If we look back at the history of the British Isles we can see how our vibrant and sometimes volatile past has shaped the country we live in. Just take a look at the ecclesiastical buildings that punctuate our urban and rural landscapes, they tell many stories of turmoil as well as acting as sanctuaries for the people living around them.
There are 69 cathedral cities in the UK. By virtue of having a cathedral they are therefore known as cities, and with that title a sense of culture and importance is attributed. So wherever you are in the UK it’s hard to ignore these bastions of power that spike on our skylines and have dominated our surroundings for centuries.
As a non-religious person I guess it could seem strange that I have such a love for cathedrals and find them so inspiring. On a subconscious level they may be influencers of my interiors taste. Whether that is a moody grisaille colour palette, a Renaissance style opulent table display, theatrical use of draped fabrics or love of pews and bench seating. Cathedrals seem to be even having a moment in popular culture, as a number of films set in medieval Britain (featuring cathedrals) are released this year. ‘Tulip Fever’ was filmed at Norwich Cathedral, amongst other settings, and will set more hearts on fire than Alan Partridge’s under pants. Released in February it stars actors including Judi Dench, Cara Delevigne, and Skandi beauty Alicia Vikander. Its sumptuous yet rustic interiors and sexy floral appeal are sure to inspire people to deck out their homes in a similar becoming way.
Ways to bring a bit of this high altar fashion to your home include:
1. Dishevelled floral arrangements
Think Jan Brueghel the Elder, the prominent Flemish painter who created countless flower still lives. His busy, detailed, and highly decorative paintings depicted huge, flamboyant displays that spoke of the wealth of their homeowners. In the peak of the Tulip Mania period in 1637, it is said that one tulip bulb could sell for 10 or more times the annual income of an average person living at the time. Thankfully blooms are much more affordable today.
For full impact, combine clashing colours and foliage in huge arrangements on mantel pieces or tables surrounded by an overflowing bowl of exotic fruit. For longevity and added texture, artificial arrangements will make your statements last longer.
2. Waxing lyrical
Create plentiful collections of mismatching brass and oak candlesticks holders, overflowing with candle wax, display them centre stage on your dining or console table to create a serene sanctuary at home.
I love bee’s wax candles; they have a particular richness and warmth of light. Their scent is so reminiscent of pretty medieval village churches, nostalgic and comforting yet classic and beautiful. Brass and wooden candlestick holders can still be bought very reasonably from vintage shops, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for these timeless pieces. To create a striking atmosphere like that of the yesteryear naves, spend an evening with no electricity, only flickering candlelight.
3. Washed Linen
Textured fabric and cascading drapes can add a touch of ecclesiastical drama to your bedroom or living room without being too heavy handed. Opt for a suitably church-like colour selection including stone like neutrals and greys. Just pop them in the wash to create a wonderfully creased look before using them in your home. Remember, DO NOT IRON; the charm of linen is in the creases.
If you wanted a more luxurious look, velvet is having its time now and can be used for upholstery, cushions, and curtains. Go for a rich palette of rust, raspberry and wine reds that would complement kilim rugs and cushions.
The opulent and evocative smell of a high Catholic Church is like nothing else. Sniff out warm scents of myrrh, frankincense, and sandalwood whilst shopping for candles and room sprays.
For the full effect of the high church, use smoldering sage smudge bundles to cleanse your home and add a tinge of the mysterious with a smoky haze, if you so feel inclined.
5. Bench seating
As a lover of communal seating and vintage institutional furniture, a simple bench seems like the perfect solution for small space seating in kitchen diners, or a stylish place to pop on your shoes in your hallway.
Pews and benches have a long tradition of being used in churches and cathedrals. They represent shared experiences and, when used in a domestic environment, provide an elegant intimacy of sitting bumper to bumper. There are many modern interpretations of the classic artisan bench, or you could opt for an antique pew. Either option has honesty in its materials and build. Look out for rich wood grains, dovetail or peg joints as their quality and patina will only wear more beautifully with age.
6. The body of Christ
A simple and timeless way to dress your dining table would be to take inspiration from The Last Supper. You can dress your long dinner table with a crisp white linen table cloth, pewter plates, and a jug of tap water with simple yet beautiful hand blown glass tumblers and studio pottery wine chalices.
If you like to use fabric napkins, look out for natural fabrics that look crumpled and textural. Wooden, metal or bone napkin rings will add another layer of natural colours and will further compliment seasonal flowers and set off your dining arrangement. And don’t forget the Feast of Corpus Christi, or in other words, torn handmade bread and a good red table wine.
7. Gothic vs. Perpendicular
Whatever the style or period, you can find pieces salvaged from churches in reclamation yards and from salvage experts across the UK. If you can’t find genuine church pews, stained glass or woodwork then search for Victorian Gothic pieces that emulated the style of medieval ecclesiastical buildings.
Dark wood antiques have been waning out of fashion in recent years. But many people still see the inherent value in such pieces and they are set to make a comeback, so snap them up whilst they are still such a steal and a great investment.
So, although 2017 is set to be an uncertain year, we can take inspiration and solace from our stylish predecessors that difficult times result in great art and design.