29 November 2009

a Tree inheritance

Mrs. Tree's Sitting Room at Ditchley

Nancy Lancaster stated " I was always searching for beauty wherever I've lived, wherever I've gone. I wasn't interested in the houses as I was in their ambiance. In the furniture, in the history, in the garden. You never really could put your finger specifically on whatever created beauty-it was too elusive-but house were where I found it the most." In all of her homes she found it-Haseley Court, Kelmarsh Hall and likely her most triumphant Ditchley. In 1933-Ditchley became Nancy's- her husband-long fascinated with Ditchley purchased the property. It is fascinating to note- the house was filled with furniture collected for over 350 years. After some of the important and stellar pieces were tagged to go along with the sellers-leaving the rest to the Trees, Nancy shrewdly drew the line, telling her husband "we buy the house with everything or completely empty: one or the other, it was their choice. In the end they decided to sell it lock ,stock and barrel."

Nancy during her Ditchley Reign photographed by Cecil Beaton

Serebriakoff painting

During Nancy's tenure at Ditchley- the room once referred to as the Tapestry Room became Mrs. Tree's Sitting Room. Here she attended to the daily business of running the house. The most important design element in the room was the exotic Chinoiserie Rococo carvings.  Assisted by Stephane Boudin of Jansen in Paris, Mrs. Tree used him more as "contractor" and not decorator. She had no intention of creating a decorator's room- but a room of her own. The results were decidedly feminine, pale yellows, golds, whites and pinks for color and an 18th century Axminster carpet with birds, bouquets of flowers and wheat sheaths. Her design for the curtains-an elaborate Chippendale to do with pelmets- was loathed by Boudin-but Mrs. Tree insisted. The walls were covered in bleached out red Victorian damask, giving it a "sort of hardly pink color." A grand bureau plat with Austrian fauteuil, various pieces of black lacquer rounded out the room's design and lastly Nancy's witty addition of a oyster coloured felt embroidered table skirt with animals dressed in 18th & 19th century costumes- including Madame de Pompadour dressed with a goat's head.

The work was embroidered from the artist J J Grandville's drawings LES SCENES DE LA VIE PRIVEE ET PUBLIQUE DES ANIMAUX published in 1842. The satirical caricatures drawn by Grandville provide an insightful commentary on society using animals- The inclusion of the table in Nancy's room at Ditchley and subsequently reappearing in her Saloon at Haseley Court in 1954 says a great deal about Lancaster's ideas about the bon ton. The Grandville embroiderys also tell us Nancy Lancaster got it right the first time-continually using her favourites, recycling pieces she loved and reinventing them in new settings. The Saloon-considered the most formal of the house again became an eclectic mix: girandoles from Ditchley (appearing in the first photograph above), aquamarine silk walls and a pair of aquamarine curtains that hung in the blue drawing room at Ditchley-being remade for Haseley. Nancy acquired the large Elizabethan paintings of the sisters Fitton for the Saloon at Haseley. Once again these reappear in Nancy's future homes and are now owned by Annette and Oscar de la Renta.

scenes from the Saloon at Haseley Court

Grandville's Scenes




Imagine my surprise when recently perusing forgotten books- I found in The Englishwoman's House, photographs of Anne and Michael Tree's Shute House-the same embroidered table skirt. Anne Tree "inherited" the whimsical piece from her mother in law Nancy Lancaster and placed it in her drawing room- referring to it as a "winner." Not too shabby- those hand me downs. "My husband was lucky to inherit a lot of furniture and carpets from his parents and over the years his mother has given us endless presents of beautiful things." Along with all the beautiful things inherited-also a pair of Ditchley bedroom curtains mentioned by Madame de la Tour du Pin in her diary written while residing with her relations at Ditchley after she fled the French Revolution.

the embroidered skirt in Anne Tree's drawing room

detail of Anne Tree's tablescape

Anne Tree had no plans to redo the house in future-obviously believing like her famous mother in law the only three essential ingredients for a successful interior-" a wood fire, candlelight and cut flowers." - and a table skirt.

