There's another English country look


February 21, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

To many Americans, a country-style interior conjures visions of a New England farmhouse, complete with simple and sturdy wooden furniture and austere white walls. But there's also a country look that derives from Old England, and in some respects it's quite different from what most of us are used to.

This English country interior isn't lifted from the grand manor houses that are featured in tourist packages and in public television series. Rather, it's based on much more modest rural homes that have seen better days but that are still spacious and architecturally interesting.

In general, these houses have long since been stripped of whatever elegant furnishings may once have graced them.

Missing, too, in many cases is important detailing such as mantels, moldings and paneling. And the current residents often lack the means to restore the old homes to their original glory.

Nevertheless, many of the houses do retain a unique charm. I think it's because the furnishings were usually chosen for comfort and utility, not to impress visitors or to compete with the architecture.

One might even call this inverse stylishness. Certainly to someone of another culture, these houses might appear shabby or even a little silly, but to the eccentric English and the ardent Anglophile they seem fine.

The photo shows why such a setting can have considerable appeal. Here's an enormous dining room with a tall ceiling and harmonious proportions. Never mind that the paint may be peeling, the floorboards buckling, and that the ceiling fixture is too high above the table and too small for the room.

It's OK because the space has a definite look. In fact, it's the sort that Ralph Lauren and much of America tries to emulate.

This is a natural design based on good bones -- good bones in the architecture, and good bones in the furniture style and construction. Of course, it helps a lot if a marvelously decorative Anglo-Indian piece happens to be placed in a corner. And that wouldn't be a particularly unusual feature in one of these houses. Here, for example, a pearl-inlay cabinet and mirror are casually situated against a striking red wall.

The Laura Ashley Vanity Fair fabric is a soft rosy red on a creamy ground. Along with the dramatically colored wall, the full-length draperies provide a warm background. But this is one country look that shouldn't be referred to as "cozy." While the setting is certainly rustic, its grand scale and sophisticated design elements convey a much different feeling than does the typically American country-type interior.

What you see here is an especially successful example of the English country look. It doesn't happen by accident, which is why in real life so few of these interiors manage to achieve such casual elegance.

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