Decoration in dreamland

14 October 2012
Ben Pentreath

I’ve just been doing a bit of reading. I’ve been asked to design a house by the sea, in a remarkable location, and for various reasons we’re looking at John Nash and the Picturesque. This morning I’ve been looking at J B Papworth’s 1818 Rural Residences which conveniently has been scanned and placed online by some crazy organisation called the Internet Archive which itself gets slightly mind-blowing if you spend too much time browsing there.

Beautiful, all the way down to the marbled end papers faithfully scanned.  The internet is a strange place isn’t it? I suspect I’m probably the only person in the world, literally, downloading this link this morning.

I’ve got a copy of Papworth in the office but I’ve never actually read it, just looked at the pictures. Which is how I suspect we all read books really (although one or two strange people claim to have actually been reading my book, so you never know).

Well, this morning, with my cup of tea, I began to look at Papworth in a bit more detail and read this extraordinary description of a ‘A Cottage Orne Designed for the Neighbourhood of the Lakes’ (if you want to see some lakeland scenery to get in the mood, look here). “The plan of this rural building”, we learn “was arranged for the accommodation of two ladies, whose establishment consists of three female servants, and a gardener, his residence being at a small distance from the cottage”. (I can’t help hoping that the gardener was handsome, and young).

Anyway, listen to the description of these rooms. Insane, and simultaneously romantic and beautiful, yet not without a little touch of David Hicks in there?  Jennifer Boles, at The Peak of Chic, this one is surely for you!

The parlour, the music-room and the lobby are very simply and neatly decorated by compartments coloured in tints resembling an autumnal leaf, the yellow-green of which, forms the pannels, and its mellower and pinky hues compose a very narrow border and stile that surround them. The draperies are of buff chintz in which sage-green leaves, and small pink and blue-and-white flowers prevail ; the furniture is cane-coloured. Upright flower stands of basket-work are placed in each angle of the room, and the verandah is constantly dressed with plants of the choicest scents and colours.

The drawing-room is fancifully ornamented with paper in imitation of bamboo and basket-work, in the colour of cane, upon a sky-blue ground ; each side is divided into compartments by pilasters, which support a sort of roofing and transverse bamboo rods, to which seem to be suspended the most exquisite works of the Chinese pencil : these are the best that have appeared in this country, and consist of views of their apartments, representations of the costume of the people, and of the natural productions of China. A very able artist has further decorated this room, by painting a variety of Oriental plants, as supported by the pilasters, &c. about which they entwine, and arriving at the ceiling, they terminate, after spreading a short distance upon it.

The furniture and draperies are the same as in the parlour.

The book-room is coloured a tea-green which is relieved by blossom colour and brown.

The chambers are papered with a small and simple trellis pattern, and the draperies white, with a mixture of lavender colour and buff.

In the whole of this cottage there is no portion of gilding; the glasses are let into the walls and covered by the paper decorations; and even the book-bindings are unornamented by gold the lettering being merely stamped upon them.

It is remarkable to me how a whole world of Wordsworth and the Regency life can be painted in a few simple sentences. Who does not want a tea-green book room, relieved by blossom colour and brown?


11 comments on this post

I was very interested to read about the chinoiserie touches in the interior that Papworth describes. I am trying to understand how popular chinoiserie was in England in the Regency and William IV periods – beyond the obvious examples initiated by the Prince Regent – and I am constantly surprised by how ‘normal’ chinoiserie was then. There was, for instance, an 1829 design for Clifton Bridge in the Chinese style ( – the combination of no-nonsense engineering and ethereal chinoiserie is mind-boggling 🙂 So thanks for this additional source.


I have been reading your book! Wonderful!


I love the illustrations! Imagine some current architectural designs rendered in that romantic style…fun and odd at the same time. Thanks… from NJ.

I have been dreaming of a tea green room too 🙂

I have been dreaming of a tea green room with buff chintz for years, but never knew how to express it so eloquently.

Gideon Watsonsays:

C’mon Ben, put the tracing paper away and design a Lakeland House sans ornee ; )x


This book’s descriptions of wall colors and wallpaper should inspire a company to recreate them for today’s homes. Then we could share in Dreamland. I didn’t realize I wanted a “tea green” room until I read your blog this morning.

You do indeed know the type of interiors to which I am drawn. What heavenly descriptions. The drawing room with its bamboo and basket-work paper and painted Oriental plants. The discreet book-bindings unornamented by gold. If I had been one of the two ladies, I would have spent a great deal of time simply walking through my rural home, appreciating its beauty.

And yes, I am one of those strange people who actually read your book, although it’s not so strange considering how engaging the text is. Your enthusiasm and personality comes through because of it.

Marilyn Smithsays:

Thank you so much for this lovely post. As I sit here in the U.S. on a cold rainy windy day you have given me a delightful diversion. I look forward to learning more about these little cottages.

Deirdre McSharrysays:

Who is not transported by these images, the words. Add Maria Edgeworth and the Ladies of Llangofflen (sp?) and you have the cast. Perfect reading for this g;littering morning…


Thanks Deirdre, you are spot on. Here is a description of Elizabeth Mavor’s intriguing sounding account of the Ladies of Llangollen, available on
“Eleanor Butler’s family wanted her enter a convent. Sarah Ponsonby was fending off the unwanted attentions of her guardian. All that both women wanted was to live together and devote their lives to each other, and in 1778 they ran away from their aristocratic homes in Ireland to settle in Llangollen, Wales, to devote themselves to ‘delicious seclusion’ and ‘romantic friendship’. Their chosen path was not an easy one: their families disowned them, and, accustomed to a comfortable life, they were soon in debt. This did not stop them transforming Plas Newydd, the little cottage they chose, into the Gothic residence of their dreams, complete with well-stocked library and extensive gardens, while dabbling in genteel farming, and carrying out a rigorous programme of correspondence and self-improvement. Their determination to live private lives away from the glare of society was compromised by their growing celebrity, and prominent members of the intelligentsia and the literary and political circles of the day found their way to Plas Newydd to enjoy their company and wit and to admire their achievements. The Ladies lived into devoted old age, caring for each other to the last, and became a local legend. Elizabeth Mavor brings these two characters vividly to life: Eleanor with her forceful personality, French education and crippling migraines, and Sarah, much younger and more retiring, but quietly assertive as well as caring. This well researched and beautifully written account examines the nature of their intimate relationship, the relevance or otherwise of the term ‘lesbian’, and the notion of ‘romantic friendship’ in the eighteenth century and later. She takes an often humorous look at their tempestuous relations with family, friends, servants, neighbours and the polite society that they rejected in favour of the very special world they created for themselves.”

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