Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nancy Lancaster - The Doyenne of Timeless Design




Do you ever look at some of today's interiors and think "Will this hold up in twenty years"?

One designer who was a master at creating a timeless, undecorated look was Nancy Lancaster. Her interiors were elegant yet comfortable, a bit timeworn but never shabby. I recently purchased a copy of Architectural Digest Country Homes and found these images of Lancaster's cottage, called the Coach House, on the grounds of Haseley Court (Lancaster once owned the main house at Haseley Court). To think that these photographs were taken twenty-six years ago! While the English Country House look may not appeal to everyone, one has to admit that the rooms don't look dated. They're rather like the Dorian Gray of interior design- the rooms don't seem to age. But what I think is most important about Lancaster's work is the appropriateness of it. The design is a perfect fit for the surroundings. And this was very much on the mind of Lancaster as she decorated her home. In describing the sitting room of her cottage, the inimitable Lancaster quipped "I won't put Chippendale mirrors in this room with no cornice. That would be like having pearls in a pigsty." You can't argue with the master.


The Sitting Room, sans Chippendale mirrors


Another view of the Sitting Room



The Dining Room with trompe l'oeil painted molding


The Master Bedroom


The Guest Room with a sweet floral print



Image of Nancy Lancaster at top by Cecil Beaton

21 comments:

  1. Jennifer, I agree! Personally I think I'm most drawn to her use of color. And the smaller (by Nancy standards) coach house is an inspiration to me :)

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  2. Courtney- I should have mentioned her use of color! Both she and John Fowler had such an eye for color.

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  3. That carpet in the dining room looks so modern! Lana

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  4. Lana- That's so true, and you can't beat the blue and white color combo. :)

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  5. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Love her, and the fact she was a big fan of yellow (as am I).

    But, the pictures hung so high in the floral bedroom drive me nuts.

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  6. Anon- I admit that when I was scanning these images in last night, I was thinking how the picture placement seemed kind of off here. It's rather "stepped" looking, but maybe if we saw the other half of the room it might seem more balanced. But yes, they're hung a bit high!

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  7. If you've ever seen a picture of the entire guest room, you will see that the art is actually balanced perfectly, absolutely symmetrical, and placed according to size. Besides, isn't quirkiness what one expects of an English country cottage? That divine imperfection and lack of pretense?

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  8. magnaverde5:03 PM

    The key to achieveing a 'timeless' of look is to never buy anything trendy, which, of course, used to be easier to avoid than it is now.

    The Tony Duquette-inspired holiday windows introduced his over-the-top style to a brand new audience larger by a full magnitude than any he ever had in his life, and those windows--& his original designs that were their inspiration--showed up in design blogs all over the world within a few days. But by late January I was already seeing dismissive comments from bored sophistos: "If I see one more reference to Tony Duquette, I'm gonna scream!" Odd how careers that once spanned 3 decades only last 3 weeks the second time around.

    If Nancy Lancaster's rooms have a longer shelf life than do others' rooms, it's for two reasons: there's seldom anything by which to date them & even though they're handsome, there's nothing in them that can be knocked off cheaply. The whole is greater than the sum of its partrs. When nothing is in style, nothing can go out of style.

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  9. Jennifer~
    I was probably one of the only teenagers ever who pored over Nancy Lancaster interiors and loved anything Colefax and Fowler! I was such a deco-nerd, and still am. This look is timeless - but I think maybe we are on the cusp of another huge resurgence of the widespread popularity of the English Country look. Chintz and florals seem to be coming "back" a little, don't you think? BTW, I just love her look in that photo.

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  10. Hi - I find that same amazement when I look at Frances Elkins interiors. Some pf the pictures could have been taken yesterday instead of 60 years ago. If you use classic antiques, your room will look timeless - it's that simple. Glad you're back.

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  11. Glad you are back,your posts are always so fab.Isn't the picture hung so high because Lancaster didn't want it on that jib door? So the symmetry flows from that particular utility?

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  12. I have always loved Nancy Lancaster's style. I also love reading about her and her family-what lives they lived! I often drive near her home in Virginia and think of her.

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  13. Barbara- I'm not sure. I need to look at the photo again b/c I missed the jib door!

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  14. Magnaverde- Excellent point and well said too. You're right- it can't really be dated b/c it's a timeless look.

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  15. Magnaverde's eloquent paragraphs ought to be embroidered in needlework for our permanent edification. Never has the fickleness of public taste been more adroitly exposed than in the Tony Duquette reference.
    It 's a sad truth that our enthusiasms wane after a time; what is smart one moment becomes commonplace the next, and lastly, outmoded. This occurs at an alarming pace nowadays.
    The other "secret" to Mrs Lancaster's rooms is Character, and that can be said of nearly any timelessly lovely room.

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  16. Toby- Yes, character. Lancaster's rooms certainly did not lack this!

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  17. Fabulous post! Lancaster had such great taste - I especially liked your likening it "Dorian Gray" interiors which is so appropriate. I like the eclectic sitting room. Love the flower print in the guest room although if I were to stay in there, I think my eyes might get a bit tired from overload on the print.

    Great post!

    Karen

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  18. I love Nancy Lancaster. Does anyone have any great photos of Nancy, and/or her "beloved" Mirador. Mirador was always her favorite home. Thanks.

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  19. Anonymous10:31 AM

    Based on this post, I just ordered my own copy of AD Country Homes from Amazon (under $6, including shipping!). Of course I'm already familiar with the Coach House rooms, but one can never have too much Nancy.

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  20. Anonymous11:49 PM

    How can anyone interested in design not be fascinated by English Country House Style?...Based on the notion that one takes all the lovely family pieces from granny's attic and sprinkles them through cleverly painted and papered rooms...A few strong,admirable furnishings...A perfect Venetion mirror,a well-seasoned Persion carpet,some 17th-20th century furniture...Whatever is magical and well loved...Nearly fool proof...

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