louis must have ordered them for the bedrooms in the 20s. newly married,  all to match the curtains or wallpapers, and to conceal the marble basins and bidets in the corners of her spare rooms,  The exquisite patterns were early Victorian, rosebuds, lily of the valley, etc., and what made the fabrics special was that each one had a very fine background pattern, often stylised leaves or little spots or a fine trellis, which gave them extra depth and quality.  They did not last long with me and my buyers were so happy to have their touch of Colefax.  I thus had an insight into the detail that went into the design of the original Victorian creations and have judged fabrics and wallpapers by these standards ever since!
  I could not help trying to find things that reminded me of Fowler's 'look' and so I did a corner of my sitting room up with the famous chintz  'Hollyhocks', (Warner's, then Lee Jofa and Claremont copied it) for curtains and cushions,  a painted chest in those exact colours, turquoise and Chinese red,  fine needlework cushions, a little French 'canape' settee upholstered in striped turquoise C.and F. cotton, (not shown) and an Edwardian caned and trellised pair of armchairs in the Venetian style,with the same striped cotton,  and a background of Colefax wide- striped duck egg wallpaper round the room.   A pretty piece of porcelain on an elegant candlestick table (not shown) was my final touch!  My modest tribute to a great artist.

Monday, 29 July 2013


WHAT DO I DO WITH MY TICKING LEFT-OVERS AFTER I HAVE MADE THE CUSHIONS WHICH ARE THE LEFT-OVERS OF BIG CHAIR COVERS which in turn can be the left-overs of long curtains???  I am a big re-cycler and know I am unlikely to find many more good tickings so I use every scrap! On my trips to France, on the rather boring ferry crossing, I take a few strips of ticking, a 'bandage' of curtain interlining 'bump' cloth, scissors,strong needle and linen thread and work two or three old wooden clothes hangers while I sip my first French coffee and maybe partake of a croissant.. you just wind the bump round the end folding in the end bit like a firm bandage, wind along the main curved top and finish with another bandage fastening at the far end - a stitch or two is a good idea. You then get a narrow bit of cloth about twice the width of the bar, and at least one and a half times as long, turn the raw edges in along the top edge stitching and gathering the fabric as you go., so that it forms a long sleeve. Provided you do the stitching fairly close and evenly, it adds to the 'couture' look to see it, and you will find clothes do not slip off the hanger. I use these hangers for my French smock shirts and other costume items. They often elicit comments on the boat! I would like to find the thin plastic white tubing to cover the metal hook, know where to find it???  Bump is the thick soft white cotton material used to give warmth and body to curtains.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

An Ebay project

Edwardian recliner easy chair with newish velour upholstery!
    My shopping list for a new spare bedroom! A large wardrobe with mirror, and a dressing table with swing mirror - I found a matching pair on Ebay after a week of searching, both had small glazed windows so I can curtain those with some French red/white gingham to give that Frenchy look! The wardrobe will also show off a lining of red/white pin stripe cotton stretched over the inner panels, edges trimmed with some coarse red braid removed from French case covers, all drawers lined with fresh pink wallpaper so my visitors will find spaces that are light and clean with no horrid dust and spiders in the corners!
Will illustrate when job is done! These two large
items cost me about £150 plus carriage - not bad!  I then installed a really stylish recliner chair, inlaid show wood, with new designer velour striped covers by Vanoutryve, pure Edwardian, (under £80) with casters and adjustable back rest; a spare pretty old French easy chair, chauffeuse, for chatting, covered in an old toile with the original leading edge frill round the base making it cosy and feminine, a couple of small tables with lamps for reading, sewing, or writing, all within easy reach of the two easy chairs, white wicker w.p.b. and laundry basket and the most difficult to find of all, a pair of good quality white wicker bedside tables to hold frilly white lamps.  see previous BLOG.

      Edwardian dressing table, swing mirror and large deep drawers on 4 casters.

Edwardian wardrobe to be lined!
There are masses of Lloyd Loom tables on Ebay but most appeared so shabby and very small, and the better ones were often near to £100, or more, so I was very pleased when I found two excellent ones up North under £50, near a granddaughter who was kind enough to bring them down to me at the next family gathering - for free and a big hug! for picture see Blog Spare a thought
 With two of my vintage lacy dowry sheets from France and a couple of pink blankets on the bed it has already been used (and admired) by two lady friends for overnight stays. I enjoyed the auction side of the dealing, but soon became aware that cheating and fraud are also part of the scene out there, and wished I had more experience to keep pace with a fast-moving business. So next Blog is teaching my grandmother to.....

