When David Dixon suggested to his wife Polly it might be an idea to appoint an interior designer to advise on the drawing room of their 1920’s house in Lichfield she had serious doubts about the imposition of a design concept and losing control of spending and aesthetics, after all hadn’t she successfully decorated all the other rooms? However the drawing room required a radical rethink with works involving several trades requiring coordination and a sizeable budget so a project manager would relieve them both to concentrate on their own work and activities with just one point of contact....
Since David and I had been colleagues in industry over many years ,when he called me I had no hesitation in offering a free consultation without any mutual obligation. What’s more, by remarkable coincidence, I had made my first visit to Lichfield, just days before, to attend a festival concert of the music of Peter Sculthorpe..........perhaps I had made some sort of subliminal contact?
I accepted a kind invitation to join them at the house for 24 hours the following week. Over dinner we talked over many matters but decoration was well down the list, and frankly a guided tour of the house failed to ignite any particular ideas on my part so I resolved to rise early next morning, absorb the atmosphere and surely the creative pathway would reveal itself?
But no it did not.....
Breakfast together was animated, after all I had not seen David for a dozen years and this was my first meeting with Polly. Too soon it was time for David to leave for his train and Polly would leave shortly after for her work. Before departing though she did point out the enamelled pewter coffee set was her most treasured reminder of the life she and David had shared on the Isle of Man. Did I know the work of the designer Archibald Knox who was Manx borne?
Knox was a prolific designer in many disciplines- jewellery, garden ornaments, textiles and wallpapers as well as being an accomplished water-colourist and I carried a portfolio of his wallpapers and fabrics in my library. Polly was at the time unaware of the interior design aspects of the Knox canon and was immediately engaged. So the brief took shape;
1. Create fully glazed door access to the back garden across the full width of the room for Summer entertaining.
2. She wanted the old Adam fireplace gone, together with the ugly radiator
wrapped around the wall beneath the bay window.
3. The exposed pine floorboards were of a colour which displeased her as did the mismatch in alignment where previous structural changes had taken place.
4. Might it be possible to recreate the stained glass windows, which still adorned the first floor but had long gone from the drawing room and front door?
For my part the square arch over the two parts of the room was crude and
the couple wanted an Art Nouveau inspired design if possible.
Now we were fizzing with enthusiasm and Polly left me to take dimensions
and lock up when done.
A first step was to identify a textile company licensed to reproduce the Knox fabric designs in bespoke colours and London based Bernard Thorpe & Co.were able to oblige. At the time I was training a work experience student and she relished the task of preparing a maquette of a Knox rosebud design on coral coloured silk, itself subtly shot through with weft of viridian over which my student hand painted the stylised rosebuds in viridian and silver, echoing the colour of the coffee set enamel. Duly submitted the draft was not quite what Polly had in mind; while loving the design she sought more celestial colours.
A second draft did the trick with the viridian lines of the rosebuds traced in outline in silver and primrose yellow, on Ivory coloured silk. We had our principal element of pattern then, agreed for curtains and roller blinds. I offered a wallpaper by Ornamenta in two tones of ivory and pale ecru, each of the stripes defined with a subordinate stripe of metallic silver.
While I was thus engaged on the frippery my associate, and Royal College trained furniture designer /maker, Wayne Dove drew up the specification of the room wide folding doors, to be rendered in hardwood for painted finish, double glazed and with chrome door furniture. All glass and stained glasswork I assigned to another trusted associate from past projects, the magnificently monikered Derek Commander. Flooring needed to be as light in colour as possible, hardwood from sustainable sources, and I knew by reputation a Lincolnshire company Wazelwood Flooring, with their own woodlands , drying and machining facilities as well as an installation team. I duly introduced myself and took a tour of the showroom and workshop with director Simon Roughton who presented to me his white ash product, available in slender 25mm thickness, and overcoming any serious problems at the interface with the hall parquet floor. So we would be able to cloak the existing floorboards at 90 degrees to the longitudinal which would visually enhance the width of the room and moderate the shoebox effect of a long room with a relatively low ceiling..
For seating Polly and David were happy to keep their ivory coloured loose covered sofas in he medium term but prepared to replace the pair of wing chairs which were not particularly distinguished or comfortable. Given I have my own upholstery workshop I proposed to upgrade the chairs with more comfortable and resilient feather wrapped foam fillings and a natural fibre fixed cover to replace the rather slippery synthetic damask of the original covers. I could re-polish the show wood and I could Knoxify them! Louth garment company AJ Embroidery, accustomed to small logo embroideries for work and school wear, had
production hoops sizeable enough to accommodate a computer guided design of a stretched version of an intricate Knox brooch design in hardwearing polyester thread to adorn the inside back panels of the chairs.
As for the troubling issue of the square arch disfiguring the room, my thinking was to reshape it to an ellipse ,creating pilasters with bas-relief embellishments derived from the tulip form of the stained glass window motif. When the time came Wayne and I were to find a monumental reinforced steel joist supported nothing more than three courses of original brickwork in the form of ................an ellipse! It had no further role, and we removed the monster.
With the burgeoning colour theme of ivory tones with pops of strong colours a natural choice of material for the fireplace would be honed limestone and London based masons Chesney had an Arts and Crafts styled surround in this material. Happily my ex -London carpet fitter Rob Smyth was spending two days most weeks in London, returning to Lincolnshire with a relatively empty van, and was willing to deliver the fireplace thereby avoiding hefty packing and delivery expenses.
Lighting was pretty straightforward... with one pendant serving one end of the room we opted for two pairs of rise and fall wall lights in platinum with Ivory shades by Besselink and Jones, flexible enough to meet Polly’s penchant for changing furniture around from season to season. On the mantelshelf we would place a pair of candlestick lamps flanking an artwork to be acquired, no prizes for guessing who might be the artist....
The heating afforded by the inefficient single panel radiators was improved by replacing the with double panelled versions with thermostats and cabinets designed with aesthetics and efficiency in mind and for these I took a design by Knox for a silver belt buckle, had it enlarged as a line drawing and Wayne used the template to create the fretwork. He also routed out my Arts and Crafts inspired design for a wood moulding to serve as an
upholstered pelmet at each window to carry curtains, valances and roller blinds, the simplicity of the latter chosen to avoid an overly curtained room.
The remodelling of the room-the windows, floor, archway, replacement windows, doors and electrical chasings , the messy works were accomplished while Polly and David took a three week holiday, when Wayne and I lived on site. We were tidying up when they returned late one evening and Polly thrilled us by leading David in a lively glissade over the new floor
to celebrate...........an abiding image for me.
High points of the project there were many...Polly’s little dance of joy of course, immersion in the work of Knox but the the details, the raised decoration on the pilasters, and the little cock bead Wayne made for me to fit along the base of the modest coving and painted silver thereby subtly enhancing the coving and capping the silver stripes in the wallpaper. A low point , just one when the intricate backplates Wayne made to hide the electrical connections of the wall light were fitted upside down!
All in all the project was a love letter to Lichfield from Louth, for all of the fulfilling team were from the Louth area and on one occasion the drive was accommodating five vehicles, all from Louth!
Polly and David,clearly relishing their room,in front of a Knox landscape and with the finishing touch a rug I designed with a knot border pattern from the Book of Kells incised by the skilful hand of my genius carpet installer Rob Smythe.