15 March 2010

holding court at Cornbury Park: Fowler-then and now Part II

When John Fowler was called by the 2nd Lady Rotherwick and her Lord, the Prince of Decorators was winding down a brilliant career. The year was 1967, Fowler retired 4 years later- leaving-according to biographer Martin Wood- his best, most stellar, work. Wood says John Fowler was at his peak, the interiors 'are more flamboyant, perhaps a touch more theatrical and certainly more sumptuous.' Who am I to argue?

the Drawing Room
done in a scheme of blue, the walls are covered with a damask-a greyed blue (though appearing golden in the photograph below)-shown in the detailed photograph above. the curtains are dominating presence in the room are worthy of a Dior ball gown. one touch Fowler added to the room was a cream geometric carpet that is still a part of the room.
the Drawing Room still has all of Fowler's grandeur intact. Details I love are the small tables about the room, the large lamps, family photographs and the mirror placed in between the two windows, a tight fit -but perfectly placed.

John Fowler had decorated the previous home of the new Cornbury owners, Bletchington Park, and the Lady was quite happy there- but apparently the shooting at Cornbury Park was a draw for Lord Rotherwick. Along with architect Philip Jebb, Fowler set about making some drastic alterations to the downstairs main hall in order to add some upstairs bedrooms. The double height halls were done away with for this purpose,creating a more intimate Main Hall.

the Main Hall

the 3rd Lord Rotherwick with his son at Cornbury Park 
(image from Tatler, oct 2009)

The current residents are the 3rd Lord Rotherwick and his lively , lovely family. Lady Rotherwick, Tania, breathed life back into Fowler interiors- and having a family of teens and toddlers helps. She says 'It's so amazing you literally can't change anything. The most I've been able to do is put a bunch of flowers in a vase and decorate my own study.'  More about what the Lady really does at the end of this post. The Tatler is filled with photographs of the residents and the interiors that Fowler designed for the present owner's parents. Richard Dennen's article Cornbury Takes Off  is a fantastic peak into the 17 room mansion.

family photos in the Tatler

below-a page from the Tatler story, 
the Cornbury Master Bedroom (left)
the Bletchington Room (right) 
& the Buchan Room (lower left)

The rooms of Cornbury's debut in print was nearly forty years after Fowler completed the project. Published in the 2008 December World of Interiors magazine, Cornbury appears pristine. As if the designer had worked with the current Lady of the manor, the rooms have a luxurious elegance, a freshness, a traditional stately quality. Stephen Calloway saw the rooms in 2008-and with photographer Anthony Crolla-recorded these magnificent rooms for the magazine. I doubt these rooms could be created today by any designer working. (Oh but of course-Nicholas Haslam!) The attention to quality and the details Fowler laboured over do not exist in the pages of today's magazine rooms. As Stephen Calloway explains- unlike the designers of today, Fowler maintained complete discretion where his clients were concerned and respected the privacy they demanded. This discretion left Cornbury's rooms undocumented. Most designer's today insist on their rights to photograph their work.

Cornbury is full of Fowler surprises. The beds at Cornbury are truly ships of state, trimmed, decked, fringed and beautifully swathed. Stephen Calloway calls Fowler's treatment of the bedrooms to be his 'Mannerist sensibility in full play, creating startling effects through the use of combinations of colour and texture.' The colours are HOT ORANGE, LIME GREEN, VIOLET-GREY- and today we see them coming on strong or peaking in current interiors.

In the MASTER BEDROOM the walls are hung in an off white corduroy velvet. Again- Martin Wood, 'The bed, probably a made-up piece with Georgian posts and a very flamboyant Rococo cornice,was dressed with a Warner's fabric, which was also used for the window curtains.' Here, it is obvious Fowler did not mind putting together elements to get the desired effects. The bed is indeed Beautiful. There are also several intricately dressed dog kennels done up by Fowler for the bedrooms, one seen in the Master (below) and another in the Bletchington Room.

