Colefax and Fowler: Then and Now furniture auction at Christie's

Katrina Burroughs previews two Christie's furniture auctions that will prove irresistible to fans of the Colefax and Fowler look
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Colefax and Fowler: Then and Now, July 10 at Christie's, 85 Old Brompton Road, SW7 (020 7930 6074;
A slice of decorating history is coming up for sale with an auction of furniture from Hambleden Manor in Buckinghamshire, and Lushill, Wiltshire, two time-capsule country houses decorated by Colefax and Fowler in the Fifties and Sixties.

Estimates start at £300 for an elegant and colourful assortment of bookcases, card tables, dining tables, armchairs, sofas, lighting and mirrors, paintings and porcelain.

Colefax and Fowler style
A room at Hambleden Manor with a George III japanned bookcase (£2,500 to £4,000) and a pair of chintz sofas 1955, from John Fowler (£500 to £800)

It is hard to exaggerate the influence of Colefax and Fowler on the English interior. Established in the late Thirties, the decorating business of Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler quickly became synonymous with "country house style", a clever mix of warm colours and eclectic antiques, comfy sofas and patterned textiles. Acquired by stylish American heiress Nancy Lancaster, the firm flourished, making over first Nancy's own home, Haseley Court in Oxfordshire, and then revitalising a roll call of war-weary historic houses owned by her society contacts.

Today, Colefax and Fowler style has no shortage of imitators among contemporary decorators, and its stamp can be seen on the high street in designs by brands such as Laura Ashley and OKA. The look created for the historic houses of the landed gentry now has admirers in every 21st-century city and suburb. In the postwar period, Maria Carmela, Viscountess Hambleden, was among the firm's most ardent fans.

Colefax and Flower style
Painted pottery vase lamps and shades (£500 to £800) (left); a David Hicks checked cotton-covered 1960 armchair (£400 to £600) (right)

After her marriage in 1955 to the 4th Viscount Hambleden, she commissioned John Fowler to decorate the family seat. The interiors that resulted, scarcely changed to this day, were a blend of Lady Hambleden's Italian flair, heirlooms from her father's diplomatic posts in Brazil and Russia, the English architecture of the Elizabethan manor, and Fowler's inspired sense of colour and theatre. It was Lady Hambleden's recent move to a smaller home on the estate that precipitated the auction, and accounts for 332 of the 500 lots.

Her collection is joined by property from Lushill, the home of fox-hunting legend Captain Fred Barker, which was decorated by Fowler in the Sixties, and supplemented by 130 lots from the antiques department of Colefax and Fowler.

Prices in the sale aren't all pitched at those who can afford the upkeep of a country estate. There are a few spectacular statement furnishings, such as an 18th-century German giltwood table (lot 131, estimate £5,000-£8,000), but most are unflashy, practical pieces.

Colefax and Flower style
Mahogany, from about 1760 (£800 to £1,200)(left); a George III satinwood and tulipwood card table, circa 1780 (£800 to £1,200) (right)

Highlights of the catalogue are among the lighting. Pretty table lamps are plentiful, including lot 95, two painted pottery lamps, one with blue pleated linen shade, the second with a printed cotton shade (£500-£800); fabulously decorative wall lights include a pair of art deco-style green-Japanned uplighters (lot 125, £400-£600).

Colefax and Fowler: Then and Now, July 10 at Christie's, 85 Old Brompton Road, SW7 (020 7930 6074;

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