Tag Archives: Betty Joel

In a white room, and other modern colour schemes: 1934

In one of the oldest houses in Chelsea, Syrie Maugham (wife of the best selling author Somerset Maugham) created a modern room.

Living room by Syrie Maugham for Chelsea house 09

This was the white room, a space entirely furnished in shades of white. It was the first of its kind. In the age of modernism, along with the revolutions in art, architecture, literature, music and dance, interior designers – the professionals and the amateurs had their own slant on modernism.

They didn’t stick with white though.

Study by Rodney Thomas 06

Here in this study room by Rodney Thomas are more pale walls and curved fittings, with some colorful touches,the most dramatic feature being the oversize clock.

Behind the walls of conservative apartment blocks and town houses in London the modernist revolution was carrying on in these new rooms. Here is another study, combined with a bedroom,designed by Angus Grant:

Bedroom study by Angus Grant 17

The decoration wasn’t all so restrained:

Entrance Hall by Allan Walton 07

This entrance hall by Allan Walton has some trompe l’oeil features as does the dining room by John Armstrong below:

Dining room by John Armstrong 19

These rooms were designed for a “modern” form of life. I don’t know if the term lifestyle was in general use then but if not it should have been.

There was still room for the traditional activities of upper middle class life though, as in this music room.

Music Room by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell 15

It was designed by the owners themselves Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Below is a slightly grander music room designed by Oliver Hill:

Music room by Oliver Hill 18

The colour scheme is more sombre but the room still retains that uncluttered look the 30s designers were aiming for.

Last week I mentioned the hope of the Edwardians for the future. The early thirties were also optimistic in their way. Despite the Great War, the Depression and the ominous political developments in Europe these rooms also seem to me to reflect a hope for a future of technological and social advances.

Living room by Ronald Fleming 02

The wall covering in this room by Ronald Fleming is constructed of squares of gold coloured straw paper arranged to make a pattern like wood veneers.

At her showroom in Sloane Street Betty Joel was presenting some flamboyant new designs in furniture and carpets.

Living Room by Betty Joel 08

One of her other living rooms, almost restrained by comparison:

Living room by Betty Joel 16

Is that table pentagonal? Some more futuristic features below:

Living room by Ronald Dickens 05

But note the horn of a gramophone player among the geometric lines of the furniture in this Ronald Dickens living room.

Living room by Patmore 04

Throughout these rooms there have been artworks on the walls showing how the designers were allied with the artists of the day. This one was designed by Derek Patmore.

The other obvious feature of these rooms to my eye is that they look comfortable, much more comfortable than what had gone before. And if you were tired there were some colourful bedrooms to retire to like this bed / sitting room by Herman Schrijver for Miss Gladys Burton :

Bed-sitting room by Herman Schrijver for Miss Gladys Burton 13

And for a good night’s rest you could do no better than this bedroom with its “convenient” furniture:

Convenient bedroom furniture by Bartholomew and Fletcher pl11 Modern Furnishing

Looks good to me.

This week’s pictures come mostly from a book by Derek Patmore called Colour Schemes for the Modern Home, a 1934 survey of current trends in interior design.  They capture a fleeting moment of a quiet revolution in taste as ideas of modernity were changing into forms we still see today.

Finally let’s turn down the colour and look again at Syrie Maugham’s white room in the King’s Road:

Syrie's Maugham's white room - Nancy Beaton

The woman in white who stands in the white room is Nancy Beaton, in a photograph taken by her brother Cecil. A bright young thing if ever there was one. As part of her divorce settlement Syrie Maugham got to keep the house with the white room (along with a few other items such as a Rolls Royce)


A bit of a change of pace for us after a month of transport related posts. As you have no doubt realised I’m not an expert on the history of interior design. But I’ve always found these pictures fascinating which is reason enough for showing them here. The picture of Nancy Beaton is from Stephen Calloway’s book Twentieth-century decoration : the domestic interior from 1900 to the present day.

This is the first in a short series of posts about interiors. Next week’s pictures will provide a dramatic contrast.

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