Details I love- more little tables, large beautiful lamps, functional floor lamps and the fitted bench at the window.

the Bletchington Bedroom ,circa Fowler
a Chinese red Pomegranate damask on the walls

the portrait to the left is of the 1st Lady Rotherwick-Fowler's client

the Bletchington Kennel by Fowler
mimic the designs from the room's bed

the current resident of the Bletchington Kennel

the Buchan Bedroom 
 Mauny papers and  a riotous pendant canopy

a stately bath off the Garthmore Bedroom (not pictured)
 Fowler used one of his favoured Mauny papers PRIMAVERES
& a Friar's chair in apricot, note the decorated door 

the Tynley Bedroom 
fully covered in matching paper and fabric

the Hyde Bedroom
masterly detailing with a Mauny border, deeply swagged bed curtains, 
and relatively simple curtains for Fowler.

The Bed and Curtain Details at Cornbury
Fowler's mastery in full flourish

(the Master bed above)

a Fowler sketch of the Stone Hall Curtains

 close up of the heavy wool curtains-flawlessly made

 the Stone Hall
John Fowler arranged this beautiful space as a hall-cum-sitting room. The Hall- with its strong compartmented ceiling- was named for the Nicholas Stone who designed the grand space in the 17th century. Fowler detail is never more apparent here-He had the stone chimney piece moved over a very few inches to achieve a perfect balance in the room. Fowler's curtains ride right up to the ceiling line and in between the sturdy corbels. The geometry of the tops of the curtains is Fowler at his best curtainwise.

more bedroom details

Last but not least- the incredibly beautiful curtains in the Drawing Room. It is always a wonder to see the real colours that are in a room. This photograph of the couture curtains John Fowler created for Cornbury shows the curtain colour to be a cerulean. In the left photograph below- the colour certainly appears very strong, in the right- much softer- tricks of a camera? Only the Lady of the house would know-not that it matters very much-the design is in the details. Martin Wood takes over-
The 'curtains demonstrated John's skill at achieving magnificent effects. Each window was dressed with three-swag drapery, decorated at each end with bows and choux between, and finished with balloon tails. The swags and tails were edged with a frill, lined with Dot and Cross chintz, and in turn edged with fan and double-fan edging.'
Calloway describes the dressmaker inspired confections as 'positively frivolous blue silk curtains, madly ruched and trimmed with lace.'

The photographs and preservation of Cornbury give us the ultimate Fowler. He was always most comfortable in private homes, creating real interiors for real people.
'I like the decoration of a room to be well behaved but free from too many rules, to have a sense of graciousness; to be mannered, yet casual and unselfconscious; to be stimulating, even provocative; and finally to be nameless of period-a fantasy expressing the personality of the owner.' -so said John Fowler as his career began in 1938. In his last work at Cornbury this ideal of Fowler's was forever  magnificently achieved.

Sources and More about Lady Rotherwick
Martin Wood's chapter on Fowler's last work is fittingly called FINAL FLOURISH. This is the definitive book on - THE PRINCE OF DECORATORS and Wood has written another beautifully put together book about Nancy Lancaster. All the descriptions are derived from Wood's research and the Colefax and Fowler: The best in English decoration, by Jones and Dickson, the sited World of Interiors Dec. 2008-Stephen Calloway written FOREVER FOWLER and the Tatler October 2009 article.

and Now Cornbury host's POSHSTOCK read about it HERE

 Cornbury HERE

read Part 1 here 


  1. This post is absolutely magnificent. Images are amazing and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I have several books on Fowler and Lancaster and love them all. Hope you have a great week.

  2. Oh my the Book cover and the Buchan bedroom are my favorites, Exquisite work....Fowler was pure genius!!

    Art by Karena

  3. Oh, sigh, sigh sigh. Could you not just move into those amazing spaces right this very second? The drapery is beyond anything imaginable today. The days of using that many layers of fabrics and trims are gone style wise and are prohibitive financially for most.
    Exquisite post.



