A Meeting of Minds
Hosted by Wells Abbott, 90 US designers visit the Design Centre for a day of discovery and insights
Billed as “a groundbreaking event that brings American designers and English makers together,” the Design Centre welcomed more than 90 US interior designers for one day in January, as part of a trip hosted by Wells Abbott, which distributes many of the Design Centre’s UK brands in the US. Lauren Hudson, president and CEO of the Wells Companies, was the brainchild behind the event.
The day kicked off with a treat for all fans of English decorating, as two industry favourites Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and Jane Churchill, shared their wit and wisdom. Chaired by Country Life’s Giles Kime, the talk covered much ground, from Spencer-Churchill’s family home, Blenheim Palace, to Churchill’s memories of two more decorating greats, Nancy Lancaster and Nancy Astor – her great-great aunt and great-aunt respectively.
As gossipy as it was practical, the talk included a look inside one of Spencer-Churchill’s most prestigious decorating projects, Easton Neston in Northamptonshire, and the challenges of incorporating mod cons such as air conditioning into period buildings. The designer had worked extensively in the US and was also able to offer a comparison with the UK: “I’ve been lucky to work on a lot of new builds, but in a Georgian style, and that certainly gives you an opportunity to be more creative,” she said. “Apart from a difference in scale, I notice in the US things tend to be more open plan. We have lots of doors – in part to keep out the draughts – but In the US everything flows from one room to another, which is something I found a challenge.”
Churchill showed us some of the rooms at Kelmarsh, Nancy Lancaster’s home after her divorce from Ronald Tree. The walls were a distinctive pink, made from multiple layers of distemper built up to a rich depth of colour that was Lancaster’s creation and still exists to this day. “’Kelmarsh pink’ went round the countryside like measles,” said Churchill. “The secret to pulling it off, said Nancy, was ‘fires, candlelight and flowers.’”
Churchill explained how Lancaster felt that decorating was “like mixing a salad” where humble objects and grand gestures all had a place. Then there was Mirador, the Virginia mansion in which both Nancys were raised, whose style was an influence on both: “They all adored it. Family was what was so important to them.”
After the talk, the delegates enjoyed lunch at two of the showrooms under the Wells Abbott umbrella, George Spencer Designs and Tissus d’Hélène. There were more insights to be had here too, with George Spencer Designs inviting Heritage Trimmings’ Rachel Travell and Rachel Evans, plus author and expert Annabel Westman, to discuss the art of passementerie; and Tissus d’Hélène hosting a ‘meet the makers’ session with some of its respected brands, including Richard Smith of Madeaux and Nicole Fabre.
From there, there were ‘open house’ sessions at some more Wells Abbott brands, including Collier Webb, de Le Cuona, Jennifer Manners Design and Marvic Textiles, followed by a networking supper under the domes.
“We don’t have an equivalent of the Design Centre and it really feels like everything is under one roof,” said Katie Logan, one half of New Orleans based practice Logan Killen along with her business partner Jensen Killen. Designer Danielle Denham, who is based in Wimberley, Texas, said “it’s so nice to see everything at scale, in the real world – so much better than a small square sample!”
Collier Webb, Second Floor, South Dome
de Le Cuona, Second Floor, North Dome
George Spencer Designs, Third Floor, Design Centre East
Jennifer Manners Design, First Floor, Centre Dome
Marvic Textiles, Ground Floor, South Dome
Tissus d’Hélène, Fourth Floor, Design Centre East