28 June 2014

Inside Nancy Lancaster's Yellow Room… London Diary, Part II

Like Mario and doubtless many others since, I've pored over photos of The Yellow Room so many times that it has become an old and familiar friend.  Yet unfathomably I had never stepped foot into Avery Row until this trip.

The exterior of 39 Brook Street.  Read Mario's book on how he first encountered John Fowler outside the shop in the 1960s… It is a charming tale of twin pocket squares out of Plautus.

Mario, Maureen and I were Colefax & Fowler's guests at Claridge's for lunch, a mere 20 paces away.  I had a glass of sauvignon blanc with the lobster bisque, served in a spa-like portion and fortunately augmented by spring peas ordered for the table.  I must admit the tremendous enthusiasm and anticipation my companions showed for these peas did arch an eyebrow, but after one spoonful, I am a now a devotee.  There may be nothing better than fresh English peas (rolled around in butter and basil I believe and al dente).  And if there is one other hot tip you must take away from this blog, it is to never miss going to the loo in a smart hotel or restaurant.  Claridge's ladies' powder room is mint green and black Deco deliciousness.  

C&F: the front room on the ground floor with green walls complemented by Mario's socks; Harry, an adorable young man who works there, is hiding in the window to the right

After cappuccino and an affogato for Mario who is a dessert-hound (he would alway brings cookies to our meetings.  Once, after we discovered a mutual passion for peanut butter-chocolate ice cream, he brought a pint of chocolate and a jar of Skippy as the grocery store didn't have this flavor of the gods in stock), we embarked on our short journey to C&F.

The wall paper inspired by the Anteroom of Drottningholm Palace Theater in Sweden, below

For those who haven't yet made their first pilgrimage, the shop is composed of a rabbit's warren of rooms, rambling from one to another. 

The back of the building looks out onto this courtyard garden.  C&F's archivist Barrie McIntyre, who is  an incredible repository of information and a jewel in the firm's crown, shared that Mrs. Lancaster was furious with Mr. Fowler when the walls (barely discernible now under the ivy) were painted and the two rowed for weeks.

On the first floor (or our second floor) one goes through this small room before entering the barrel-vaulted double-height Yellow Room.  Barrie told us that Mrs. Lancaster purchased the large old master painting (to the right) for the frame.  She then had the canvas cut up and applied to the walls and closet doors.

Even though the room is no longer  furnished with Mrs. Lancaster's antiques (Mario calls the room "a scrapbook of her life") it is still lyrical.

 The money shot: a close up of the glazed "egg yolk" walls

The faux marbre baseboards

At the far end of the room is a pair of double doors that open to this practical small butler's pantry complete with dumbwaiter

The bay windows are deep and conceal these closets

BEFORE: The room in 1947 (which I included in Regency Redux)
It was originally designed by Sir Jeffry Wyattville, George IV's architect, who most notably made extensive alterations to Windor Castle between 1824–1828

AFTER: In 1957, Nancy Lancaster moved into the set of rooms above the shop to economize. This photograph by James Mortimer shows it in 1982.

Reading list: John Cornforth, The Inspiration of the Past

Part III: Vita Sackville-West & Sissinghurst


Anonymous said...

I forgot to say thank you for this post.....I will print it....and save it forever!

I didn't get to go upstairs at C&F!!!!

I did walk into that yellow room; and I felt like I had fallen off a wall (I did once) and the breath was knocked out of me! Honestly!!!

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say...who cuts up a great big oil painting (she bought it for the frame!!) and wallpapers it onto the walls! Genius shows with these risky and wonderful things!

what a genius!

So funny about the wall painting!

People ask me all the time: "why did you pick a color of the outside of the house you built!" Well....our vines are deciduous!

How wonderful to be with Mario! and what a book! You would love seeing me with my magnifying glass studying every picture!

Lynne Rutter said...

It's been far too long. That egg yolk yellow is my favorite colour. And that green is a close second. Nice to have you back!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh these posts are heaven. I have never made "the pilgrimage", but shall remedy that when I am in London this September. Thanks so much!

Cannot wait for the next installment as I am currently in a Vita frenzy. Just finished All Passion Spent last night as a matter of fact. Gorgeous, incandescent writing, though after visiting Sissinghurst last May, and seeing the room in which she wrote, it's no wonder.


Chronica Domus said...

And, talking of loos, my husband reports that the men's room at Claridges comes complete with an elegant and practical feature - a glass and brass splash guard to protect one's leather shoes. Genius!

I'm happy to read you've discovered the joys of English garden peas. I wrote about some heritage ones I recently grew on my blog. They are certainly delish!

Thank you for this marvelous post and I hope you continue to enjoy your stay in London.

Karena Albert said...

Emily, thank you so much for sharing this experience and background on Nancy Lancaster's forever iconic room!

The Arts by Karena

Anonymous said...

A double treat seeing Nancy's famous yellow living room and seeing it with Mario. Lucky lady!

Toby Worthington said...

The Drottingholm design may have indeed been painted on paper, but it isn't one that C & F sells---I believe this version was made by Jessica Ridley, their head of decorative painting.
(her grandmother's portrait is in the Rex Whistler book). How things have changed at Brook Street! When this painted paper was first installed, it went beautifully with the Rose & Ribbon Tobacco Room carpet, now replaced by Mouse Back Basic. The lovely gallery of rooms have got an offhand, slapdash approach these days---nothing like the Roger Banks Pye /Tom Parr period of modest perfection which I remember fondly. It is one thing to pare down for today's changing clientele, but quite another to lose direction so lamentably.It would seem that in an effort to Be Modern, C&F has become neither fish nor fowl.

Anonymous said...

Toby; perfectly said!!