Friday, 25 March 2016

'John Fowler, Prince of Decorators'

Perhaps because I'm about to embark on a major redecoration of my house, but my passion for Interior Design has burst back into life and it has expressed itself, naturally enough for me, in book buying. A just over a week ago a hardback edition of book 'John Fowler, Prince of Decorators', by Martin Wood arrived.  It is a sumptuous thing, full of beautiful photography.  Full too of ideas.
John Beresford Fowler, 1906-1977 was the leading traditional interior decorator for about fifty years in the mid-century.  That doesn't mean that he was not innovative; the 'Country House Style' that seems so much a permanent part of the English scene is largely his development. Honed over a number of years it didn't reach its maturity until the 1950s, though he started his career in the early 1930s. His professional career was dominated (possibly too strong a word but they were both so very important in the formation of his taste and decorating style) by two women, Sibyl Colefax and Nancy Lancaster.  It was with the later he created what has often been called one of the finest rooms in London: the Yellow Room at Colefax and Fowler.  His work was, unsurprisingly, by and large domestic. In addition to any number of private clients he worked on a number of schemes for The National Trust.  Rarely did he do anything of a public or monumental nature apart from the odd commission for a select number of Oxbridge colleges.  If the photographs in the book are any to go by this was a shame.  His knowledge was vast and intuitive, and, I think, seldom wrong.
John talked about 'humble elegance', and perhaps of all his work it was most on display in the home and garden he created at 'The Hunting Lodge' a remarkable early 18th century building - Neo-Jacobean - an eye catcher that originally formed part of the lanscaping at Dogmersfiled Park.  He bought it in 1947 rescuing from near neglect, furnishing it in exquisite taste and laying out a superb garden with a great lawn flanked by lines of pleached hornbeam leading down to a lake.  (I don't think that he, or David Hicks (more anon) for that matter, is given enough credit as a garden designer.) It continued as his weekend retreat until his death when it was bequeathed it to the National Trust.  The current tenant is Nicky Haslam.
Although John was heavily influenced by eighteenth century and early nineteenth English taste (no William Morris fabric visible in this book) to be honest Fowler's taste isn't quite mine, and very often it is just too fussy for me.  I think my taste is just that little bit more severe, and that is often the benefit of having a book like this; it hones one's own taste.

John Fowler, Prince of Decorators

Author: Martin Wood
Pub:      Frances Lincoln Ltd, London, 2007

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