It’s the smell you notice first, wood smoke and beeswax, floor polish and the scent of flowers: in season, vases of lilac (leaves removed), droopy-headed Bourbon roses, chrysanthemums bright as rust. Logs are heaped in a tall-sided basket, the hearth is generous, the chimneypiece handsome. It doesn’t sport a stegosaurus spine of invitations. Instead, there is a spill vase or match strike and bibelots to taste ormolu-mounted Blue John, old Derby pastille burners, a postcard of The Rolling Stones or that plastic goose that doubles as a lamp.
The room looks inwards-to the fire or the faces of fellow occupants and out towards the view. The view is framed by tall sashes, stone mullions, a criss-cross of Gothick glazing bars, and the curtains are sumptuous. Not in the style or quantity of their fabric, nor in any elaborate frou-frou of swags and tails, but in the manner of their making, so that their hang has a sculptural quality and they draw like rippling water.
Day-long, this room is beautiful like the view beyond the windows, a favourite painting or the piece of furniture you wouldn’t trust elsewhere: a card table of tulipwood parquetry, the ladies’ desk with its secret compartments, a lacquer commode, its drawers stuffed with old letters. In the morning, when sun slants through the windows, it catches the glint of old glass and polished wood, skitters over walls whose soft but rich colour is equally happy in the glow of lamplight.
Every room serves a purpose, and this one must also be functional. The sofas are comfortable and deep, but not so low that aged relatives can’t escape. There is at least one armchair and fauteuil, the latter with its upright back and stiff arms light enough to be moved around the room. Within arm’s reach are tables: a resting place for a drink, spectacles, a book, a hand of cards. There must be lamps, too, wired in the old-fashioned way with silk cabling. One chair or sofa is designated for the dogs, loose-covered so that its upholstery can be washed; another sports (discreetly folded over one arm) a warm throw for winter nights watching the television.
As television is a fact of life, why disguise it? But it needn’t form the focus of the room. Instead, let this be a place for drinks when the hurly-burly of the day is done, for an idle 10 minutes reading a magazine: somewhere to write a letter, finish the crossword, work at needlepoint; a generous but embracing room in which objects resonate and paintings, china, even a basket planted with lemon verbena, delight the eye and provoke a smile. Never be distracted by ideas of taste: to love an object is enough.
The perfect drawing room is a confident space, happy in its skin. Furniture is arranged for easy circulation taking into account the different methods of attack of dogs, small children and geriatrics. Space permitting, more than one seating area is best, allowing large groups to splinter successfully after supper parties or at Christmas. A footstool or an ottoman for further seating breaks the formality; so, too, do elements of asymmetry.
Make this a light room, in which both sunshine and lamplight are magnified-reflected in the earthy brightness of giltwood, the glaze of a Canton vase, framed photographs glossy and smiling. And let there be at least one mirror for the sheer beauty of antique looking glasses perhaps, but, most of all, so that your hostess, poised in her lovely drawing room to welcome guests, can check her lipstick, her hair-and what looks suspiciously like dog food clinging to her skirt.
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