Posts Tagged ‘Ros Byam Shaw’

It is hard to say exactly where my love of panelling, or to use the ‘proper’ term, wainscoting stems from. It has certainly gathered much encouragement from repeated viewings of Marple and Poirot; watched as much for their sumptuous 1930’s interiors and costume, as for any part of the plot.

As someone whose devotion to interior design has developed slowly over the years – my first experience of the heart warming feeling of wainscoting came early on from a grand, old department store in Bishop Auckland, but definitely given most prolonged exposure in those fantastic London pubs that (thank God) by chance, or otherwise have left it in place. (Simpson’s Tavern, a City institution, “frequented by the likes of Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys” also deserves a mention here.)

Very quick and rather inadequate search engine research mentions wainscoting as far back as 1414 and the first of the period rooms, in the free and superb Geffrye Museum, dated 1630 is panelled top to bottom.

Mostly seen in grand houses and halls, but not in the past at least, restricted to the pleasure of the privileged classes, wainscoting was presumably initially introduced to add additional protection from the elements, but done in a readily available material and by readily available craftsmen (more information is welcomed here)?

Returning to the aforementioned ‘research’, it would appear that wainscoting is now more popular Stateside, with the first page of Google bringing up mostly American based firms selling the product. This is rather lazily put down to the American love of tradition and history. The problem that I have with this offering is – it just appears too new, looking more like a corporate boardroom or posh dentist.

The difficulty is then; can we put it back and how best to do it? I guess research is key and no doubt there are thousands of books on the English country house, for my own part I particularly enjoyed Perfect English and Perfect English Cottage, both by Ros Byam Shaw, a former Features Editor of World of Interiors (in my opinion still the best interiors magazine around). However, there is a but here – the best examples are very much period properties, where the decoration has either been untouched for centuries or carefully, even painstakingly restored to look untouched.

For most ‘normal’ people, without their country pile or even quaint, ramshackle cottage, it’s the dilemma of existing in a hundred year old+ property that has invariably been ‘updated’ (not always sympathetically) and trying to fit this into our post-modern requirements, whilst retaining the decorative elements that make a house feel good. (Don’t forget plenty of modest, 1930’s, suburban semis had a panelled hall and enough of us still live in the good old Victorian or Edwardian terrace.) For some or even many these days this comes down to clean lines with increased light and space, but I am firmly ‘Northern European’ and for me the comfort and warmth one feels when surrounded by wood is very hard to beat.

I hope to buy a house next year, with a somewhat modest budget, but a firm consideration will be whether a part of it can accommodate a wood panel or two.