I once nearly bought a pair of ornate rococo candelabra at a flea market but turned them down for being too camp and expensive. I have bitterly regretted that decision for years. What’s your biggest decor regret?
An interesting question! Funny you should mention rococo candelabra, because I bought an Italian pair at0 auction last autumn. I saw only small photographs online and in my head I was picturing a masked ball in Venice (perhaps Charles de Beistegui’s opulent 1951 party at the Palazzo Labia), but what I ended up with was more budget performance of The Phantom of the Opera.
One candelabra proceeded to fall apart when I unwrapped it, which I can’t say endeared them to me more. Anyway, I wanted camp theatre, and that’s what I got. The remaining candelabra gets wheeled out for dinner parties and I love it.
The candlesticks I’ve seen on the popular marketplace recently are made from pretty, frilly glass or wonky ceramic. Fine I suppose, but I want more ornate, unusual things. Thinking about it, not many people seem to go in for the rococo look these days, which is a crying shame. We could all do with a bit more dramatic decoration in our lives. But I would say that.
There are countless things that I’ve not bought and regretted, or bid for at auction and known, in my heart of hearts, that I should have put in a higher bid for and won.
Which things spring to mind? A magnificent polychrome wooden deer head, for one. It was thought to date from late 18th-century Tyrol or south Germany and was set on a cartouche of scrolling fruit and flowers with a grotesque mask at its centre.
The crucial thing about this deer head was that it was redecorated by or on behalf of Oliver Messel, the English artist and stage designer, for Flaxley Abbey in the Forest of Dean. I’m a big Messel fan, and would have loved to have owned this fabulously odd piece.
‘It was perched on a chest of drawers, its gleaming blue feathers taking up half the room, meaning we had to duck out of the way to get our socks’ © Acceptfoto/iStock/Getty Images
There are many random things that I’ve missed out on that stick in my head, not valuable or important but charming to me: a primitive painting of a white dog in a landscape; a particularly unusual and beautiful pair of wrought-iron Gothic Revival wall lights; a 19th-century Italian painting of figures inside Capri’s Blue Grotto.
Of course, there are also things that I’ve bought and wished I hadn’t bothered with, but I don’t dwell. I see it like this: I might buy a piece of furniture because I think it’s right for a certain space, or because at this point in time it’s interesting to me. Perhaps I’ve experienced an extreme emotional response. I will love and keep this piece forever, or I might enjoy it for a while and move on.
We’ve all experienced getting caught up in the moment and buying something that later we change our mind about. Some things stand the test of time, others don’t. I often sell things I’ve fallen out of love with. For me, this whole process is an enormous part of the joy of decorating — the hunt, the capture, the release.
Two cases in point: a taxidermy peacock and an ebonised overmantel mirror. About a decade ago, we came to the conclusion that a peacock was exactly what was missing from our flat. Eventually we found a bird on eBay, brought it home and for a couple of years it lived in our bedroom, perched on a chest of drawers, its gleaming blue tail feathers taking up half the room, meaning we had to duck out of the way to get our socks.
Not many people go in for the rococo look, which is a crying shame. We could all do with a bit more dramatic decoration in our lives. But I would say that
The peacock eventually flew the nest; our taxidermy period, I’m happy to say, was fairly shortlived. (The Messel deer head was wooden, remember!)
The ebonised overmantel mirror — an Aesthetic Movement piece — came shortly after the peacock, with its odd little shelves and gilt decoration. It was huge, horrid and most certainly haunted, but I don’t know, I suppose I was channelling that late 19th-century decadent vibe.
As for decorating spaces, I don’t really do regrets because I don’t think we should look at the choices we’ve made in the past in this way. At the time, I clearly wanted that paint colour or wallpaper. Now I’ve changed my mind, and that’s fine.
I make mistakes, certainly: I wanted a lavender wall colour for my studio when I moved in last spring. I’m not one of those people who spends ages staring at paint charts, flipping one’s lid at the subtle differences between Malevolent Pavement 15 and Mournful Dawn 3. I have an idea, I act on it and then I face the consequences. So, naturally, I didn’t buy any sample pots.
I ended up with a wall a few shades lighter than the wrapper of a bar of Dairy Milk, when in fact what I was after was Almost Totally Decayed Blue Hyacinth.
So, yes, buy those sample pots, people.
If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall
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