House and Garden in the early 60s

9 July 2012
Ben Pentreath

One of my obsessions? House and Garden Magazine in the 1960s. This is probably not the time to start rehearsing in detail the brilliance of the magazine’s fantastic editor, Robert Harling, who brought to it such extraordinary eclecticism, skill, knowledge, and breadth of understanding of traditional and contemporary design, typography, materials and the sheer, zany, rich complexity of the English Interior.

One of the most memorable days of my life, with my friend Maisie’s mum (whose aunt Phoebe was married to Robert Harling) was visiting their extraordinary house in Surrey for lunch one day, when I was about 25; a perfect pink-red Georgian Gothick rectory, filled with Ravilious and Bawden and Piper and remarkable furniture and decorations.

Anyway, perhaps because I’ve been thinking about my new flat recently, I’ve been leafing through some 1960s H&G to get in the mood; and in particular, some of the fantastic books they published alongside the magazine at the time.  A few images to tempt you. I’m not sure I’ve known anything more inspirational, have you?

Will someone please write the definitive history of House & Garden and Robert Harling? Please?! (Alan Powers are you reading this?).


Is this not one of the nicest rooms you have seen?  You can read about the owners, Hans and Elsbeth Juda, here.

I love the red wishbones (well, you might have guessed that). Although now I am stalking an olive green one too.

A typical classic double spread; black and white enriched by engravings and typography.

The Bannenbergs in Chelsea. Oh man. I’m now actually thinking about house plants for my new living room (and I never thought I’d write that).

A spread on Wedgwood – note the Ravilious Mugs in the middle…

A young Michael Heseltine at home (and another young Thatcherite politician, Kenneth Baker, on the right – weird)

‘Kitchens are also rooms’. Note the author. It’s good to see that Lord Rogers started with kitchens, like the rest of us!

and good to see that he’s been writing about the same themes since 1963 as well!

The following rooms are from the Book of Small Houses:

And the following from the Book of Interiors:

The Marquess of Bath at home. (that’s his hound, not the Marquess). I love this room. Where on earth do we get that chintz?

The Hornbys at Pusey House, Berkshire. Remind me, wasn’t Pusey for sale last year?

Oving House, decorated by Felix Harbord.

Wellingham House, Sussex, owned by Ian Askew. For some reason I thought this is an early room by Hicks & Parr, but they don’t get a mention in the text…

The Entrance Hall at Lee Place, Oxfordshire: English heaven. Seagrass squares: get yours here. If my shop existed for only one reason, it’s to create a national revival in seagrass square flooring. Brown furniture. Squashy olive green sofa. Early Georgian stone fireplace. White walls. A jar of daffodils.

The Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey. Another piece of heaven; austere comfort.

I love the primrose yellow armchairs and wine bottle green lampshades.

Do you not want the pink, grey and white rose chintz?

A sitting room by Olive Sullivan; are you getting the house plant vibe? A Gio Ponti rug, Ward and Austin chest, and Elizabethan portrait print.

Nancy Lancaster at Brook Street: more richly coloured than we’ve seen it elsewhere.

Mrs John Profumo in Regent’s Park.

Mr Profumo’s study. “A quick glance into Mr Profumo’s own study provokes the wish that more masculine, magisterial, ministerial rooms were half so attractive! The Pompeian rose walls, on which are hung collections of white seals and cameos mounted on a darker pink background, make  a mellow background for work and discussion. The curtains are in ochre yellow. Needless to say, the desk is large, and if you look carefully you will see a highly decorative as well as highly confidential red ministerial despatch box on it, doubtless often impelling the owner of this charming house away from the family circle to the chores inseparable from high office”…. The Profumo scandal hit the following year, 1963.

Architect Basil Spence in London,

And at Beaulieu.  I love the model ship and white boarded walls.

Grey, yellow and olive green in Mme Andrée Bessire’s sitting room in Paultons Square.

Totally cool.

Totally crazy.

Beautiful line drawings and typography.

The dining room from the House & Garden ‘House of Ideas’ 1957. When did a show home look this good? (We’re designing one for our development in Chichester at the moment… help!).

Such visual feasts make my own book feel a little inadequate. We talked about zany typography  and line drawings, but somehow it never happened. Grr… next time. Who could imagine that 50 years after they were published, these houses would look so new, so fresh, and give so much inspiration?

Anyway, I hope you were sitting down when you were reading this blog, with a nice calming cup of tea. When we’ve recovered, I’ll post some images from the Book of Conversions, and Holiday Houses. But those are for another day…

28 comments on this post

Just stumbled upon this post after googling Olive Sullivan. I’ve been intrigued by her for many years after seeing her work in Robert Harling’s “Modern Furniture and Decoration.” Can’t find out much about her though. Wondering if you have any leads.


Dear Ben,

I imagine but if you are you might be able to help me. I am working on Pusey house as mentioned above, I am an architect and I would love to be able to get a high resolution copy of the images you have posted in order to review some of the details seen. If you are able to let me know on about where the images came from or better photos of them they would help solve a problem for us.

many thanks, Rob


My father Ray Williams worked for H&G as a staff photographer(1956-71).
He took the Photo of Blenheim Palace from the lake.Also the Bamenbergs’ house in Chelsea in your blog… Although I was a young child in the 60s I have fond memories of my dad ‘straightening out’ the furniture in our house in Kew to look like a H&G room set! He also did some fantastic covers, which would be great to track down and frame. Thanks for posting. Incidentally this September has some of his pictures from the archives. credited under Caradog Williams ( Caradog being his middle name.