  4. I first saw these gorgeous rooms in WOI, then again in Tatler. This is the absolute realization of Fowler's latter-period genius, reflecting a lifetime of experience. Even the prettiest of decorations look marvelously right in these enormous, perfectly proportioned rooms. Nothing cottagy here! And then there is the use of color. Ravishing. Thanks for this post, a treat indeed.

  5. OK. I've called 911. The details are perfection. Getting the fabric to drape perfectly without obscuring the pattern. The lovely use of contrasting fabric on the reverse. And the trim alone is enough to cause serious injury!

  6. About that drawing room at Cornbury Park and the mystery surrounding it's actual colouring: you have presented 2 versions side by side of the curtain details shown against the damask walls, and asked us which is true? I vote for the more saturated example, the rich turquoise against the subtle greyed blue of the walls, which is more typical of Fowler than the washed out examples shown elsewhere.
    That, in a nutshell, is part of the maddening confusion
    that results whenever we try to understand a room based on the printed page alone. What is the point of a magazine running a lavish tribute to JF's style if not one of the rooms displays its true colours? You'd think by now that technology might improve matters, but the recent blue issue of HB shows a room on its cover (washed out blue walls etc) and inside the magazine, it's obvious that the colours are quite different. Drives me crazy.
    That said, I do not love Cornbury Park as good
    example of JF's decoration. It might have something to do with the owner's stuff, so frequently out of scale (see bedroom cupboards) with the rooms. The decoration is heavy handed.

  7. Gwen, Karena, and Dandy- So glad you enjoyed this romp through Cornbury. Fresh as a daisy, No? and thanks too for your comments I value them dearly.

  8. Cynthia- I sigh too. thanks for stopping in.

    Home- I do love the mastery of details in the curtains, tour de force.
    Reggie- I agree wholeheartedly, glad we are of like minds.


  9. Toby,Toby,Toby, Not love Cornbury? Sacrilege. Come forward and tell me what of JF's you liked best other than your beautiful post on Clandon Park- the Hunt Room etc. I love that too and your post is divine. I would love to reference it at some point. I get frustrated with the colour perpetrated on us too. I can think the vibrant one is on target- ups the ante indeed. I saw an absolutely gorgeous paint colour in Elle decor last summer and it was referenced with a Ben Moore name and number- Went to see it and what appeared in print as a lavendery gray- so lovely and the real colour was- blah blah- pale blue. Back to Cornbury-the Stone Room gets high marks, the bath with the Mauny paper and the Colour palettes are beautiful to my eye. pgt

  10. I do not love Cornbury Park as good example of JF's decoration. It might have something to do with the owner's stuff, so frequently out of scale (see bedroom cupboards) with the rooms.

    Even before I read Toby's comment, I found myself idly wondering how much of the furniture pre-dated Fowler's involvement. I would imagine quite a bit. (And I suspect this was true with many Fowler projects.)

    I much prefer to see a house like this, with the accumulation of generations, than the sort of ghastly thing we now see in Palm Beach, where very famous lady decorators produce lush but deracinated interiors for hedge fund babies.

    little augury -- Great, great post.

  11. hi darling, sorry I have not been commenting on here for a while, life has been a whirlwind the last few weeks.
    I wanted your opinion on something I just posted, do you think it is too harsh?
    ulla xox

  12. None of that 'umble elegance in these beautifully colored rooms. Would that there was such a colorist working today. Lovely post.

  13. My almost favourite detail is the latticed bathroom door. Quickens this particular pulse. I drove past Colefax and Fowler the other evening. It is a dreadful disappointment -overly commercial. As is their dire website. Fowler would be turning in his grave.

    I tend to agree with TW that the decoration is a bit heavy-handed here. I couldn't keep up with the colour argument but I know I love two tones of blue together -but they have to be chosen with genius.

