Wednesday, September 07, 2011

In Memoriam: Tom Parr

Last Friday, I learned that the great English decorator, Tom Parr, had died in late July. My friend Will Merrill emailed me a link to Parr's obituary in The Telegraph. (Click here if you would like to read it.) A short time later, Toby Worthington also emailed me a link to The Telegraph article. What strange timing that many of us learned of his death a week after the obituary was published and more than a month after his death.

Parr was, to borrow Toby Worthington's description, "one of the last of the gentleman decorators." (According to his obituary, Parr preferred the term "decorator" to "interior designer.") After making a splash on the design scene with an early partnership with David Hicks, Parr went on to become Chairman of the venerable British design firm Colefax and Fowler.

I have featured Parr's work in past blog posts, but I think we should revisit it. His work possessed such finesse. His attention to detail, whether it be in the elaborate edging of a curtain or a decorative finish on a chair, lent polish to his interiors. And what is even more refreshing is that his design schemes don't appear to have been crafted for the sole purpose of publication. Rather, he worked to give his clients comfortable and refined environments in which to live with ease.

It seems too that Parr could be quite witty. When discussing suitability in design, he once said "What is maddening is when people want something that cannot be done in a particular space. Some people buy a cottage in the country and want it to look like a Hollywood villa. And there's that awful idea of putting double basins in a very small bathroom. Why? What is the point, unless the people are going to have a race to see who can do their teeth first." Good point and one that I had never considered before.

Below is a brief survey of his some of his interiors. Unfortunately, my library seems to be lacking in books featuring Parr's work. Thanks to Mr. Worthington's impressive design library, we were able to flesh this post out with some memorable examples.

The images above, including the photo at top, show Parr's flat in Eaton Square. Note that striking carpet in photos #3 and #4; named "Rocksavage", it's a replica of the carpet at Cholmondeley Castle.

A more recent photo of Parr in the famous Yellow Room at Colefax and Fowler. It was Parr who, in the early 1960s, recommended that the firm purchase the lease to their showroom at 39 Brook Street in Mayfair. The showroom remains at that location today.

A drawing room in a Swiss villa that was decorated by Parr. Again, "Rocksavage" carpet was used. According to Mr. Worthington, the velvet was stamped in Parr's favorite "Sans Gene" pattern.

Parr also designed a converted vicarage home for the Earl and Countess of Wilton.

Designed by Parr in the late 1960s, the decor of the drawing room at Easton Grey (an 18th century house owned by Didi and Peter Saunders) still looks fresh today.

A drawing room in a stone manor house near Bath that was decorated by Parr.

In this bedroom at Chicheley Hall in Buckinghamshire, Parr created a lighter look by painting the room's original c. 1720 paneling in tones of blue. "Charlotte" chintz was used throughout the room.

The dining room in "The Cottage" at Badminton. Parr decorated it for the Somersets before David Somerset became Duke of Beaufort, at which time the family moved into the grander Badminton House. The Duke and Duchess of Beaufort were long-time clients of Parr.

A Parr decorated drawing room at Albany, London.

A more exotic Parr scheme in the Turkish Room at a Mayfair flat. The chairs were Colefax copies of an 18th c. century chair bought by Parr at Sotheby's 25 years earlier.

The first four photos of Parr's Eaton Square flat are from Living in Vogue by Judy Brittain and Patrick Kinmonth. Image #5 from a 1994 World of Interiors brochure published in conjunction with Colefax & Fowler; Jan Baldwin photographer. Images 6-12 from The House and Garden Book of Classic Rooms . Photos of the Chicheley Hall bedroom and the dining room at "The Cottage" at Badminton are from Colefax & Fowler: The Best in English Interior Decoration. Albany drawing room plus Parr quote from World of Interiors, September 1984, James Mortimer photographer. Last two photos of Turkish Room from World of Interiors, August 1987. I would like to thank Toby Worthington for providing me with most of these images.


