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Home & Garden

Affection For British Design

Our New York editor goes British.
By Virginia Bauer |

SOHO HEAVENLY: The painted glass-clad Lulu Cabinet with glass shelves and a lacquered-paper interior is just a sample of the noteworthy custom scene in Chelsea.

Britannia Rules
After a long day at the ho-hum Architectural Digest design show, our New York editor goes British.

Are you familiar with the preferred mattress at Buckingham Palace? asked the killingly cheerful young sales rep. I stared at the $9,000, fit-for-a-queen, king-sized mattress made of cashmere and silk and covered in Belgian damask ticking, trying to shake the unsavory image of Charles and Camille, well, you know. By that time, an hour into my walk though the highly publicized Architectural Digest Home and Design Show in New York, I was ready to sample the royal bedding myself. With the exception of some incidental British imports and a wonderful lounge created by Ligne Roset, the show was far less than billed.

But the Brits, as appears to be their custom, saved the day. The most intriguing wares were those of Sir William Bentley Billiards, the world’s largest dealer of specialty and antique billiard and snooker tables. And for good reason: the tables are available in a range of sizes and a wide selection of gorgeous woods, and the craftsmanship is impeccable. His booth drew one of the longer lines at the AD show; the other big draw was Colorado Steaks, with its shameless Free Food sign. Sir William’s clients are the privileged “the BP and other celebrities, Old World and nouveau alike. And he does a sort of Dakota Jackson thing: once the china is cleared, the dining table magically converts into a game table; it’s a smoke and snooker for desert. So, if you’re in the market for a billiard  table and have a five-to-six-figure budget, Sir William Bentley is, without question, your man. Father’s Day, anyone?

Leaving the clubby world of British billiards, I continued to plod through the last displays at the AD show and found great relief at the Potterton Book stall. Here again, the most intriguing discovery was British-born. I came across two wonderful soft-cover references by British designer Wendy Baker, The Window and Bed Sketchbook and The Curtain Sketchbook 2. Both are published by ShoeString Book Company, and I enthusiastically recommend them to decorators and do-it-yourselfers. Wendy has authored five books in this series, tackling a wide range of decorating dilemmas, including window treatments, accents for the bed, organization of a child’s room, passementerie, cushions, and outdoor living spaces. These are cut-to-the-chase decorators sketchbooks, visual dictionaries of options with black-and-white illustrations and brief, handwritten explanations”a great addition to your design and dcor library.

My AD experience must have sensitized me to British design and products; now it seems that everywhere I look I find more exciting U.K. exports. Of the other Brits that have crossed my path recently, a particular favorite is Richard Taylor Designs of London. A well-spoken Irishman, Richard has been in and out of the States since he first showed his furniture and lighting here and circulated his catalog. His work was so utterly inspiring that manufacturers ripped him off left and right. Richard still sells his extraordinary line of decorative lighting, furniture, mirrors, and accessories—quietly and directly to designers. His collection of crystal column lamps and table lamps are beautifully detailed, and his line of wall lights, sconces, and chandeliers are equally exquisite. Crafted from various metals, some of his pieces are formal and ornate, while others are sleeker and more modern. Each is handmade by skilled craftsmen and gilders, and all share a sophisticated sensibility.

Another crown jewel is Knowles & Christou; their glass- and mirror-clad pieces are definitely worth the extra shipping and the wait. If ever a piece of furniture inspired me to redecorate a room, it was the Mini Lulu Drawers. This three-drawer chest is clad in hand-printed glass (or mirror) with lacquered beech legs. The companion pieces include two three-shelf cabinets (choose the height that fits your plan) and a console table. Spend any time at all on their web site ( and you’re sure to discover pieces that will add pizazz to your dcor.

And one last British find: Bella Figura’s new line of ultrasuede lampshades. They’re fabulous. Even on a good day, lampshades just don’t excite me. Determining the right shape, the right length, the right fabric so much time and effort for an accessory that so often disappears into the room. But these novel lampshades will warm up your desk lamp, perk up that sconce, or make a standing lamp sing. All are handmade in England and available in seven vibrant colors (pink, red, yellow, beige, blue, purple, and black) and sizes from 5 inches to 22 inches, so you’re sure to find the perfect fit.

Although the AD show was not all that I’d hoped, I did find a renewed affection for British design. If we’re not buying French these days, remember that our allies across the Pond have much to offer. Let’s do take care of our friends.

Until next time.

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