English Country Style for Modern Life

20 February 2020

Of all the styles of decoration English country style has been the most enduring. I love classic country style and it has enjoyed a recent renaissance as we long for more comfort in our homes. A style that could be viewed as fussy or old fashioned is now associated with warm nostalgia.  Minimalism has had an influence though and helped to control the clutter and fuss.

So how do you make English country style work for modern life? If I was going to sum up the key elements of a good modern country house it would showcase its tradition, radiate warmth and be effortlessly comfortable. I have outlined more tips below.

Draw influence from the past but don’t be governed by it

So much of English country style is influenced by history. However, when you choose a period home you don’t have to be governed by a style that doesn’t feel like you. It can be very tempting to only include pieces that fit with a period feel and don’t necessarily reflect your personality.

The best way to avoid this is to use its heritage as influences and simply choose the elements that work with your personality. For instance, for colour palettes, you’ll be surprised how modern some of the heritage paints can be. A colour that was inspired by a historic house can look wonderful in a more modern setting.

In Tudor homes I find the colour palettes that work best with beams tend to be the paints with green, pink or yellow tones. So I often to choose shades such as French Gray(shown below), Blue Gray and Setting Plaster (shown below) – all by Farrow and Ball. For neutrals, I tend to choose from Farrow and Ball’s traditional neutrals or from the Stone palette by Paint & Paper Library.

French Gray interior design
Setting Plaster interior design

For Georgian homes the pastels really shine, with elegant pinks, pale yellows, eau de nils and Wedgewood blues. But the later period of the Georgian error also embraced brighter colours too. Examples of Georgian colours include Pale Georgian by Paint and Paper Library, Temple by Paint and Paper Library and Pigeon by Farrow and Ball. For the brighter Georgian tones I love Edward Bulmer’s paints, with my favourites including Tea Green and Vert de Mer.

In Victorian homes richer darker palettes were introduced including autumnal tones such as deep reds and sage greens. Sage green can look wonderful in a modern country home and I often use it as the basis of a calm relaxed scheme. Sage Green by Little Greene is a lovely colour along with Ashes of Roses for a red room that doesn’t feel too murky.

Take colour inspiration from the English countryside

Along with the heritage of your home, take inspiration from outside. The English countryside and classic cottage garden has had a huge influence on interiors. Colours pulled from nature include pinks and yellows from the traditional rose garden through to greens from the rolling hills. These colours and patterns naturally create a sense of nostalgia.

In these images below the influences of the countryside are clear but to make it feel more modern a richer tone of green has been introduced. This works well for a country home that has to work with the demands of mud and dogs!

William Morris interior design
Modern country WC
Let the architecture and eccentricities shine

A country home has so much of its own character. So I normally recommend that you design it to let the architecture shine. Your furnishings shouldn’t compete with the features of the room. The architecture provides the bones of the room and the furniture adds structure and contrast. Let your fabrics create atmosphere and warmth, alongside your lighting.  It’s layering that creates a beautiful room, not competition!

In this beamed hall, the calm colour scheme lets the beams and the original arched window take centre stage. To prevent it feeling bland contrast is added with the scalloped stool with a reeded seat. Softness is introduced with the rug and a welcoming chair.

In living rooms I layer lots of soft furnishings to add atmosphere.  Fabrics always add a sense of warmth and cushions in an English country home should be plentiful. With pattern, take traditional patterns but choose the fresher colour palettes. I’ve come to love floral chintz again recently. Take the example of this Nicholas Haslam chintz below. It has a lovely fresh sage green palette rather than a traditional colour palette, so feels more modern. And don’t forget the trim! A fun brush fringe, for instance, can add a wonderful whimsical edge.

Modern country living room
Modern chintz
Comfort is at the heart of an English country home

“More is more” forms the heart of English style but that doesn’t have to mean fuss and frill. Instead, I describe it as layering, which gives a room the feeling of a being genuinely lived in. Think oversized cushions, soft warm fabrics, ruffles and puffed up eiderdowns. I chose oversized velvet cushions for this country bedroom to make it feel really warm and welcoming. When combined with the informal ruffle curtains it has a relaxed effortless feel.

Modern country bedroom
Ruffle curtain
Embrace antiques

The predominant material in a classic English country home is wood, which aligns with nature. I love the story that comes with antique furniture and in the current environment of sustainability antiques are enjoying a resurgence. Don’t be afraid to mix with other textures such as paler painted furniture. It adds contrast in texture and avoids a room feeling too matchy-matchy and perfect. I sometimes feel too much dark wood can make a space feel gloomy, so I like to combine with lighter finishes. In the example below I’ve mixed a rosewood hall table with a painted wood bench to create interest.

William Yeoward bench
English country style works for kids!

Part of this reason this style works so well is because of how family-friendly it is. Unlike very modern interiors, which demand straight lines and perfection, English country style encourages informality. English country style embraces wear and tear and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  So kids should be able to flop onto the sofas without worrying. And the large-scale colourful patterns are great for disguising stains!

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you would like advice designing your modern country home I’d love to hear from you.

Modern country curtains