Nancy Lancaster’s design rules
If you oohed and aahed over our Tribute to Nancy Lancaster look for spring, but were left wondering about the woman behind the design, then allow us to enlighten you. A design pioneer of the 1920s, Nancy Lancaster established what is known as English Country House style, an aesthetic that swept away the stately stiffness of the Victorian age and captured the relaxed spirit of English country life. The style is a whimsical mix of grand, bold and dilapidated (think shabby edged upholstery and time-worn antiques), all held together in a witty and comfortable way. Nancy lived by her seven cardinal design rules, all of which can be applied to both country and urban interiors today.
Nancy’s country homes were designed for entertaining (including the likes of Winston Churchill, who used her residence as a wartime retreat) and her compositions made people feel they could just throw themselves onto sofas and chairs – the furniture arranged for chatter, reading and playing games. She combined comfort and elegance; at the time, this was considered a design revelation. Modern plumbing and central heating were installed in her country home to combat the English damp. Bathrooms were transformed from sterile, utilitarian spaces into feminine, welcoming retreats with carpets, books, paintings and open fires. Colour, a lightness of touch and astute sense of scale were used to create the unexpected. Nancy’s most notable designs include Kelmarsh Hall, Ditchley Park, Hasley Court and the yellow drawing room at Avery Row in Mayfair.
Nancy’s seven design rules
In restoring a house, one must first realize its period, feel its personality, and try to bring out its good points.
Decorating must be appropriate.
Scale is of prime importance, and I think that oversized scale is better than undersized scale.
In choosing a colour, one must remember that it changes in different aspects.
Understatement is extremely important, and crossing too many T’s and dotting too many I’s make a room look overdone and tiresome. One should create something that fires the imagination without overemphasis.
I never think that sticking slavishly to one period is successful; a touch of nostalgia adds charm. One needs light and shade, because if every piece is perfect, the room becomes a museum and lifeless.
A gentle mix of furniture expresses life and continuity, but it must be a delicious mixture that flows and mixes well. It is a bit like mixing a salad. I am better at mixing rooms than salads.