Master Class: Jane Churchill

Thoughts from England's Best Decorator

I spent 12 years as the co-owner of a curtain workroom in New York City and have since done consulting work with other workrooms.  Last summer while on one such project I answered the telephone, and to my surprise it was Jane Churchill on the other end.  She was in NY helping a client with her upper east side townhouse, and asked if I might be interested in meeting with her to discuss some curtains.  Meet Jane Churchill in a Manhattan townhouse to discuss curtains?  Needless to say I went, and we’ve stayed in communication ever since.

This past week I asked her if she would indulge me by answering some questions about her 37 year career, so that I might share some insight into how she became one of Britain’s best known designers.  She agreed, and here is what I learned.

First, I wondered at what point in her youth did she recognize her interest in interior design.  Jane shared that as a child her Grandmother Alice (Winn) and her Great Aunt Nancy (Lancaster) had great influence on her.  These ladies were incredibly stylish, and had beautiful homes.  Aunt Nancy had turned a large room into a master bath, complete with upholstered seating, which taught her that thinking unconventionally could result in serendipitous space.  I wondered who in the interior design profession did she think of as having influenced her trademark style.  Without hesitation Jane remarked that John Fowler’s innate sense of color and Albert Hadleys gift of restraint helped shape her aesthetic.  On that note, I asked her if she could put into words the hallmarks of a Jane Churchill interior.  She explained that to create successful rooms one needs a clear sense of proportional relationships.  This to her is essential, and so often overlooked.  The other idea (which she suggested has taken years of experience to master) is that a room needs to be above all comfortable.

I asked if there was a city whose architecture she felt inspired her creativity, perhaps evoking a collaboration of sorts between the exterior world and her interior design.  Jane explained that she loves to drive the streets of Paris at night; that the facades, sidewalks and spires in the City of Lights enliven and exhilarate her design work in the flats above. “Paris has no ugly buildings” she said.  On gardens, she loves blue flowers, particularly plumbage… and olive trees (which she quipped she misses while home in England’s “ghastly” climate).  I asked her to explain the fabric choices she made in my favorite room from her website [shown above].  “After choosing the crimson for the curtains (the clients favorite color) I decided on a pale blue for the sofa, and painted the walls to match so that the painting above would stand out”.  She insists that her rooms not be fussy, and generally likes to limit the use of prints. “One chair, and a few toss cushions is all the print needed here”.

As our conversation was ending, I asked what she’d done to help celebrate the Queens jubilee.  “Unfortunately I was in France working, but I sent my best wishes!  Really, I am English, and what Englishman doesn’t love the Queen?”