A light touch: At home with designer Nels Crosthwaite Eyre

Nels Crosthwaite Eyre’s Hampshire house demonstrates her innate ability to create smart, but relaxed interiors that reflect the tastes and needs of a new generation, finds Eleanor Doughty.

‘Sometimes,’ says Nels Crosthwaite Eyre, ‘interior design feels like pulling rabbits out of hats.’

Rabbit pulling is something she does with consummate skill, particularly when turning a blank canvas into one that is rich in pattern, colour and soul. As a result she is, increasingly, the country-house decorator of choice for a new generation leaving London with too little furniture to fill more square footage than they are used to.

Miss Crosthwaite Eyre began her career when, having worked for a jewellery company, she found herself at a loose end in 2010 and took a position with the late, great Robert Kime. A friend told her that the designer was opening a new showroom in Bloomsbury and, despite having never considered interiors as a career path, she went along and was offered a job in the shop.

Over time, her role expanded and she built up a London client base. Kime’s apprenticeship was ‘a very slow burn,’ she remembers, but she found simply being with him inspiring. ‘He was brilliant, very old-school — he never turned on a computer in his life.’

She left to set up her own studio in 2014, taking with her some of Kime’s ways. ‘My approach is very old-fashioned,’ she says. ‘It’s about feeling the space, walking into the room, moving things around. That is really what Robert Kime taught me more than anything else.’

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Nels Crosthwaite Eyre drawing room

The drawing room with curtains in Benaki by Lewis & Wood. Credit: Simon Brown/Country Life Magazine

Now, she is sought after as a decorator in her own right. She has described her style as ‘English country house for the millennial generation’.

How does this differ from country-house style favoured by their parents? She pauses for thought.

‘It’s a bit lighter,’ she says. ‘My clients want the country-house feel, but they don’t want it to be quite as frilly and chintzy or “trad”. They want the smart feeling that their parents might have had, but they want their homes to be somewhere their friends arrive and think: “Hey, this is cool—this is like going to Lime Wood-cum-Soho House-cum-The Pig.”’

This doesn’t mean that she has dispensed with the country classics, however; ‘I might have a frill, some tassels, and mix fabrics from the east with chintz, but the aim is to bring it back from Laura Ashley to something cleaner.’

“It’s all got to work for a family who aren’t reliant on a cook, a housekeeper, and a nanny”

She points to a few dangers with this new approach to country-house decoration, however. A homogenous look, with a similar colour palette and the same few decorative items, has become ubiquitous, thanks to Instagram’s algorithm and the groupthink it engenders. At worst, it can become interior decoration by numbers. Miss Crosthwaite Eyre mentions one particular item: ‘As much as I love them, I won’t put them into a project because everyone has got one.’

She feels that new country houses are different functionally, as well as decoratively. Long gone are the distant kitchens and, for the most part, the staff summoned by a bell. ‘We live in a different world now,’ says Miss Crosthwaite Eyre. ‘For Robert Kime’s generation of decorators, a client often lived in a country house with staff that had a monopoly over the kitchen, whereas, now, that part of the house is the heart of the home.’ Today’s brief means considering the ‘flow’ of a house. ‘It’s all got to work for a family who aren’t reliant on a cook, a housekeeper, and a nanny,’ she adds.

Nels Crosthwaite Eyre bedroom

Grand statement: one of the bedrooms, dominated by a four poster. The sofa at the end of the bed is in Fez Print by Guy Goodfellow. Credit: Simon Brown/Country Life Magazine

Miss Crosthwaite Eyre had to find that balance between pleasing decoration and family life when she took on a Hampshire manor house with her family. ‘My husband and I love looking at houses online,’ she says. ‘We spotted this house in 2015 and instantly fell in love with the Gothic windows and wisteria growing up it.’ There had been a fire in a corner of the house in 1960 and little had been done there since. The project, Miss Crosthwaite Eyre describes, was ‘a full gut job’, but as the rooms were well-proportioned, they avoided any structural work. Still, ‘it needed rewiring, re-plumbing, and there were no radiators anywhere in the house’.

She took a similar approach to the project as she does to her clients’ and used as a starting point De Gournay’s Earlham chinoiserie wallpaper that has pride of place in the Georgian Gothic entrance hall.

Nels Crosthwaite Eyre bathroom

Elegant and functional: the bathroom adjoining the principal bedroom, furnished with a magnificent freestanding bath from Catchpole & Rye and a floor from Fired Earth. Credit: Simon Brown/Country Life Magazine

The rest of the house is equally as pleasing, with a dark-green handmade kitchen, Robert Kime wallpaper in the dining room, Soane curtains in a guest room, Linwood wallpaper behind a Syrian antique mirror in the bathroom and a magnificent freestanding bath by Catchpole & Rye.

Miss Crosthwaite Eyre believes that there are no rules to decorating. ‘People often say, our house is X age therefore we must have furniture from the same time. They get bogged down with “the rules”.’ Instead, she says: ‘If you like it, get it in the house—don’t feel as if you’re being dictated to by what something should look like.’

Find out more about at Eyre interiors — eyreinteriors.co.uk

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