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Some spare rooms are charming, some are not much more than areas for storing surplus furniture and others are temporary work rooms, sewing rooms or studios which never reach any status; I have recently had the pleasure of making a new spare room out of the first floor showroom once used to display my old French textiles. I already had a rather pretty, if fanciful, Zoffany wallpaper with raspberry red butterflies flitting over a cream background; the toile curtains were already there, a favourite chinoiserie design of elephants, palms and pagodas, also in the same shade of pinky red, so furniture was the priority. The room is a Georgian square one with high moulded ceilings and two sash windows on two facing walls and a door leading to the ensuite bathroom. which we installed two years ago with this conversion in mind. The carpet is a light mushroom and all the woodwork, including shutters, white. First was the bed, which I bought a long time ago at a French fair during the lunch hour, when the family were tucking into a large spread on a big table and very reluctant to show their goods. I spied one toile end lying about on the grass (pretty grubby) and asked if there was any more to the bed; The dealer got to his feet very reluctantly and dragged out the other end from his van - were there any side pieces to hold a mattress? oh yes! also hidden in the big van! and what was the price? Perking up, he said I could have it all for 100F. I then riposted that the toile was in a shocking state and I would settle for 70 - deal done! It all sat with me for many years till I tackled it with vim, actually ogygen powder, Vanish, and vigour! The toile responded wonderfully as it was strong linen and could take a scrub of Vanish and many rinsings and came up a treat - the frame needed a base and I found an excellent business, 1 minute off the A303 at Percombe; Wessex Antique Beds, Stoke sub Hammdon, TA14 6RD which fitted a new smart blue/white ticking base at very low cost, and finally, I tried for the first time a 'memory' foam mattress in French 4' size, with washable cover, new, from Ebay delivered here in two days, only £60; I was so pleased with my Ebay purchase, I thought that as I find it difficult to leave home at present to go to auction rooms, I would use Ebay to furnish! The treasure hunt was on!

Sunday, 14 July 2013


No wonder artists have always been inspired by the warm Mediterranean colours of the South of France. You can see them in every village, on the shutters and doors, in the striped blinds, the arrays of ripe fruit and vegetables, and again in the Provencal costumes of the past - quilted skirts bunched up to show bright petticoats, cloaks of patchwork silks in the special capes from Arles, the little geometric and 'boteh' paisley patterns on the scarves, aprons and bonnets, all in wonderful sunny shades echoing the landscape, the ochre rocks, and flowers in the maquis wild vegetation, and the blue, blue sky. At present, the dealers complain that costume sells better than mere yardage - but where can they find clothes in good condition and in sizes fit for beefy anglo-saxons? No, they say, no-one wears this stuff, it just goes into collections and decorates empty spaces. It's a fashion!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Come clean!

During the seventies and eighties, bringing mixed loads back from the
brocantes of France was quite exciting, as I might discover some lovely handwork hidden amongst the linen, elaborate initials, insertions, drawn thread work; but it also involved several days of hard work. Often smelly and dirty, sometimes stained with rust and mildew, it was all unpacked out of the tied-up bin bags that we used to transport it in, outside in the garden. There I fixed up an old bath and garden hose and filled it with cold water and put all to soak for at least one day - or longer, if the stains had not disappeared. This soaking is a very important part of the cleaning process as the hard dry fibres need to soften up and release the inner dirt slowly but surely. If you have quilts (or the famous Provencal boutis, you cannot always do this without getting lumps within (unless all wool,) but my expert quilt dealer Jen Jones from Wales, (see her wonderful Website http://www.jen-jones.com/ ), tells me to go on spraying cold water on any offending stain, out in the fresh air on a good drying day, flat on the grass, till it disappears. Then for linen and hemp, I give a good long, very hot, wash with a non-bleach powder in my super industrial size General Electric (USA make) machine, rinse and spin, then heave outside to blow in the sun and wind on the longest washing line in the county. I prefer top loaders which are more economical as I can stop and check how things are going. The wet sheets are extremely heavy so be careful not to over-ballance your washing tub - to fill the tub, I find the best way is to lift the sheet up by its centre, letting the rest fall to the floor, then drop all carefully round the centre of my top loader, without winding any folds round the central hub; that way the sheet is in an even loose shape and does not get strained and the motor can cope and spin well at the end. A quick soak in a strong oxygen -based stain remover in a basin copes with obstinate stains and I have a wonderful French rust stain remover. (More laundry lore anon).

Friday, 12 July 2013


I confess that all aprons and workwear have a special appeal to me and in France they come in a wide variety of material, size and shape both for men and women. Many are for a specific job and to me, are a sort of link with the daily work and lives of past generations. My collection includes a lot of indigo linen, straight long aprons for cooks and gardeners, with a large semi-circular pocket in front;  women's everyday cream linen and hemp on a waistband, usually with a neat cross-stitch initial and two pockets;  then the housemaids' and waitress' whitest lawn with bibs, frills and bow ties, and pretty circular pockets. Butchers and chefs had strong hemp wrapover styles with one side higher, or doubled front, for protection from knives and hot dishes. The women in Brittany wore little black gathered satin cotton ones over their button-up overall black dresses and there are still hundreds of the cheap and cheerful printed cotton overalls worn before the last war around - worth gathering for an archive of pretty 1930.s patterns. Almost all trades had their distinctive protective workwear and aprons and one of the grandest is the wine sommelier's from a good restaurant who had a black linen one with leather belt, and pockets for the corkscrews and napkin.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


I wrote in a recent post about cow coats and sacks, see Money for old rope and wished I could find more of the lovely striped heavy hemp material in good condition. Lo and behold! I have just acquired a huge roll of over 30m. with the dashing dark blue and red stripes, enough to decorate a barn and seating on a grand scale and I am so pleased - It's extraordinay how things do turn up if you are ready to grab them there and then - I'm afraid I'm always telling my customers that if they see something old they really like, they should go for it there and then, it is very rare for such items to be found a second time - they all go back to pre-war days and so many of the huge reserves and stores have now been turned out to make way for new, cheaper, easier to maintain articles . If these sacks were used for potatoes and root vegetables long ago, they have certainly been replaced with plastic sacks and most burnt or gone to the rubbish dumps. This is the stuff that was used for upholstering terrace chairs of a Pacific Ocean house by my client for a famous musical composer who likes cats.