Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Colefax and Fowler and the Yellow Room

For those who know it, the Yellow Room at 39 Brook Street/22 Avery Row is one of the most iconic interiors in London. It was first leased by John Fowler in 1944. I was first taken to see the room when I was very young by my father, who has always admired the room - and tried to imitate in various houses over the years. The room was further brought to life for me by a friend of mine, the interior decorator Elizabeth Winn, whose aunt was Nancy Lancaster. Mrs Lancaster would let Elizabeth use the room for soirees when she was a young lady in London. Elizabeth used to speak with delight of the candlelit interior and the string quartets she would get to play for the evening. All this in a room Mrs Lancaster called her 'bed-sit'!

                          The Yellow Room in the late 80s

Now to the room itself. It was, firstly, the creation of Jeffry Wyattville and, latterly, of Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler. It is fourteen metres long, though seems larger thanks to Fowler's clever use of mirrors, which are set into blind arches surrounding the door architraves. There are also mirrors set into the backs of the window shutters which, at night with the shutters closed, give the room another fantastic dimension. The yellow of the walls was probably intended by Fowler to shock - gloss paint at the time was viewed as out of fashion and rather non-U. The colour was supposed to have been suggested to Nancy by Paul Phipps. Long thought to have been painted by Fowler himself, the swags above the cornice at either end of the room were actually the work of George Oakes.

The Yellow Room in the late 80s

The Yellow Room in October 2016

The curtains in the Yellow Room - the outer curtains, which are made of unlined yellow silk taffeta, are held by bows from which hang two-toned ropes and tassels, in bronze and amber yellow.

I went into the Yellow Room for the last time, in its present incarnation, two weeks ago. By good fortune I met there the inimitable archivist Barry McIntyre. He knew Mrs Lancaster, as well as Elizabeth Winn. He told me about Fowler's pink wall in the courtyard, which Mrs Lancaster hated so much that she didn't speak to him for a whole week. He said that Mrs Lancaster was also a great tease, and poor old John Fowler would take the bait and get frightfully put-out. All this going on while the 'bed-sit' was one of the smartest salons in London. Laughter, teasing, gossip, brilliance and good taste - all in one wonderful room over so many years. God bless Colefax and Fowler and the seventy-two glorious years they have had at Brook Street. Let us all hope that the new custodians of this precious chamber know how lucky they are!

Barry McIntyre in the Yellow Room - October 2016

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