Lulu Lytle’s nabob maximalism and the PM’s Downing Street refit

It is the most talked about and but most invisible inside in latest British historical past. The prime minister’s improve of his flat in 11 Downing Street has been inflicting a furore and we’re naturally curious.

A quote referring to Theresa May’s “John Lewis nightmare” (which now doesn’t seem to have come from Carrie Symonds) triggered a tsunami of tongue-in-cheek tweets and some expert-level trolling from the division retailer’s social media group. For instance: “We satisfaction our Home Design Service on having one thing for *nearly* everybody” and a photograph of a JL van in Whitehall tagged “Good factor we’ve got a recycling service for outdated preloved furnishings.”

The balm to the furnishings nightmare, we will likely be glad to know, has been concocted by inside designer Lulu Lytle. With her store Soane Britain on Pimlico Road, a brisk stroll away from Westminster, Lytle has constructed her enterprise into a really British cocktail of nation home, colonial affect and folksy craft.

The coincidence is that she adopted the identify of Britain’s most sensible architect, Sir John Soane (1753-1837) for her enterprise. Soane was the architect who designed the Bank of England and had it depicted as a spoil by the painter Joseph Michael Gandy. It was Soane who designed the elegant state eating room at Number 11 with its shallow vaulted ceiling and delicate plaster decorations.

In the vacuum of photos of the a lot talked-about makeover, commentators have been scavenging footage from Lytle’s web site and Instagram feeds to collect clues as to what might need occurred upstairs in Downing Street.

One picture specifically, of a vivid floral couch and matching wallpaper and lampshades, appears to have develop into nearly accepted as a surrogate photograph of the Johnson/Symonds dwelling, although it’s really a shot of Lytle’s own residence in Bayswater (which she shares together with her husband, Goldman Sachs senior funding banker Charles Patrick St John Lytle).

As we don’t have way more, all we will do is peek into these photos of her style in designing for a really perfect consumer — herself.

Anyone with concepts about decolonising the institution may have to look away. The floral onslaught is relieved solely by Orientalist photos of beturbanned people, colonial-era scenes and Persian-looking lions. It seems like one among the grand tents the Ottomans used to erect on army campaigns through which to obtain company and diplomats and impress them with their wealth and luxurious.

For all the snide tone about John Lewis there may be additionally, oddly, one thing very English middle-class about it. The craving for empire, the Chinese porcelain vase made right into a lamp, the matching floral materials on each obtainable floor — it’s a cocktail of colonialism, misunderstood William Morris, manufactured and manicured eclecticism and fussy material. Nabob maximalism.

In her defence, although, Lytle can be a collector of Islamic artwork and learn Egyptology at UCL and that is, in any case, her own residence.

11 Downing Street is a classy Georgian building with a state dining room designed by Sir John Soane

11 Downing Street is a cultured Georgian constructing with a state eating room designed by Sir John Soane

It might be not the search for Number 11. The prime minister may fear a couple of conflict with the pink wall. Sheer luxurious isn’t picture for a Conservative chief making an attempt to win over Labour voters.

Lytle can be identified for rattan, an outdated craft that has its personal colonial veranda implications. She acquired Britain’s final rattan workshop, Angraves in Leicestershire, and is busy reinvigorating the nearly misplaced commerce. Lytle owns a rattan piece from the Café Parisien on the Titanic — light-weight, simple to maneuver and rearrange on deck.

A scroll by the sparse photos of earlier redesigns of Number 11 takes us on a visit from Cherie Blair’s north London minimalist makeover to Samantha Cameron’s north London minimalist makeover (replete with chrome steel kitchen fittings) by way of Sarah and Gordon Brown, who apparently did nothing in any respect. All culminating in Theresa and Philip May’s furnishings “nightmare”, which appeared to comprise largely a settee, a scented candle and a lamp.

Lamps loom giant in the archive. In the Cameron period, a Flos Arco-type flooring lamp curves overhead, a contact of Italian Modernist glamour. May added a £100 John Lewis desk lamp.

Being England, in fact, class is at the coronary heart of the furore. Things have modified since Michael Heseltine was dismissed by Alan Clark as the form of man who needed to “purchase his personal furnishings”. Now that “brown furnishings” has misplaced most of its worth and standing and Victorian seascapes are out in favour of latest artwork, the panorama of inherited artefacts has slid down the scale of sophistication indicators.

David Cameron at home at Number 11 in 2011: ‘north London minimalist with a touch of Italian Modernist glamour’

David Cameron at dwelling at Number 11 in 2011: ‘north London minimalist with a contact of Italian Modernist glamour’ © Getty Images

We are again in an earlier period of gold wallpaper, unique artefacts and exclusivity, the place expense issues. May’s John Lewis chrome desk lamp was not dismissed as a result of it was ugly (though it was ugly) however as a result of it was suburban, accessible and slightly low-cost. Interior design at this time revolves round a sequence of codes, the recognition of rarity, expense and style. It is the fashion of top-end nation retreats and unique members’ golf equipment.

John Lewis could also be aspirational to most of the UK inhabitants however for the interiors elite, if you should buy an merchandise on the excessive road, it lacks that standing. Ironically, maybe, the classiest of all inside kinds — the form of shabby stylish that options in the pages of World of Interiors or in opposition to which outsized and overpriced Italian sofas are organized in promoting photoshoots — depends on the survival and preservation of historic finishes, the layering of subsequent redecorations, slightly than the obliteration of every part in every incarnation.

And that is, or was, an especially elegant Georgian home in a good neighbourhood designed, partly, by Britain’s biggest architect. If each PM had simply finished much less, this might need been the most lovely inside in London.

Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s structure and design critic

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