25 Jun 2012

English Country House Style…On An English Country Mouse Budget!

What’s a girl to do when she has champagne and caviar tastes, but a lemonade and cod and chips budget? It would indeed be rather nice to pop into Sotheby’s on the odd occasion to place a few bids on some original regency fripperies but alas, – budget – or my budget at least – does not allow. Besides – isn’t it actually far more exciting to achieve a magnificent end result without breaking (or breaking into) the bank? Who hasn’t felt a glow of pride when a friend or associate has unwittingly complimented the cheapest and most bargain-tastic item in the room without realising?

Even better than stumbling across a bargain that can be ‘upcycled’ to look amazing, is the other end of the scale where one finds a bargain…that turns out to be an absolute gem of a find with a pedigree to match! Now those are my favourite finds.

I have a particular love of Constance Spry Fulham Pottery vases, and I am now an avid collector and hunt them down mercilessly. It was fueled after finding a large pair of 1950’s planters gathering dust in an old curiosity shop for just under twenty pounds three years ago. They now take pride of place on the mantles in my dining room and drawing room respectively and are my pride and joy. I occasionally see them listed on websites from e-bay to private galleries. The range in price is utterly ridiculous – from double figures to four figures – go figure!?

On an earlier occasion, I once bought a pair of blue and white Oriental style vases in a local auction for a few pounds, simply because they were pretty. They sat on a console table in my hall in London. A very nice young gentleman would often make deliveries for us, and he would always look at the vases. One day he plucked up the courage to ask where we got the vases from. He seemed entranced by them. We vaguely mentioned the local auction but he said no more, and shortly afterwards we moved house without dwelling on it. Naturally, my husband is now totally convinced that they are from some amazing Chinese Dynasty, and that we are sitting on an undiscovered fortune. I tell him that the chap was simply being polite. However we both secretly wonder whether they are in fact something special.

Why don’t we get them professionally valued you may ask? Well…to be honest, it’s much more fun this way. It’s like not checking a lottery ticket. Until one checks the numbers, one can still imagine winning the whole kit and kaboodle, and can therefore plot what to do with the ‘fantasy’ money (please tell me that I’m not the only one who does this??). Thus while the vases are not valued, we can nurture the fantasy that we are sitting on a secret fortune – a bit like discovering Tutankhamun in the basement…

Another cheap and cheerful love of mine are painted Edwardian tables. I have far too many of them, but they are inexpensive and decorative, and because of their beautiful shapes, can look rather special when painted in a chalky Annie Sloan or Farrow & Ball matt – especially when placed in pairs. They are also ‘child proof’ – and by that I mean that I don’t have to freak out every time a jammy sticky hand touches them, or a dangerously held crayon is brandished near…they can simply be painted over!

What if I had a few extra thousand to spend on furnishing a house? Well I’d still say that it’s all in the mix – old and new, investment pieces as well as bargains. I won’t scrimp on paint or fabrics, and a few antiques here and there are always a welcome addition – especially those that are handed down through generations. However, I’m certainly equally as happy ferreting out a painting, or a table at a flea market if I feel that it has the correct ‘bones’.

Back to my Oriental vases. Do you remember that 1980’s film ‘The War of the Roses’? Where the couple met while bidding at an auction on the same antique? Now, I really don’t think that the vases are anything special…and I can’t begin to imagine that they’re from anything as grand as the ‘Ming’ Dynasty…but, reminiscent of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas swinging from the chandelier at the end of that film – they’re definitely MINE if they are and Mr Sutton’s if they’re not!!!

Happy Monday!

Images courtesy of: 1-5) Hill House; 6&7) The War of the Roses Film, Directed by Danny De Vito.

The Diaries

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