Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Appreciating John Fowler

One thing that I will never understand is why someone would move into a great old house and discard the good stuff. By that I mean a fabulous wallpaper, a good old linoleum floor, even antique or vintage bath fixtures. Perhaps some people think that old things have no value, or maybe it's an ego thing- the homeowner wants everything to bear his or her stamp. It's wasteful and in some ways disrespectful to the history of the house.

That's why I'm always pleased to read about homeowners who have no intention of stripping the life out of their homes. In the October issue of Tatler, there's a great article on
Cornbury, the Oxfordshire, England estate of the Cayzer family (Robin, 3rd Baron Rotherwick, and Tania, Lady Rotherwick). The house has only been in the family since 1967, though it dates back to the 15th c. Another claim to fame? It's the last house decorated by John Fowler. And guess what? They've kept Fowler's handiwork. Still installed are his magnificent curtains, bed hangings, even upholstered dog "pavilions". (Anyone who would be crazy enough to get rid of a John Fowler curtain deserves to be taken out behind the woodshed. Just my opinion.) But rather than seeming stuffy or old, the house's interiors seem fresh, comfortable, and welcoming.

Rotherwick says of Fowler's work: "It's so amazing you literally can't change anything. The most I've been able to do is put a bunch of flowers in a vase and decorate my own study." Amen. Obviously, the Cayzers and their young family seem quite happy in their home that was decorated decades ago. And why wouldn't they? I just hope that others will follow suit.

The Drawing Room

The Yellow Room's bathroom

The famous dog pavilion. Also, don't you love the armchair's fabric?

Harriette Cayzer's bedroom. She's 23, and you can tell that she appreciates her Fowler room.

Image at top: The family in the master bedroom. All images from Tatler, Oct 2009, James Merrell photographer.


  1. I agree totally. Fowler's work is worth preserving forever. And isn't that wallpapered bathroom chic? Worth spending the whole day in.

  2. Amen! I wouldn't touch a Fowler home either! All of those rooms are perfection.

    Please give me some tips on working around our old linoleum kitchen floors!!

  3. J Tackett12:05 PM

    What a treat to see those beautiful rooms preserved! One of my favorite John Fowler rooms was the great hall at Syon House with a wonderful black and white marble floor. Fowler had the architectural elements of the walls painted in about 6 colors of almost-white with subtly magnificent results. Sadly, the room has recently been re-schemed, I understand.

  4. Amen! Unbelievably sumptuous! Thanks.

  5. Over twenty years ago John Cornforth wrote of his dismay at seeing some of John Fowler's most carefully considered work obliterated. The very idea of re-thinking the great hall at Syon House gave me a sinking feeling when I read J Tackett's comment. That room had nothing to do with interior decoration in the usual sense; it was all about the balance of architectural elements in those subtle shades of white (I counted 9 including the ceiling ribs). I cannot imagine how to improve upon it.
    Oftentimes the redecoration offers a valid challenge ~think of Mongiardino's work at Daylesford for instance, which replaced something brilliant with something equally brilliant, but in a different way.

  6. Absolutely the right philosophy, xv.

  7. The yellow room's bathroom is amazing! Love the wallpaper!

  8. it is a delight to see people with such a clear respect for one of the design legends of our time.

    The window treatments. The astonishing textiles. The romantic bed hangings. And you've GOT to love that wondrous dog bed. (well, it's almost a 'dog shrine.')

  9. Love the dog pavillion. I've always been looking for one

  10. If I were fortunate enough to live in a house decorated by the legendary Fowler, I feel certain I would not want to change anything.

  11. Jennifer, why not do a series of post entitled "Behind the Woodshed", in which insensitive home owners are politely taken to task? ( I loved you saying that.) The Rotherwicks are clearly an exception to the rule, because from all I have read, it's become quite the sport in UK design circles to denounce Mr Fowler.

  12. Anonymous10:39 AM

    Amen. Whenever I see a spread in one of the shelter mags of some couple or individual, abetted by their highly-paid decorator, who's torn everything out of a perfectly good house, I can tell it's an ego thing. God forbid they should have to live with someone else's choices, or respect a suitable design. I think the most egregious example of this was in the latest Vogue book of houses, where someone took a gorgeous apartment that had once been inhabited by the Guests and completely obliterated it and made it into an anonymous shell of modern design, "fabulous" art notwithstanding.

  13. If it ain't broke...

    The paisley chair is a delight.

    Bathroom? ... Good Lord! That's the bath?! I will keep the lights off the next time I enter mine for fear of great disillusionment.

  14. This is gorgeous, and thank goodness they appreciate living in such a piece of art. They really have taken such immaculate care of all the finishes and upholstered pieces.

  15. Anonymous3:10 PM

    Hallelujah!!! I'm so glad to read this good news! Thank you for bring this forward, I would have missed it with out your blog! The pale blue room with the ice blue curtins trimmed in white are surreal! They are so BEAUTIFUL! Thank You!

  16. Oh If only I had a John Fowler designed room....!


  17. So admirable & so refreshing. Europeans are so much better at not throwing out the 'kitchen sink' so to speak. As Americans, we tend to tear down & out & change much more often. Thanks for sharing these incredibly spaces with us. It's like a glimpse of history.

  18. I've just found your blog. It is a true gem in the cyber world. I leave a small Swedish footprints behind me. I will be back!

    Greetings from Sweden & Agneta

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