The coronation of King Charles III has rekindled a love of all things British — including English country house style. This quaint, lived-in, and often eccentric decorating style has captured imaginations thanks to captivating and sumptuously styled period dramas like Downton Abbey and The Crown.
English country decorating has a long heritage. If you share our love of this quintessentially British style, read on to discover its unique history and our secrets to achieving an authentic look for your own home.
What is English country style interior design?
English country home decor has an enduring appeal. Romantic but homely, cosy and relaxed —but with a dash of eccentricity. Think antique furnishings, spacious deep-seated sofas with a generous scattering of cushions, cosy table lamps, lashings of floral wallpaper, woodpaneling and stacks of books.
British country style is a balance of charm and grandeur. The furniture should look like its been in your family for generations without making your home feel like a museum. English decorating isn’t minimal! It’s lavishly luxuriant but oh-so cosy at the same time. Think freshly cut flowers on an opulent ottoman and a spaniel dozing by the living room fire.
If you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from a Jane Austen novel, you’re on the right track!
What is the history of English country style?
Oddly enough, an American is credited with popularising the English country house style. In the 1940s, tastemaker Nancy Lancaster bought Colefax and Fowler, an influential British decorating firm. Together with John Fowler, the ‘prince of decorators’, she crystalised what is now known as the quintessentially English country style.
Born American, Nancy lived in England from 1927 and had a knack for British sensibilities. She decorated both Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire and Ditchley Park in Oxfodshire with such beauty and style that society applauded her as having “the best taste of almost anyone in the world.”
Nancy famously claimed that her secret to style success was to put ‘something a little bit ugly’ in every room!
How to decorate your home like an English country home
Minimalists might call the English cottage style cluttered, but we prefer the term layered and timeless.
English country houses are famously eccentric. Part of their charm is that they allow for a lived-in look while retaining a vibrant flair. Robert Kime who designed the interior of Clarence House for King Charles is a masterful example. Warm, cosy lighting invites you to curl up on the luxuriant sofas while decadent touches like lavish drapes and candle sconces give the room gravitas. And no house is fit for royalty without a pair of wingback chairs to read from.
Luckily, you don’t need a king’s ransom to decorate your home in the English country style. Auctions or flea markets are great places to find affordable antique furniture. Investing in one or two key items, like an English-style sofa, library chairs, or a table footstool will do much of the heavy lifting.
Layer colour and texture to bring the room together. Natural fabrics like dark wood, sisal, and leather work well in an English country home. Don’t be afraid to add eccentricity with an unexpectedly strong colour or William Morris wallpaper.Other elements like heirloom furniture, ornaments, and landscape paintings are reminiscent of the cosy atmosphere in English homes.
While draped tables and chintz sofas are hallmarks of the English country style, modern designers have introduced a contemporary edge with ‘shabby chic’ elements. The faded grandeur of stripped-back paint, striped sofas, and harmonious colour schemes have brought chic elegance to the English countryside without losing timeless charm.
Our top tips on how to decorate like the British
Sold on taking inspiration from the English country house for your next room scheme? Here are our top tips to achieve the look:
1. Choose classic British-made furniture
Quintessential British interiors contain a mix of wood furniture, slouchy sofas, and heritage pieces upholstered in artisanal fabrics like tweed, tartan, and leather.
There are a few classic styles you should keep your eye out for at auction houses or showrooms:
English Roll Arm Sofa
No English country home is complete without a roll arm sofa. Notable for its scroll-like rolled arms, plush deep seat, and supportive back, this is a piece worth spending on. If well-made you’ll have it for life. The frames are made from sturdy solid wood and the legs are often accompanied with a porcelain or solid brass castor, with some sofa companies having multiple upholstery options so you can customise your sofa to suit the room.
Mismatched cushions and throws are key to the look. Patterns with floral motifs and bright colours are acceptable on walls and lampshades, too!
Slipcovered Sofa with Ruffle Skirt
Bring British charm into your home with a slipcovered sofa. Slipcovers have been used for centuries. In the 18th century, custom-made slip covers were popular with the English aristocracy who wanted ruffles, piping, buttons, and extravagant patterns. Even Jane Austen referenced her ‘sofa-cover’ in a letter!
