15 February 2011

in praise of the Red Room, & Lesley Blanch


The first time I had an opportunity to do up a place of my own- I painted my little sitting room Red. It pleased me. So much so- that I painted my next abode - yes-Red. My next move was into a large house and it would seem Red would naturally follow me the short two blocks away. It eventually did- in the form of an gorgeous and complex ELITIS paper of a Red, fuschia and orange geometric and damask pattern.*  Better late than never- Red is the color of passion, fire, beauty, royalty and for me above all these- it represented Independence- A Room of One's Own as it were. With each move I found I needed it less.

I don't have any Red in my current home-but I do have lavender- and don't forget lavender would be no where without Red, or blue, or white for that matter. Loving all three- but not so much its imagery of stars and stripes- rather each one standing singly or paired together or Mixed appeals to me greatly- just stay away from a full out patriotic RWB room (just a word to the wise). If two or three houses were within my grasp-there would be a Red room in at least one of them.

Now here we arrive at Lord and Lady Iliffe's Basildon Park country house along with Lesley Blanch and photographer Henry Clarke on a VOGUE assignment in July 1966...

while other guests are off to Ascot.

Lady Iliffe wearing Indian jewels in gold and pink silk inside her walled garden
born Renee Merandondu Plessis of Chamerel, Mauritius

With the introductions completed- First- a quick tour around a few famous Red rooms by Vuillard in preparation for the splendid Octagonal Room of Basildon Park.

Vuillard, Red Interior, 1900

Vuillard, In the Red Room, 1914

Basildon Park, a historic country house in the Anglo Palladian style is just one of three houses Lord and Lady Iliffe share. in the words of Lesley Blanch- "The three houses Lord and Lady Iliffe call home are exactly that: Although in violent contrast to each other, all three express the same unifying sense of harmony- of home...No professional decorator has ever devised so much as a pelmet-indeed, Lady Iliffe is apt to do that herself, creating from a job lot of antique fringes and tassels...Through all three houses a curiously exotic note is sounded...there runs a thread of tropicana, of languorous, frangipani-scented zephyrs..reminding us of Lady Iliffe's French childhood in Mauritius."

Basildon Park's "Piano Nobile"
The Octagon Room with claret-red walls and brocaded curtains from Blenheim Palace.

All the grandeur of the Palladian style is present in this room. Paired with the saturated claret Red in the room is  a pale butter yellow, with eighteenth century bamboo tables and Chinese lacquer. Lady Iliffe's love of gardening is hinted at with the addition of a gardenia bush in the jardiniere-thought to be an eighteenth-century Italian linen basket.

Another Red room at Basildon Park -The Indian-red Library.

Henry Clarke photograph of Lord Iliffe, r. with Lord Roderic Platt & Sir Neill Cooper-Key.

 other important rooms in the house

the Drawing Room

The Dining Room

 The Great Hall

 pages from the Lesley Blanch story in Vogue July 1966: Triple Entente

If you are wondering where Lord and Lady Iliffe were during the other months of the year in 1966- think a streamlined flat overlooking Piccadilly and a "pint sized sun trap overlooking the Mediterranean."( LB)  All three homes Blanch contends -"has its own manner of an unorthodox, entirely personal, and triumphant approach to decoration." That is an idea one can take to heart in 2011- Don't you think? How are the other homes decorated? maybe another time.

Lesley Blanch is described on her own official website as a "scholarly romantic" & that sums it up succinctly -what every writer aspires to. Of her own still she said,  "My rooms are gestures of defiance against every rule of the pundit decorators. Now East, now West, my rooms reflect the globe. Cultures, races, climates, colours and epochs mix in harmony here, as do bargains and chintz..." Shusha Guppy describes her house: "Lesley Blanch’s house is filled with mementos of her travels and adventures: Russian icons, samovars, Qajar paintings and rugs from Persia and Turkey, exotica from India. Divans and the scent of incense and jasmine further enhance the exotic and relaxing atmosphere … "She works at a desk strewn with books, papers and clippings in the living room. All the other rooms, including her own, are also lined with bookshelves." Looking Back, A Panoramic View of a Literary Age by the Grandes Dames of European Letters (1992)

Now-that sounds like heaven.

