‘Did you know that the first public performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Creation in the New World took place in the newly built opera house at Rio de Janeiro? Dom João VI of Portugal had imported a German kapellmeister, who had worked with Salieri, and he brought the musical scores with him in his luggage. Isn’t that extraordinary?’

Nicky Haslam has an insatiable social curiosity, following Lady Diana Cooper’s mantra: “Say yes – you can always leave.” He rarely does, since, as he puts it, ‘There is always something that can be winkled out of even the greatest bores.’ Subsequent conversations are a mixture of gossip, interesting facts and humor, and – rather like the rooms in his new house – full of wit and originality.

Hunting Lodge, previously the home of John Fowler, was originally built for Henry VII in the middle of a royal forest. In 1620, a Jacobean façade was added to the structure.

Three years ago, Nicky moved from the Hunting Lodge, a magical Tudor/Jacobean revival home in Hampshire, which, for the 50 years he lived there, he made distinctively his own. Deciding to downsize, in 2019 he held a sale of his possessions at Bonhams, divesting himself of years of accumulation. Months later, ‘beloved friends made the enchanting and life-changing offer’ of taking over a honey-stone pavilion on their estate in the Cotswolds and this is his new country love affair.

He arrived with fairly few possessions, but, within two years, has created another Nicky Haslam world, furnished with pieces from nearby auction houses and local dealers, and objects that he has frequently transformed from their original purposes. For example, the library chandelier is made up of a cake tin, a plant support and a tin star with pods of an Indian oak-apple tree painted green, all hanging from a red plastic chain bought at a local agricultural store.

Haslam used a cake pan, a tin star, the pods of an Indian oak-apple tree, and some plant supports to create a chandelier.
Fresh, artfully arranged florals are an important part of the Haslam experience.

The central light in his bedroom is an upturned Ikea fruit bowl; cardboard butterflies are silhouetted inside an outsize round paper lampshade in the hall; and painted corrugated cardboard makes a sensational dado in the library. A large ceramic vase, marbleized in viridian green by the potter, stands under a console in the hall; it needed a top and by cutting in half and marble-painting a rubber ball that fits it exactly, Nicky finished it off with appropriate panache.

He has an extraordinary visual memory. ‘There are things you remember from other decorators in the past,’ he says. ‘When I was 17, I saw the work of Cocteau and Bérard in Paris and, in America, that of Tony Duquette, Billy Baldwin and George Stacey.’ Of the latter, Nicky recalls a room with brown satin walls that struck him as sensational.

The grand architecture is complemented by homey touches and the occasional sculpture.
The interiors are decorated with finds from local auction houses and antiques stores.

He does not mind pastiche and is not afraid of the fake – or of making mistakes, which he describes as a huge liberation. ‘People use clichés so much nowadays, for example, putting bookshelves on each side of the fireplace. Instead, you should put one there and one somewhere else, as a room should never look as if it has been thought out. The point of decorating is to make those who are in it look prettier and feel more at ease. A room should make you want to smile without knowing it as you enter.’

Built in 2013, the award-winning gatehouse by architect Craig Hamilton has a central hall running the length of the building. The main bedroom and bathroom are at one end, with a small spare room and library to one side and, opposite these, a sitting room with french windows, looking out over a terrace and parkland.

The sitting room is larger than any Nicky had in the Hunting Lodge and is ideal for entertaining. He has divided it with a central table – which always holds a vase of flowers and foliage – with a seating area along one side. An oak table positioned to screen the view of the kitchen beyond is used as a desk and buffet, and for ‘dreadfully cramped, I’m afraid’ dining.

In 2019, many of the items from Hunting Lodge, such as this ornate chandelier, were sold at Bonhams.
The walls are covered in baroque, swirled cartouches, painted in a striking shade of blue.

Inspired by visits to the exquisite 18th-century folly of Cy Twombly’s partner, Nicola Del Roscio, at Gaeta in Italy, Nicky – with the help of artist and muralist Lizzi Porter – has brought the walls alive with baroque swirled cartouches in azure blue framing the doors. In his bedroom, she has painted lilac ribbons falling from faux curtain poles on the walls, while Nicky has decorated the bed with cut-out strips of Mauny’s bamboo border wallpaper: ‘I dreamed up the ribbons myself and put a version in my Random Harvest collection for Turnell & Gigon. It is called “Let’s Twist Again”… so corny.’

The artist and muralist Lizzi Porter has painted lilac ribbons on the walls.
The gatehouse was built in 2013 by the celebrated architect Craig Hamilton.

A small office by the front door acts as a studio in which he works on the finish of a lampshade, a vase or a painting; on the wall, there are framed letters and pictures of friends, stars and royalty. Luke Edward Hall has created a large lilac, silver and black emblazon above Nicky’s bedroom door at the far end of the hall.

And his passion for coral is typefied by gnarled apple branches, sprayed white, filling glass lamps overhead. There is a joie de vivre about a Nicky interior and, as he sits on his terrace looking at a newly acquired stone deer with antlers he has just silvered, he is thinking about replacing the Ikea bowl with his latest bargain – a metal chinoiserie lantern, from which he might hang scarlet lacquer balls. Made by Nicky, of course.

Liz Elliot is an editor at large for House & Garden