My late grandmother recognised that I loved making room pictures from an early age and encouraged me to be creative. Well before I was five years old, I was ‘cutting and sticking’ and no mail order catalogue, magazine or newspaper ‘colour supplement’ was safe from my round-ended scissors.
My grandparents lived in Peckham, in a four storey Victorian house inherited from Grandad’s mother, (a relative of the Earls of Iddesleigh) and I recall a big staircase and a lot of red carpet and dark wood.
Grandad died when I was five. Nigel Davenport and Maria Aitken came to view the house, but decided against buying it, because of rumours about a new south circular type road. The road wasn’t built. My grandmother found another buyer, and moved to Bearsted, a village in Kent.
Grandma was a bargain hunter par excellence, visiting Maidstone market weekly and always rummaging in jumble sales and at fêtes. I was thirteen years old when she gave me a copy of The Kama Sutra – she told her daughter that it was a book on yoga.
Be Your Own Decorator by D. Dashper Glynn, published by Heath Cranton Ltd in 1935, was another Grandma jumble sale find.
D. Dashper Glynn’s style is best described as breathless and over-excited. Witty, often in a slightly sarcastic way. But digging deep, she does provide some useable advice.
” Go slowly. Don’t snatch at ideas. Pin yourself down to some formula and go through with it. You may think you have little chance of singling out some individual scheme, but in practice this is not so”.
Dashper Glynn suggests looking in small galleries for art work by up and coming artists. She suggests talking to dealers, so that you learn about bracket clocks and Waterford glass, for example.
She warns against ” involved, fretful schemes ” and being too ambitious. ” Never lose sight of the fact that after all you have to live in the house”. Dashper Glynn says that to base your room around one picture or one piece of furniture shows ” a certain poverty of idea”.
She paraphrases William Morris with: “Have nothing in your rooms that is not alive with the consciousness of its own beauty and place in the design.”
Whether she was representative of her times or really out there, making up her own decorating rules, the author of Be Your Own Decorator has some firmly fixed ideas.
A hint of Romanticism is fine in living rooms, she states, but any such hint of sweetness in bedrooms makes you a “third-rate” decorator. Presumably then, Laura Ashley would not give her frissons of delight. In fact, Dashper Glynn says that ‘Venetian baroque’ should only be used for ‘pampered jades’.
Dashper Glynn thinks that a great many rooms filled with beautiful furniture, curtains, carpet and bric à brac look entirely meaningless.
I concur with this. Many of the rooms seen in magazines look soulless. Why do people aspire to having their home look like a hotel bedroom ??
Dashper Glynn says that collectors aside, too many rooms are overfilled. She tells readers to: “Study the art of eliminating unnecessary detail; an austerity, an economy of effect can be very significant”.
Decorators do tend to say that rooms which you can see from a hallway or another room, shouldn’t be decorated in other colours. Dashper Glynn agrees with this and adds that even if the colours flow, the rooms shouldn’t have furniture of different periods. If you want mismatched furniture periods in rooms, she advises: ” match your wood tones as you would wool and silks”.
Dashper Glynn says that taking the country to London is absolutely fine, but doing it the other way around is a particularly bad gaffe.
She states that an important rule in decoration is: ” Always work your colour scheme from the floor upward”. The author suggests ensuring that any pictures, harmonise with the scheme. I think harmonise yes, but if they are too matchy, they will surely fade into the walls.
Dashper Glynn and I share a dislike of orange. She claims that the appearance of the Russian Ballet in London in the Thirties, precipitated an explosion of orange curtains, red-brick bungalows and Siberian wallflowers: ” which have done as much to ruin the face of England as petrol pumps and picnic parties “.
Pale yellows are something which Dashper Glynn approves of. She tells readers that if they paint or tile their North-facing kitchens in an ‘engaging’ yellow, “you will never have servant trouble”.
Another Dashper Glynn rule is that only big rooms can carry colour because distance is needed to get the proper effect. I am inclined to disagree with this. Small rooms in bright colours can look very cosy.
Dashper Glynn warns against following fashion in your rooms and cites a 1930s Spanish sunlight craze, which she says was: ” only suited to high-barred windows with glimpses of flowery patios.”
Perhaps it was a Thirties thing, but Dashper Glynn was firmly of the opinion that English interiors should be built up layer by layer in pale colours, like a watercolour. This doesn’t seem to mesh with the country house décor, of dark wood and Aubusson or Bokhara rugs. She’s adamant, that it should never be necessary to orientalise our houses. She makes an exception for oriental-styled china in a period house.
Windows. Dashper Glynn states that one interior decorator of her acquaintance, made her reputation by advising clients to have more windows put in rooms, completely altering their previous gloomy nature.
Dashper Glynn is a fan of mirrors but not over fireplaces – ‘banal’. She suggests unexpected corners, which is an idea I can get behind.
The Foreward ends with advice to seek out craftspeople rather than buy mass-produced, if you can and not to allow yourself to be swayed by sales patter.
Review of ‘ Capter One: To Build Or Not To Build?’ to come…