The Classic British Interior Design -“The Country House Style”
In amongst the canon of recognizable and timeless interior styles is the one often referred to as “country house” which generally is identified as a British invention. Of course there are country houses in other nations, but often these are frequently further subdivided into categories such as “Chateau style” or “Gustavian” or “Provencal”
There is also an inbuilt suggestion that these are not the very grandest country houses (or palaces) such as, for instance, Castle Howard, Blenheim, Harewood or Chatsworth, but more the slightly more homely (but still aspirational) and traditional versions such as Blickling, Gunby, Compton Wynates and their ilk. Belonging to the minor gentry and the well-connected political class, these houses were often the weekend retreat from the London town house, and although designed partially for show, were predominantly family homes that had been inherited or purchased with professional funds.
The architectural period of the country house is actually not so important, the ethos of a comfortable and well-thought space furnished tastefully is importable to many different styles, from medieval through to Victorian. The “country house” style does not make reference to a particular period, as it suggests a feeling rather than precise historical detail. Like much good interior design, the ability to create an atmosphere and an immersive experience is vital in capturing this style, but at the same time by not trying too hard, or look “forced”.
Unlike many interior design styles, the “country house” style is very specifically a “non-design” category, the main aim to look as though no design has been applied to the space, and to create the illusion that the room or rooms have evolved over time with an organic accumulation of layered tone of colour and interesting and tasteful objects and furniture. The idea of “planning” a room is almost anathema to the concept of the country house. Because houses were often inherited, so were the items inside, and the addition to the collection by subsequent generations meant that by design, the new purchases often complemented the extant ones. The slow and very gentle degeneration of fabrics, materials and colours through fading in country houses is a very desirable feature. Within the antiques trade, furniture is often referred to as being in “country house condition” which is effect means almost falling to pieces, but just the right side of unusable. It could mean the patina on a piece of wood or the wear down to almost nothing on a stone sink.
Perhaps the height of country house style was in the late Victorian and Edwardian era when the accumulated “stuff” of so many generations hit its greatest amount and the epithet of “more is more” was never truer. The last great phase of house building, there were even more large houses to be filled and, more wealthy industrials with aspirations to have “country houses”
The quintessential decorators of country house style were the traditionalists such as Geoffrey Bennison, and Colefax and Fowler, and more recently Robert Kime and Nicky Haslam, who have brought clever tricks to the style by using more exotic colours and objects from further afield, not just from Europe.
There is no doubt that this is still a popular and very valid style, and should you have an interior that needs a soft and accommodating feel, it’s a very good choice. Applying a modern twist to this approach is also very interesting, many designers choosing to juxtapose extremely contemporary art into this setting.