Vogue pages from 1966- my own.



  1. Red rooms for me nearly always have sinister associations thanks to the Masque of the Red Death (which could be proposed as a story about interior design!) and the red room in Twin Peaks. Then there's the short story by HG Wells entitled The Red Room:


    in which the room itself drives an occupant to extremes of fear. On the upside, Mick Jagger's home in the film Performance (a big favourite of mine) has dark red walls with a lot of layered carpets and Moroccan furnishings. That's still my ideal, I think.

  2. John, that is interesting, I am going to follow up on the Masque of the REd Death and the HG Wells. I have also thought of the red room in Cries and Whispers-which I say at a very impressionable age. As always thinking beyond the face of the obvious is why I am here and I always find that on your blog. -Gaye

  3. Cries and Whispers--OH MY! I watched that film so many times.

    Our living room is a shade of red; Benjamin Moore "Poppy." It is my favorite place to read, meditate, and share wine and conversation. And the art sparkles on the walls. As it does in the soul.

  4. Until now I've only ever seen the octagon room at Basildon in black
    and white photographs~specifically, in John Cornforth's book The Inspiration of the Past in which he discusses Basildon at length.
    Therefore to see those ripe red walls was a revelation! Thanks for
    this one, Little A.

  5. Bruce, I think it might be time to get out some movies.

  6. Mr. Worthington, I always learn something from you. Is this the book I have? Must check- I will see. Isn't this dramatic? la

  7. PGT i have chills - yesterday for valentines day i made a pilgrimage to Sir Richard Burtons mausoleum (to be posted shortly on our blog!) and texted NIcky to say - have just been to see Sir Richard Burton for Valentines day...think Lesley Blanch would be pleased. !! And here she is.. on yours. .that IS extraordinary!! xx Colette

  8. Colette! yes we seem to be walking the same way-(I flatter myself) I can not wait to see the post, would love to see that mausoleum on a visit-if only Lesley Blanch could accompany us-but maybe she could? chills.

  9. What a brilliant post little a.,not that I haven't come to expect it! The tie ins with Vuillard I love and revisiting the great age of Lesley Blanch is never a disappointment.

  10. Love it all!! I had a red room room at my old house I adored. Alas the only aspect of my current decorations that I can now relate to the inimitable Lesley Blanchard is my "desk strewn with books, papers and clippings"!!

  11. Anon. These two Vuillard paintings are intriguing-aren't they all? I want to follow up on one of them soon and the alterations Vulliard made years later.

  12. Q. I still love a red room, and can't we all relate to the desk--- and floor--- and sofa! pgt

  13. As her obituary states, "Bitterly disappointed not to have children, Renée Iliffe channelled her energies into making the perfect home for her husband, who succeeded to his father's peerage in 1960 and died in 1996. She was a skilled and generous hostess, her genius being to create an atmosphere in which comfort was mixed with elegance, and to inject it with a sense of fun." See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1563144/Renee-Lady-Iliffe.html

  14. Aesthete, Comfort, mixed with elegance and to inject it with a sense of fun-should be something designer or not should aspire to in interiors. It does all get a bit too serious at times. The "suntrap" she did up was all of that.

  15. Just checked out of library:

    Modern Times
    Madness of King George
    The Mill on the Floss

    Yes, I was in the "M" section.

  16. Ahhh that is one of the joys of being adult - painting our house any colour we want :) I would certainly keep one room in cool blues, greens and earth colours however - usually the study. Be passionate in the bedroom and kitchen; be contemplative and scholarly in the study :)

  17. My kitchen and dining room have had a RED ceiling for 18 + years, have and continue to love and enjoy it every day. But it is time for a change, new plaster may be the only option.......it is a REALLY good red. I know I will miss it when it is gone.

  18. Hi,

    I am currently working at Basildon Park and am trying to research the social life of the Iliffe's so was thrilled to come across this post. I have attempted to track down the July 1966 edition of Vogue in vain and wondered if you would be able to give me any further details from the article?

    Yours hopefully,



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