Monday, January 25, 2010

Reggie's Rooms: Canon Valpy's Drawing-Room

From time to time I shall post about rooms that I have come across over the years that I find notable or inspiring, for one reason or another. These are rooms that I come back to again and again, and where there is something about them that I find particularly pleasing. Often they trigger a visceral reaction in me--an “I want that!” response. In most cases these are interiors that I would be delighted to call home, either by transporting myself back to the period when they were depicted, or today by the most subtle introduction of such modern conveniences as electric lighting or central heating.

 Canon Valpy drawing-room, 3 The Close, Winchester
Painted by B. O. Corfe, c. 1900
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I begin the series with a watercolor of the drawing-room at 3 The Close, Winchester, that belonged to Canon Valpy, a well-to-do member of the Chapter of Winchester Cathedral. Painted in 1900, this is a room where the heavy clutter one associates with High-Victoriana has largely been dispensed with, and it is furnished in an eclectic, comfortable manner presaging the “English Country House” look that Nancy Lancaster and her circle perfected a generation or two later. One sees in Canon Valpy’s drawing-room a way of arranging and decorating an interior that surely informed, if not inspired, Mrs. Lancaster’s subsequent vision.

What is it about this room that I find so compelling?
  • The proportions are pleasing. The architecture is solidly Georgian in appearance, undoubtedly built in the 18th-century, symmetrically arranged around a lovely fireplace, with large windows, classical moldings, and a chair-rail.
  • It is comfortably-furnished with a handsome collection of upholstered and incidental furnishings. The decoration is clearly inspired by the English 18th-century, but not slavishly so as it is augmented with examples from other periods and countries, including France and Morocco.
  • There is a lot to interest one’s eye: the walls are hung with stacks of gilt-framed prints and paintings, and the tables are covered with collections of china and objects of interest; there are flowers and green plants about.
  • It is redolent of time spent in scholarly, musical, and social pursuits: there are numerous stacks of books (this is clearly the room of people who enjoy reading), and a piano stands at the ready, either for one’s own enjoyment or others. The furniture can be easily moved to promote intimate conversation or for a party.
  • It is softened by the presence of attractive textiles. The upholstered seating is uniformly slipcovered with the same pretty chintz, and the floor is covered with a beautiful oriental carpet. The windows are generously hung with handsome curtains. I find the simplicity of the slipcovers and curtains pleasing, too. No dress-makers’ tassels or ribbons in sight and no swags or jabots.
  • It doesn’t look overtly-decorated, and is obviously not the work of one of the firms that delivered so many “lock-stock-and-barrel” interiors seen in many English country houses of the period. Although thoroughly furnished by today’s standards, at the time it was painted prevailing taste would have considered this to be understated.
While clearly a room of its time and place, I find Canon Valpy’s drawing-room to be particularly pleasing. It is comfortable, attractive, and – with the addition of a few table lamps – a room that I would be delighted to live in today.

Canon Valpy’s drawing room, along with many other lovely interiors, appears in Victorians At Home by Susan Lasdun, published by Viking Press in 1981


  1. One vanishingly small quibble: Those do not look like "reading books." They are too big. More likely, they're (at the time) 100 year-old English translations from Latin, Greek and French, well-bound and heavily-illustrated.

    I have the same sort of books still in stacks for a simple reason: Most of them don't fit on any sort of modern bookshelf.

  2. I too find this a completely pleasing sort of room....this post sent me scrambling for my copy of Victorians at Home, only to find that I have put it heavens knows many books, so many rooms, so little time.

  3. What a light and airy room -- amazing to think that it dates from 1900. I had always assumed that it wasn't until later that interior design became lighter and less confining, so your post has enlightened my mind as well! I love the window seat and also the full curtains -- they remind me of the Peter Dunham "Samarkand" ones in my living room.
    Can't wait for the rest of the series...! xx

  4. Lovely choice--I think my favorite detail is that the window is open to the garden. It would be the perfect spot to write a letter, although all the artwork would be a delightful distraction. Thanks for visiting Town and Country Mom and for your kind comment.

  5. Ancient: Thank you for visiting. While not obvious from my post the Valpys also had a library, full of books, which is where they would be expected to store the type of book you describe, I believe. It is unusual to see books of any kind in a drawing-room, rooms typically given over to other pursuits, and particularly stacks of them as the Valpys had I think.

    DED: copies are available on Alibris for shockingly low prices.

    LBG: Yes, indeed Peter Dunham. He channels this period and look so well.

    T&CM: That this room was painted on a lovely summer's afternoon makes it even more charming, doesn't it?

  6. Dear Reggie, Beautiful room! Love the green walls, white trim and soft chintz furniture - an inspiration.

  7. "While clearly a room of its time and place... and – with the addition of a few table lamps – a room that I would be delighted to live in today."

    In fact, this room could have been placed within the home of my weekend stay effortlessly.

  8. I expect the chairs might have been slipcovered for a change in seasons. What a lovely place to visit via a painting. You can almost feel the breeze through the the open windows.


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