CHRISTINA STRUTT was delighted, but surprised when friends not only complimented her on her home, but wanted to copy its country-chic decor.
After all, the hard-up mother-of-two had only a shoestring budget to transform her cottage into a cosy home, but it was the way she used delicate, faded fabrics, painstakingly collected from fairs, markets and antique shops, which caught the eye and made her style unique.
Finally, unable to find enough fabrics to satisfy the demand to replicate Strutt’s look, she resourcefully set to and designed her first fabric. That moment marked the humble emergence of such an innovative interpretation of country style, a world away from predictable twee chintz, that 15 years on has blossomed into Cabbages & Roses – the hugely successful, quintessentially British fabric and lifestyle brand.
“I really had no intention of starting a business all those years ago. At that time, I was just a mum looking for a way to earn some money that would fit around my family,” says Strutt with a smile, as she takes me on a tour of her flat and shop in a charming Georgian building in London, to give an insight into her design ethos.
“My only aim was to create something beautiful, which could move and charm with its hint of nostalgia, and would fit people’s homes and the way they wanted to live. I suppose I just wanted to sell things I loved, and hoped that others would too.”
Happily, what Strutt loved; fabrics and accessories featuring washed-out florals, stripes and toiles in cool colourways, has, in turn, become adored by her legions of fans. These include a host of celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Helena Bonham Carter. Cabbages & Roses’ mail order business sells worldwide, and her fabric range, including her first Bees design, recently launched in John Lewis.
“This is a place where I can work in the week and get inspiration for new designs and new looks,” she says, as she leads the way through a string of beautifully decorated rooms, including her studio, which feature in her latest book, Cabbages & Roses: Living Life Beautifully. Although it’s miles away from Brook Cottage, the 15th Century country home in the rolling hills of Bath, Somerset, where it all began, the interiors reveal not only her style, but are also redolent with the atmosphere of “country” that seems to suit any setting.
“Basically, I haven’t an idea of what I’m doing and I mostly make it up as I go along,” says Strutt, 58, who has a charming self-deprecating modesty which belies her success. “I’ve always firmly advocated that homes need to be filled with more than lovely things. To be really beautiful, they must be lived in, with the ‘things’ complementing the human stories that run through them. Spaces must also be comfortable, practical and functional.”
Treat each room as an individual
There’s no such thing as one overall style. Read the character of the room as you would a person to help you dress it.
Choose items you love
Showcase those and use your real favourite as a starting point. Let one become a focal point, whether it’s a piece of furniture, an accessory, or a few metres of fabric which could inspire a colour scheme.
Keep it simple
Neutral colours, unfussy furniture and gentle patterns create a scheme that is calm. Next, layer your accessories, artwork and objects, and the result will be subtle and relaxed.
Character is all
Ignore dents, scratches and wear and tear as they speak of a piece’s past and its story, and those hints of age and history will add character and soul to a home.
Get the look
Grove Armchair in Monceau charcoal fabric, from £599, Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer.com/0333-014-8555)
Etched Peony chinaware, from £5 for a side plate, £6 for a dinner plate, Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer.com/0333-014-8555)
Large Metal Ornamental Bird Cage, £50, Debenhams (debenhams.com/08445-616-161)
Arnurna Lamp, £485, The Chandelier & Mirror Company (chandeliersandmirrors.co.uk/01322-437-112)
- Cabbages & Roses: Living Life Beautifully by Christina Strutt, photography by Simon Brown (CICO Books £25). Readers can purchase the book for £18 (including p&p). Call: 01256- 302-699 and quote GLR 9oi (cicobooks.co.uk)
- Cabbages & Roses (cabbagesandroses.com; 0207-352-7333)