Dear Marcus – what an interesting comment – thank you so much. Ben

Great post! The closest I ever came to being an interior designer, was when I worked as an admin assistant to one years ago. But I adore ID magazines and books!! The American version of H&G is, alas, now defunct, I am making do with Elle Decor. Yes, there are others, but nothing holds a candle to H&G. Thanks for sharing these treasures!

completely brilliant! Beyond brilliant!! “Savers”!!!: and forever!! what absolute treasures! Thank you so much!!


Margaret Powlingsays:

I grew up in my parents’ newsagents’ shop, and loved these magazines and even persuaded them to allow me to have my own copies of Ideal Home and Homes & Gardens (not House & Garden, strangely enough.) What pleased me was not only the wonderful rooms but also the architects plans of the properties from which I learned to read plans. I would dearly love to have an old Homes & Gardens from the mid-1950s which showed No 2 The Grove in London, the home of the late actor Raymon Massey and his wife, Adrienne Allen, their son Daniel Massey and daughter Anna Massey. I loved that home in which they made a small TV room from what had been a coal hole, and the pannelled drawing room and the pink and blue floral covers for Anna Massey’s twin bedded room. I can recall small details now, more than half a century later. I only with that when we moved from our shop my father had not made me throw away all my old rubbish, by which he meant my magazine collection!

Thanks so much for sharing these. It reminds me of spending rainy weekends going through all of my dad’s old issues of Architectural Digest and other architecture/interior design publications (he’s an architect). I really enjoyed everything–I’ll have to bookmark this post so I can come back when I need some inspiration!

William Taylorsays:

Excellent vintage inspiration. I’m a vintage fan and now more then ever vintage is the present style.
Please feel free to see one of the great brands inspired in vintage music

After viewing these photos, my heart is palpitating! I recently got on a Robert Harling tear a few months ago and bought the H&G Guide to Interior Decoration. It is terrific and full of inspiring and eclectic interiors. I first learned of Olive Sullivan while reading that book. I must get these other books to add to my collection!


A wonderful post! By coincidence I was walking by Basil Spence’s house this afternoon and noticed a large extension has been added sine these pictures. By the way, are the yellow chairs in the Castle of Mey the same as the blue one in your House?


Dear all that indeed seems to have been an inspirational post. THanks to Gaby and Joe Hoare I have identified the chintz, indeed from George Spencer although not in production at the moment as they are waiting for a potential big order from a decorator to kick it off again! Andrew, I don’t think my blue chair is quite as posh as the Queen Mothers! And I hope we’re all rushing out to buy house plants now… 🙂 Ben

Gaby grosvenorsays:

I think the chintz might be George Spencer ?

These are truly inspirational rooms. I personally prefer modern homes but I know how to appreciate a well-decorated house. This rooms are just timeless. Even after all these years they still look lovely and charming.


olive green and yellow as colors, possible house plants, seems your flat design ideas are coming along? Brilliant timeless house and gardens inspiration.

Stunning, I must go back and look again slowly. But have you ever read Robert Harling’s The Paper Palace – one of the best Fleet Street novels ever.


Thanks for the peek at the old issues — proof that a room well done can look fresh even after so many decades.

A definitive history of H&G and Robert Harling sounds lovely. What I’ve been longing for too is republication of some of the Harling titles, such as “The Great Houses and Finest Rooms of England”. After much waiting, I finally found an inexpensive copy secondhand last month and can’t wait for it to arrive.

Glad to hear houseplants are back in style! Mine are in and out, of the house that is — in the garden and greenhouse in the summer, and in the house over our cold Canadian winter.


well, just home from a day out in the rain and of course had to buy a few plants from a little nursery . Just plonked the box down at the bottom of the stairs and – thought how nice they look there ! So a penstemon, fennel and sisyrynchum(I think) giving me the house plant vibe too, compulsory when we bought our first house in the 70s, don’t know about the macrame holder though…..


OOoooo! Excellent post. I especially love the Bannenberg’s sitting room..where are they now I wonder, and what does their sitting room look like today? What I have always wanted to know is whether it is ‘right’ to have both cut flowers and indoor plants?? I have quietly bothered myself with this question for a long time, because I love both…so I have both..(not too many plants just the odd one in an otherwise soulless spot), and it works for me..just wondering what other people think? I never seem to see both in interiors magazines..why is that?


Folly in the Garden makes me think of the book ‘House of Boughs’ by Wilkinson and Henderson, it is just up your alley.
This post illustrates perfectly good bones and good things stand the test of time


Dear Janie I will check out House of Boughs…! thank you. B


Anthony Denney (the cluttered room with the massive red painting) was an amazing talent. A talented photographer he also designed Elizabeth David’s shop and fed up with London, moved to a castle in Spain, collected extreme avant garde art– now worth a fortune! His life sounds like a movie. Cheers


Anthony Denney’s room is great isn’t it!


Hi Ben
those House and Garden’s were great then weren’t they? I occasionally pick one up now and then, but I wouldn’t mind looking out for the one featuring Beaulieu – such a great house – would you be able to tell me the issue date?


Dear Niall, that was actually from the Book of Interiors… Not sure which magazine it appeared in. I think the plans are also in Holiday Homes so I will check…

Seagrass is so country hice and cheap we used it for a huge endless sitting room in a Lincolnshire rectory not old rectory, rectory. I remember the agony of sitting on the floor sewing endless sections together with linen yarn. it looked great and lasted but if you want to move the furniture you have to pick it up as the casters would work their way down into it.
We got that house just at the moment that we had finished doing up out own house in Camberwell and we had absolutely no furniture and I remember the feeling of upper despair as it swallowed sofas and armchairs and what ever I managed to acquire as if it could never look fully furnished.


Beautiful homes and so much inspiration. I must admit I’ve always liked an indoor plant and have gone a bit bonkers lately with ferns and palms all over the place. Apparently the house plant is coming back into fashion again. Thanks for sharing!


Jacqui I think house plants are the next new (old) thing. And chintz. The way to go!

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