  1. A 'decorating' genius and the master of the English interior....xv

  2. As I commented at The House of Beauty and Culture when it linked to Mr. Parr's obituary last week, I was actually reading your posts on David Hicks before crossing over to that site and that piece of sad news

    I've been in a number of rooms with work similar to that done by Parr, but his nous for decoration, which Toby Worhtington and you have given me a needed exposure to, isn't easily replicated or matched. Thank you for this excellent article

    All best,


  3. Beautiful images. He was one of our design greats and am so sad to hear about his passing.

  4. Thanks for this post!
    A great recap of the work of a wonderful talent.
    I wonder, are their any pictures of his work when he was with Hicks?

  5. I, too, have been an admirer of the work of Tom Parr. Along with the late David Hicks and a young David Mlinaric, his kitchen in his house in France is featured in the bookThe Englishman's Room by Alvilde Lees-Milne and Derry Moore (published by Viking in 1986.)
    Of the rooms you have shown here, the blue & white bedroom is my ideal bedroom (I wish!)
    Margaret P

  6. Tom Parr was great for Colefax & Fowler, doing a fantastic job in continuing the tradition while shoring it up financially and providing the products that we all so appreciate to this day. And I must also comment on the quality of the writing of the obituary in The Telegraph, much better than usually seen in newspapers in this country. Thanks to you and Toby Worthington for putting this tribute together.

  7. Barima, Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree that this look isn't easily replicated. It takes a real genius like Parr was to execute these kinds of rooms!

  8. Devoted- It was a well-written obit, wasn't it?

    Will- If you search my blog for "Parr", you'll find some photos of the work that he and Hicks did together. The photos came from the most recent David Hicks book.

  9. Anonymous10:40 AM

    'Living in London'(T&H 1990) by Lesley Astaire has some photos of a number of very charming rooms in a Regent's Park terrace designed by Parr ca 1970 (p 102)

  10. Anon- Thank you for alerting us to this book. I'm off to find a copy online right now!

  11. A grand man + great taste = A winning combination.

  12. It seems to me that Tom Parr's great contribution
    was his skill at taking pretty, lighthearted materials
    and using them in a bold, robust manner. The red
    drawing room at Albany may have curtains in Bailey
    Rose, but there is nothing "girly" about the effect!
    If more people studied his work, they might lose their
    aversion to that evil thing called Chintz.

  13. Once, long ago, I was in a Parr-decorated apartment on Park Avenue in New York City, and that visit remains one of the highlights of my life. Brilliant red room, masses of chintz, enormous ceramic shell planters set atop half-size bookcases set perpendicular to the walls. It was a vibrant, bold, extravagant space, enormously comfortable.

  14. Beautiful English rooms. He seemed to have the perfect pitch in color and details. Perhaps Mario Buatta studied his notebooks.

  15. Jennifer, I am deeply grateful to you for posting the recent news of Tom Parr, and for posting some of his work. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Parr at the firm, which forever changed my direction in life. Colefax and Fowler, like Parish Hadley and Mario Buatta, changed for the better interiors in America. I hope a revival in style and dignity will soon replace all the "trash" on HGTV for if generations of tastemakers loose sight of the past, everyone looses.

    Design schools today seem more interested in technology than history. So also do so many of the celebrated decorators making handsful of money today. There is so much to be learned from the greats of the past to move us forward without being bombarded by what is presented today in interiors and in fashion.

  16. Toby- I agree; when did chintz become a four-letter word?

    Aesthete- What a beautiful room! You're so fortunate that you have seen his work in person!

  17. Bob- So true and I agree with you. I can't imagine going to design school and not studying the history of design!

  18. Gorgeous and charming rooms -- so warm and welcoming! Each one is a study in the balance between art and the science of decorating -- alchemy at its best!

  19. Of course fascinated with these pictures. Once again thanks.

  20. absolutely stunning.