If you’re a card-carrying English posho, recent times have not been kind to your sense of national pride. First came Brexit and the cultural repercussions of empire, then Meghan and Harry aired their grievances to Oprah, and your soccer team just missed the Euro finals.
But in this you can sleep easy: the classic English country house has absolutely conquered the world of interior design. “The Brits really know how to make very comfortable sofas and chairs,” says the Darien, Connecticut–based decorator Virginia Tupker. “It’s what my clients want, and they’re very, very particular. And it leads you in a certain direction.”
Every Room Should … Sing?
As for most designers of her generation, these are boom times. A London-born, bi-national, AD100 decorator and former Vogue staffer, Tupker is absolutely swamped, and her long-held aesthetic is touching a nerve that her tony clients can’t get enough of: skirted bathroom vanities covered in prints, wicker furniture in the living room, intentionally mismatched pillows and cushions on a sofa, and a deceptively easy-looking mix of antiques. In other words, your grandmother would certainly approve. Your NFT-peddling art adviser from Palm Beach would not.
The look is colorful, it’s sometimes intense, and it’s everything a person of means needs in the age of lockdowns: to be relaxed at home, surrounded by things they love, and to not give a damn if the dog leaps onto the sofa. (Who’s coming over for an inspection, anyhow?)
“You’re always going to have clients who like minimalism, who like gray, black, and white, but most of my clients love textiles and layering and color,” Tupker says. “I’m definitely seeing people taking more risks.” Tupker remembers visiting National Trust houses as a child, experiences that permanently formed her sense of style. And she recognizes that the same decorating sensibility considered establishment in her youth has come roaring back.
She’s constantly referencing the work of 20th-century decorating firm Colefax and Fowler—known today mostly for the fabric line that bears its name—and its co-founder, John Fowler. Two books in Tupker’s library are already entirely dog-eared: John Fowler: Prince of Decorators and On the Fringe: A Life in Decorating, by Imogen Taylor, one of Fowler’s protégées.
And Tupker’s not just referencing the English-country-house look—she’s buying more goods from the U.K. than ever before. Sofas from George Smith, kitchens from Plain English, paints from British brand Paints & Paper Library, and nearly everything on offer from Soane.
If it sounds very casual and easy, it’s not. It takes a keen eye and an encyclopedic knowledge of sources to get this upper-class slouch aesthetic right. “Part of the look is the pillows that are sort of depressed, like a dog just leapt off them,” she says, understanding exactly how off-brand that sounds.
When I spoke to Tupker, right as she was leaving for the airport to visit family in the U.K., she described her latest triumph epitomizing this trend: a “bright, clear” green kitchen in Southport, Connecticut, with a backsplash made from hand-painted tiles. In the same house, she’s even upholstering the inside of a butler’s pantry, accentuated with nailheads. “My clients want that level of detail,” she says.
This isn’t just an American copycat trend. Back in London, the movement can be tied to two unrelated designers who love a bit of clash, and just happen to be … Swedes. Beata Heuman, a London-based, Swedish-born industry darling, opened her firm nearly a decade ago after working for stalwart Nicky Haslam, and she already has a popular monograph, Every Room Should Sing, to her name. Released this spring, it extols her look—a colorful, clashy-in-a-good-way vibe.
“There is a focus on matters that I often find to be overlooked when it comes to interiors,” Heuman writes in her introduction, “things that we all need to feel at ease, such as variety, sentimentality, and even a sense of mystery.”
A Sweet Life in Sussex
Heuman’s ability to mix things up might sound like pure kitsch to American ears, but her skill at it is shared by her fellow Swedish transplant and reigning duke of this new look, Martin Brudnizki. A leading taste-maker in the interiors game, Brudnizki co-founded a line of furniture and lighting called And Objects—but he’s known mostly for his hotels and restaurants, such as the Ivy and Annabel’s nightclub, in London; the Surf Club in Miami; and the Beekman, in New York.
Lately he’s been busy with his most recent project, his own large apartment in a country house in West Sussex that he purchased during the pandemic. The 1677 building, which once housed Prime Minister Anthony Eden and sits adjacent to a national park, has become a home base for Brudnizki and his pandemic puppy, Zenon. “If you look back when these houses were built for the aristocracy, they were so insular, quite Brexit-y,” says Brudnizki, drawing comparisons to today’s moment. “They represented that glorious class where you couldn’t go to foreign countries.”
Brudnizki spends his days in West Sussex reading books by the fire, walking in the parks, and going down to the pub for dinner. “It’s a sort of fantasy, Arcadian English country life,” he says. His grand salon, with pale-yellow walls and old-masters paintings hung gallery-style, is inspired by Swedish Grace, his homeland’s decorative period that began in the 1920s. At a glance it looks almost like a historic re-creation, but Brudnizki has tweaked it for contemporary times: ornate sconces hold L.E.D.’s with gels placed on the bulbs to warm the light, and a large oak dining table has been scrubbed and left unfinished; he uses it to both eat and work on.
To him, these ornate and layered interiors are actually easier to pull off, and he wishes people weren’t so afraid of a little color. “If you want a very minimal piece, the quality of the materials and the craftsmanship has to be second to none,” he says.
“Part of the look is the pillows that are sort of depressed, like a dog just leapt off them.”
His latest line for the Rug Company combines animal prints with graphic borders that look like massively oversized fabric trim. “It’s about the layering, the comfort. Not only the tactile comfort but the visual comfort. It’s about how it’s lit, the softness, the use of spaces to make it all feel effortless, so you could spend a whole week at home and be comfortable and not miss going out.” When I ask him what this entire moment in décor is rebelling against, he doesn’t miss a beat. “Beige,” he says.
Dan Rubinstein, the former home-and-design director at Departures, is a design journalist and the host of the Grand Tourist podcast