Pick a slipcover with ruffles to create a romantic look, then curl up with a cup of tea and Pride and Prejudice.
Thomas Chippendale, a Yorkshireman and cabinet maker, invented this authentically English style. Chippendale chairs are perfect dining room companions and can add elegance to an English country kitchen. Influenced by the Queen Anne style, most Chippendale chairs feature legs with dark wood, like mahogany.
There are six different styles of leg to choose from: the lion’s paw, the ball-and-claw foot, the Late Chippendale, the Marlborough, the club, and the spade.
2. Bright Colours
Don’t be afraid of colour, even Clarence House features bold pops of red and bright teal. We’re no strangers to bad weather in the UK. A colourful living room is one way to brighten the mood on rainy days and fits with the eclectic vibe of British interiors.
3. Use an opulent ottoman as a coffee table
Ottomans make perfect coffee tables. For that English country look style with a vase of flowers or even a messy stack of magazines. Fabulously oversized, you can drape them with mismatched throws or use them as extra seating when guests appear. A faithful hound atop your ottoman completes the English countryside look.
4. William Morris wallpaper
William Morris was a Victorian British textile designer, artist, and poet. His prints are now world-famous wallpaper designs and add a touch of British heritage to rooms. Morris pioneered the Arts & Crafts movement and stood by handmade designs and artistry. His passion for craftsmanship shines through famous designs like striking Strawberry Thief and stylish Snakeshead.
Morris once passionately declared, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.
We think that’s a quote to live by!
5. Floral Tea Sets
Who doesn’t afternoon tea? It’s quintessentially British and can provide inspiration for your dining room. Adorable vintage tea sets are easy to find online and in charity shops. You could even display pretty plates on the walls of your living room for an eccentric twist.
Wainscoting is 16th century wall panelling technique that began in England. Traditionally it is used to divide a room in half but modern interpretations take it to the top. There’s something cosy about wood panelling that evokes country clubs and secretive studies. Keep it dark for a traditional English look or go modern with either neutral white or striking colour.
7. Pile On The Plaid
English homes are cosy. Layer plaid blankets over sofa arms and ottomans to add texture and keep you warm during chilly winters. Plaid patterns can also be repeated in upholstery or soft furnishings to tie a room scheme together.
Love it or loathe it, chintz is emblematic of English country style. Chintz is patterned cloth why a shiny appearance and has been used in English upholstery for decades. Chintz originated in India but made its way to Europe in the 17th century. Chintz has fallen in and out of style throughout the decades. In the 80s Princess Diana made the classic cloth popular again but a backlash followed in the 90s — even IKEA urged people to chuck chintz away! Regardless of fashion whims, florals remain fundamental to British interior design. So why not embrace the quirky beauty of chintz?
9. Eclectic Artwork
Imagine the quintessential English manor and you’ll probably conjure walls replete with historic portraits and bucolic landscapes. Fireplaces lined with gilt figurines and bookended by Staffordshire China Dogs or candlesticks complete the image. Etsy and eBay are great places to track down quirky pieces of pottery and vintage artwork.
10. Potted Plants
Bring the English garden indoors with an eclectic array of potted plants. Roses and geraniums work well on coffee tables and windowsills, while house plants add garden greenery all year round.
11. Add one ‘ugly thing’ to each room
If it’s good enough for tastemaker Nancy Lancaster, it’s good enough for us! Everyone’s idea of ‘ugly’ will differ. A clashing pattern or scuffed item of inherited furniture might be enough, or you could take the irony one step further with an unconventional lampshade or by placing a hat on a bust.
Nancy Lancaster likened decorating a room to ‘mixing a salad’, recognising that it’s easier to relax in rooms that feel slightly messy. Artfully thrown together is key however! Remember to offset your ugly thing with intentionally curated furniture and a cohesive colour scheme.
Hopefully our tips have inspired you to add some quintessential English charm to your home. Our iconic British-made sofas and armchairs add character to a living room. Charming Chesterfield, striking Stowe Knowle, or the heritage of a Howard sofa – we’ve lots of classic British designs to choose from!