Tabulous Tastemaker: Nancy Lancaster

September 9, 2015

By Tab Byrum

Today we are celebrating Nancy Lancaster, an American-born woman turned British interior decorator and founder of the famed decorating firm of Sybil Colefax & John Fowler which created the English Country House look. Nancy Lancaster was born Nancy Keene Perkins in Virginia in 1897, her father was a Virginia cotton broker, she was raised in homes in Richmond, Virginia and New York City.

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Her first husband was Henry Field, an heir to the Marshall Field’s department store fortune, but he died 5 months into their marriage after becoming ill in the flu epidemic of 1918. In 1920, she married her deceased husband’s cousin, Ronald Tree, and the new couple moved to England.  Nancy was known to have a natural talent and excellent taste in all things decorative and it became very apparent after she moved to England and began decorating homes for her family. In 1933, Ronald Tree was elected to Parliament and he and his wife began traveling in powerful social and political circles. Nancy Lancaster teamed up with decorator John Fowler and founded Colefax & Fowler, the firm known for popularizing Country House decor, the look is characterized by brightly colored walls, use of chintz fabric, the use of furniture from different periods of time.

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The one room she is perhaps best known for was her butter yellow drawing room inside her London home, Lancaster was also known for her love of roses and the cultivation of them at her home Ditchley Park, a three-thousand-acre estate in Oxfordshire. Nancy Lancaster has left behind a legacy of not only Colefax & Fowler but also shaking up the stringent decorating rules of British decor, as Mario Buatta put it, “after Nancy blew into town, England loosened up and started looking more personal and lived-in.” Here’s to Nancy Lancaster an original and a Tabulous Tastemaker. 

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The above and below pictures are different looks at the Yellow Drawing Room done by Lancaster in London. 

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A client’s London Drawing Room, decorated by Nancy Lancaster.

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A watercolor of an entrance hall done by Nancy Lancaster. 

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An outdoor area put together by Nancy Lancaster outside the Orangery at her home. 

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Lancaster working in her beloved garden. 

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The Library inside Lancaster’s Haseley House. 

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The Lancaster decorated guest room in her own home. 

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Nancy Lancaster’s library inside the last home she occupied before dying in 1994. 

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Lancaster standing beside one of her decorated creations. 

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The Palladian Room inside Haseley House.

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Lancaster’s personal bedroom in her home. 

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A peek into a Lancaster decorated room and one of the skirted tables she was known for. 

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Nancy Lancaster donning the Astor Family tiara for the 1936 Silver Jubilee celebrations for King George V, her aunt was Nancy, Lady Astor. 

All images are courtesy of Pinterest, all words are my own.

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