Once upon a time, in a house in the country, a man might be born and die in the same bed. Today, such a contingency is increasingly rare. But the man born in a country-house bedroom at any moment during the past 50 years who, by chance, in time spends his last night in the same room will bear witness to a small-scale domestic truth: that the form and appearance of the British bedroom is remarkably enduring.Of course, the bed dominates.
It must share top billing with the view. The best bedrooms offer perfect rest and perfect respite-a combination of green-and-pleasant vistas and hand-stitched mattressing. Let us take as read that the budget stretches to a bespoke mattress by one of the small number of British companies that continue, at a price, to produce the world’s finest bedding, stuffed with horsehair and cashmere and sprung to the customer’s specific requirements. Chief among the differences between today’s dream bedroom and its predecessor is the absence of a concave sag at the heart of the bed.
The bedroom is a world within a world. Here is a selection of favourite reading, a hang of favourite pictures and paintings (sufficiently sparse for restfulness), a scintillaof favourite decorative objects. There is a table at which, in all probability, no letters will ever be written and a dressing table with
an adequate mirror. Flanking the bed, tables, cabinets, étagères or pot cupboards support a desert-island survival kit: water, biscuits, candles and matches, paper handker-chiefs, a clock, torch and telephone. There will be at least one armchair, with deep feather-filled cushions, and-space permitting-a sofa or daybed. Dog beds are optional.
That’s not all. Hanging over every-thing like a gossamer cloud, there may be an entirely appealing sug-gestion-no more than a whisper of excess. Is the bed, with its neo-Classical painted posts and confectioner’s delight of prettily trimmed hangings, just a little bit theatrical? Are the curtains, here where the view each morning renders you speechless afresh, perhaps too grand, too splendidly pelmeted and plumply interlined?
Is there one more lamp than you really need, whether it be Gap Year ethnic or celadon-ground decalcomania spotted with chinoiserie vignettes? Does the daybed, loose-covered, a palmette shaped fringe to its skirts, suggest unrealistic quantities of leisure? And when did you last sit on the window seat to gaze outside or talk to a loved one? Such misleadingness is benign, a source of hope and deep comfort. It is all to the good.
This is a room for fabric and pattern-for fabric- or wallpaper-hung walls, curtains to shut out the world, skirts on tables, charming lampshades. The bed requires both a valance and a bedcover. There must be a bed head, properly upholstered, and lighting for night time reading. Ideally, there will be a fire, so that even the most restless sleeper can be lulled by the soft light of dying embers and the sighing fall of wood ash.
There will be objects you can’t bear to share: pastel portrait sketches of your children, a japanned cabinet on stand, a dressing-table set whose value is wholly sentimental, and a threadbare leopardskin rug that continually pricks your conscience. In this beguiling space is a sense of help at hand-a dressing room and bathroom comfortingly close but discrete, so that the room’s only clutter is intentional. Tables support small vases of flowers, simple garden cuttings that attain perfection for three weeks a year when sweet, pale trusses of Rosa Mme. Alfred Carrière splash into bloom. For the rest of the year, take solace from glossy magazines-stacked increasingly precariously on the bottom shelf of the bedside table.