Few well known, nay Famous, Designers are actually skilled decorative painters. We could name a few, but for the moment let's concentrate on John Fowler. He was that-and more. Legendary decorator, John Fowler held a great fascination with Marie Antoinette, and He had what makes a decorator great- An EYE. He had THE EYE- as far as they go during this era. The names Syrie Maugham, Sybil Colefax-with important social connections may trip off the tongue-but John Fowler was the name the National Trust would turn to in the future for his rare knowledge & historical correctness. When savvy Lady Colfax took John Fowler as a partner in 1938- the finest estates in England opened their doors to him & their firm became synonymous with the much loved English Country decorating style. This was the day when the word DECORATOR was a fine distinction, less so now. Happily- I answer to that in the great traditions of the decorators of the past.
but prior to the COLEFAX & FOWLER dynasty, John Fowler was coming into his own. As Fowler's biographer, Martin Wood (in Nancy Lancaster) puts it-" He was not a rich amateur aesthete but a professional artisan." John Fowler had painted for other decorators for years and in 1934, He became a decorator and shop owner. 292 King's Road became known as a place ladies would stop in to see the room settings that Fowler and his creative teams did up. He had studied and grounded his ideas in historical references- his curtains took on the life of elaborate 18th century festooned, ruched, tucked &bowed silken costumes. He took apart old curtains and studied the construction. He learned to paint, really masterfully paint- the light brushwork of fine faux details- an Art- today-sadly reduced to clunky flat, soulless geegawish paint.
292 King's Road was the laboratory, the Place, where Fowler was perfecting all his talents. He distilled the essence of French design into delicate notes in its rooms, he added painted furniture, swathed toile de jouy & lightened up the floors with rush matting. Fowler changed out the shop window with his latest creations. In the traditions of all "1st" shops-it was dripping with ambiance. The wiring was shaky- but candlelit chandeliers filled the rooms with romantic shadows. The rooms were cold-but warmed with scented juniper.
These are the heady days for a decorator- surely some of the most exciting for Fowler- this Pride of Ownership.
and so-the ladies came. Namely his neighbors- Bringing gifts to the shop? Well, maybe they did- but, his neighbors just happened to be Syrie Maugham & Sybil Colefax-no less. Imagine! Great rivals, these two grandees, must have shared in witnessing the phenomenon of a PRINCE come into the world right across the road. According to Fowler devotees, the two got into the habit of "nipping" over to 292 to have a look about. I can only guess how exciting and excruciating it must have been.
Sir John Lavery's painting perhaps, captures a tete a tete about their neighbor-the future PRINCE of DECORATORS- on the staircase of Colefax's Chelsea home, Argyll House.
English Decoration in the 18th Century by John Fowler
Colefax & Fowler THE BEST IN ENGLISH INTERIOR DECORATION by Chester Jones
Nancy Lancaster, English Country House Style by Martin Wood
The Prince of Decorators by Martin Wood
various articles from the many tear outs I have collected
GO See JOHN FOWLER HERE "thinking of pinking" about the Prince and the Baroness.