When I came to Wyken as a bride, little had been changed in the house for 40 years. We began married life on a drunken spree of sending Edwardian wardrobes, Victorian paintings and Maples Chippendale off to Christie’s South Ken, and plowing the magical unearned income back into the house. We called this period the Enlightenment.
My heftiest expenditure during this transformation was a bolt of rose and pansy chintz from Colefax & Fowler, a fabric I saw in a grand drawing room in Interiors. Inspired by that room, I covered windows, cushions, a sofa and the seat of a child?s chair. My nephew called it ‘the shiny room’.
But that was in the 1980s, an era that could be called the Twilight of Chintz. First it was banished to the bedroom (Interiors later showed Annabelle Gold-smith’s bedroom covered in a sea of rose and pansy), then it disappeared altogether. Except in my husband’s eyes. Whenever he drew the curtains, he vowed ’til death do us part.’
So it was with some trepidation that, six months shy of their 20th birthday, I took the curtains down. For two days, I hung them outside on the line and beat them with Sam’s cricket bat before consigning them to an oak chest as big as a coffin.
Now in a room painted three shades of white – more Kettle’s Yard than Colefax & Fowler – I have gone for the spare and eclectic look: a 9ft velvet sofa from an antique shop in Framlingham, and a pair of Barcelona chairs and a wing chair covered in artist’s linen. I hanker after one of those modern rugs that looks like a Ben Nicholson painting, but it’s bare wood for now.
‘Hmmm,’ says my friend Katie arriving for her annual visit. ‘Neo-Bobo Country House.’
‘Bobo. Bourgeois bohemian.’ She explains the word comes from David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, about the new elite based on brainpower and merit rather than pedigree or lineage. He maintains that dumb, good-looking people with great parents have been displaced by smart, ambitious, educated, countercultural people with good taste.
Katie then gives me the Bobo test: you believe that spending £10,000 on an entertainment centre is vulgar, but spending £10,000 on an African slate floor for your kitchen is okay. You put the large sapphire engagement ring in the gun safe and now wear a discreet band of baguette diamonds. You buy all of your meat at the farmers’ market which you drive to in your 4×4 Discovery that gets 14 miles to the gallon. You believe in state education, but refuse to impose your political beliefs on your children. The chintz goes, but antlers and shells stay; Bobos are in touch with the earth.
All weekend, she sneaks old stacks of The New Yorker and The Garden back into the drawing room. Scottish throws disguise the Barcelona chairs. She retrieves the Persian carpet. ‘Wooden floors make dogs nervous. Remember that Fanny and Bofus live here, too.’
I confess to her that I am a bourgeois bohemian. I love organic double tall lattes, Channel 4 news and the new Guardian (‘Ah, the Bobo newspaper,’ she exclaims). ‘What this room needs is flowers,’ she says. ‘A hundred dollars says that in six months the chintz is back.’
This column was first published in Country Life (17 November, ’06)