28 February 2010

the Lady could decorate

 an old piece of chintz from the 19th century-once a curtain, 
along with a collection of terracotta figures

'What you see is the accumulation of a lifetime. Nothing was acquired for the rooms. Rather the rooms were acquired for the things. I am a very sentimental woman. I love presents and keep everything I get. The things bought as presents seldom end up by being given: if I like enough to buy it, I like it enough to keep it. It means double shopping. Objects become such a part of me that I would feel like a multiple amputee if I had to part with any of them. The way I have it figured I will part from them long before they part form me.'

Ivory Objects on an 18th century English lacquer desk in the living room

'There are many dear friends in my life who are professional and gifted decorators. I ask a lot of questions and usually get helpful and practical answers. I have always felt however, that friends are more valuable than decorations and I believe firmly in the rule that friends should not work for friends.'

Comfort reigns in the sun-filled living room. All the pictures in the room are needlepoint, except for the Tissot painting above the fireplace.

'So in great part I have done these rooms alone. There is no other stamp on them but my own. The mistakes and oddities are mine and I like them, warts and all. I have many self-imposed rules, which seem to work for me. Every key position in the room should have proper light to read or sew, a place to put a drink, an ashtray, or a book. There should always be something red in a room, be it merely a cushion, a bit of lacquer, or the whole room. And always something living-a dog, a cat, or flowers-as well as a burning fire or lighted candles.'

the Dining Room reflects a lived in English elegance

A brass tester bed has traveled across oceans,
the headboard is covered in an antique quilt

a Basket of Ribbons for her hair

"God blessed me with a happy spirit and many other gifts. 
What I was not blessed with I went out and got. 
Sometimes the price was too high, 
but I've never been much of a bargain hunter."  
from her memoir (1991)

Photographs by Francois Halard

Words in italics written by Nancy, Lady Keith-better known as SLIM.
House and Garden  January 1987

Reggie writes about his visit to the Lady here
in the NYTimes here



  1. "Nothing was acquired for the rooms. Rather the rooms were acquired for the things." I just love that, I think that is how the relationship between space and objects should be. I think the image of the ivory objects on the English desk are great example of that. Lovely post.

  2. the great Slim Hawks. She did have gorgeous taste and the quote Cristin refers to is indeed perfect.

  3. Nice -- I am so glad you found these images. I was unable to lay my hands on them when I posted about meeting her and spending an afternoon in her apartment, many years ago...
    Rgds, Reggie

  4. yes! Reggie Darling of course-I have added a link to you great post about that visit-thanks for visiting and mentioning it to me. Is it pictured here as you remember it? pgt

  5. I saved this one as well - and love it still.

  6. English decorating at its best. Collected, not bought all at once. Absolutely wonderful!

  7. Pamela, cynthia- Yes, I agree. Her's was all about style.

  8. Mrs B. truly timeless. I especially love all the basket of hair ribbons and a fellow needleworker too.

  9. "An accumulation of a lifetime." <---YES. This, in my opinion, is what makes design interesting, and where some decorators fail MISERABLY. And the flowers!! and ribbons!! and bows!! and sheers!! It's all done really well. Excessive enthusiasm? Overly gushy? But really, I DO feel like I'm bursting at the seams with joy for all this chintz. That, and the marble hand. There's never a vignette that wasn't helped by a good, stone body part. Lauren

  10. Thanks for the anatomy lesson, Lauren. Now I SEE what I have been missing. Excessive enthusiasm is needed in these dark, dark days of Beige Plague. I do feel drawn to rooms where the owner followed the heartstrings. These kind of rooms look lived in rather than "staged." I can't tell you much I hate that term. It's right up there with "plant material."

  11. Lauren, Home & all-a gathering of great minds think alike here today. When I do a room, fortunately most people have this same idea in mind.they have collected or are doing so-I rarely "accessorize". I Always add lamps(a close a kin to sculpture as we get)& mirror, mirrors and will advise on other things. pgt

  12. I love that basket of ribbons. Every lady should have one!

  13. Elegant stylish Slim. We until now contort to emulate the lovely Lady Keith. Thanks for sharing this with me.
    Warm regards and a great week to you my dear.

  14. Slim Keith definitely had all the makings of a great interior designer, too bad she did not go for it. I hope the day of women compromising for positioned and security is gone the way of the Capote's swans.

  15. Like that other great un-trained non-decorator, Nancy Lancaster, everything this woman touched turned to gold. Not of course, that it doesn't help to have access to a certain amount of the stuff, since, despite the lack of flash & glam, this look doesn't come cheap. Then again, neither does the sterile, soul-less perfection of what some people call the 'spa hotel look', but who wants to live like a monk, devoid of all possessions? Not me.

  16. A House and a Home. And oh, that desk, that desk.

  17. You have had an inspired idea for my desk, which I usually keep closed. I will use the mail slots for decorative vignettes. The desk was a mahogany spinet piano, which my aunt repurposed to create a lovely desk. Thank you



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