suggested reading- the wonderful biography Nancy Lancaster Her life, her World, Her Art by Robert Becker, read about her life with many accounts of her world in her own words.
Nancy Lancaster English Country House Style by Martin Wood.
The Englishwoman's House edited by Alvilde Lees Milne
all photographs from one of the above books.
Nancy Lancaster here
Madame de la Tour du Pin here
Ditchley here
Kelmarsh Hall here



  1. Such a wonderful genius. What she had cannot be taught.

  2. I love the amplified detail in this post. The animal folk are marvelous, what refined whimsy.

  3. Wunderbar! I always love comparing painting and photos of interiors. And there's our Stephane Boudin popping his head out of the cheminy to give a wink - A very wise man who knew how to work with creative, cultivated clients. Those Grandvilles are a prize and Mrs L did them justice. Do you know the origin of the tree console in Anne Tree's home? She is another inspiring character - worth following up to fine cell work...

  4. I began to read the Guardian article about Anne Tree and realize though I knew of her I had never been curious. Fascinating, as all these types are.

  5. A delightful read this morning. I think here line, "She has a bad cough and a glass of water is brought. "What's that?" she asks. "Water," comes the reply. "Pity," she remarks as she takes a swig." would make Oscar Wilde smile. Her life's work gives definition to "a stitch in time."

  6. Ah...those happy accidents of birth...and marriage! Love the console as well. JJ Grandville was so incredibly prolific...wonderful fanciful images (Gulliver's travels, Robinson Crusoe, those great personified flowers). Wonderful story, thank you. Trish

  7. Anne Tree is a witty thing as I remember and fascinating to see her project that skirts design and social conscience.

  8. I so enjoyed do this post-with all the info out there about NL it is fun to find the little quirky things that make her so familiar. I have posts planned for a NL Christmas List and her Va. home too. thanks for all the great comments as always-appreciate my loyal wonderful brilliant group of Augurs.Gaye

  9. Ravishing! Pure joy to view and read.

  10. old time lovers (for me) especially J Fowller.... "They spent much of their time bickering over details of taste, and Lady Astor described them as "frankly the most unhappy unmarried couple I have ever met"." lol

  11. Dear-The Grandville characters are delightful and as I understand it he created the precious flower people I so love- BC

  12. I loved Mme de la Tour du Pin's memoirs but had completely missed her connection with Ditchley. Will have to go back through my copy of Robert Becker's book and refresh about Ditchley's pre-Tree days. Great post, as always -

  13. So charming. I used a similar animal motif for my brother's jazz guitarist/composer business card years ago.

  14. This post is fantastic!!! Such detail. Thank you so much for putting it all together and giving us readers a chance to revisit the great NL and charming JJ Grenville.
    Looking forward to more Nancy in your December postings.

  15. Hi there!
    Unbelievably; I was lucky enough around 13 years ago to go on a tour of England with "Jessica Deutsch" and we went to "Haseley Court" and had LUNCH there!!

    It is a miracle I survived! I needed "smelling salts"!!

    On the way in, right in the middle of the path; there was a "just hatched duck egg"! I had a complete fit! How divine! Baby ducklings!!!

    The lady owner (her husband was in the library in front of "that" window!) said......"oh no dear; I think the dogs dispatched the ducklings!"

    I said, "Oh No! They are in the bushes! The ducklings are in the bushes!"

    She said...".hurry in the door....the ducks want to come in!" I decided then and there......"that is my goal"!!!! She said that the ducks (these are wild mallard ducks, just like mine) actually came into the kitchen and ate her houseguest's cereal a few days before!

    Ours don't come in the door yet! But they are getting closer! They are wild ducks; but totally tame with me and those they know!! Kitchen soon!

    Haseley from the pictures looks so big! It is such a perfect house. It is not "very big" every room has the perfect proportions.......someone should measure it and show the floor plan!

    It is the perfect house!
    I think you are perfect for that job!!

  16. PS I have said it before (I forget where): I will pay for someone to recreate that tablecloth!

    I am running to my flower people engravings.....really, him too??? Yikes!



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