  14. Ancient-I see not penned as that for nothing-as it were. You are right here- The rooms feel real, all colour debate aside. I would rather see a home filled with personal possession rather than grand pieces that fill a room. I think this may prove Fowler's genius- he was a working designer- sometimes you work with what is a given-clients then and now don't drop it all.
    & another thing- Though he is seen as driving recklessly over National Trust properties with some of his own
    iron will. It was likely very liberating to through away the key and step on the petrol with colour.

  15. Ulla, your post is quite fantastic- Brava! All go and read Ulla's lament about courtesy and manners.

  16. Blue- the colours here are celebratory-complex even, a final bow, perhaps celebrating life in full.

  17. Rosie, I love the colours here- I do think we can see them today in all the glossies. I would love to walk through. I am not one to lay it on thickly with all the curtains. but I love these curtains. I look at the decoration and curtains- When they were done they must have been heavenly, I would live with them today in a heartbeat,& would heavy hearted IF they were ever changed. I think it is maybe a lack of today-rather than an overload in the past.

  18. I relished every word that The Ancient wrote as comments in Reggie Darling's controversial posting
    Maids Should Wear Uniforms, so it did pain me slightly to see my offhand remarks about Cornbury Park taken to task!! Of course a house looks more interesting and has more depth when the furnishings are assembled over time~think of Mrs Lancaster's things and how Hasley Court, the ideal country house, came to have the magical atmosphere that entrances us to this day. I risk being nit-picking about Cornbury, where the balance seems to be weighted in favor of decoration and where the relationship of JF's carefully wrought backgrounds isn't always complemented by the scale of the furnishings. Take those bedroom cabinets. Fowler
    would have made up for their lack of scale with arrangements of pots, pictures, etc above to give the vertical thrust needed to fill the gaps in those very tall, rather coarsely built rooms. Still, I'd kill to have any one of those beds~ and furthermore the Rotherwicks are to be commended for preserving so much of JF's work.

  19. I am wrestling with myself over the curtains, swags, pelmets (valances?).. These rooms need drama but I do find them over-fussy in places. Really can't agree about those in the Stone Room. I feel I've eaten too many chocolates when I look at them. Adore all his colour schemes though. That picture of the blue drawing room gone apricot that so upset TW.. a perfect point. Is it by Crolla too? Because it strikes me that Derry Moore is fond of bathing his rooms in sumptuous golden light that annoys the hell out of me after a while.

  20. The colour is perplexing- The photographer has every right to be artistic when being an artist-but for me especially with rooms where there is nothing to compare it to- the photographer should be more of a documentation - give me the original intent of the room, not something that looks better to his eye.

  21. Meant to answer your question Gaye,( before all that rambling digression on my part), about favorite Fowler projects for private houses.
    Apart from Hasley Court which is in a class by itself owing to Mrs Lancaster's involvement, I'm most impressed with photographs of Daylesford. The decoration is every bit as gutsy and complex as that at Cornbury Park but somehow there remains that slightly undercooked atmosphere that we associate with the best of JF.
    Then again we are beholden to photographers and the printed page whenever we make these assessments and I agree with you about the need for interiors to be photographed as faithfully as possible, so as to increase our understanding of them. Easier said than done...

  22. I came back to read more of the comments, and I am so glad I did. What is unique here is that no one feels the need to be an echo. I found the conversation quite informative, amusing and interesting. I am intrigued how all of us look at these same images with such a different lens. Good work, LA for creating a rousing discussion.

  23. The colour combinations at Cornbury are absolutely fascinating. With Fowler I always have the feeling that I am learning something, that they eye is being tested and sharpened.

  24. Toby --

    You and I are on the same page.

    (We're just squinting through slightly different glasses.)

    All the best.

  25. Toby, I love the Nancy Lancaster home too- I am going to continue on with more posts about Mr Fowler. I will be looking for you here then. Thanks for all your input. pgt

  26. thanks Home!

    Emile, they truly are and I do love colour, I have tried to edit it at times and always return. pgt

    the Ancient- those glasses have no rose colour-but with a sharp lens both. I appreciate your insights.pgt



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