Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cauliflowers and Country Life

Every now and then a house comes along that stops you dead in your design-loving tracks. This was it for me. The Bachmann residence, in Oxfordshire, England.

Featuring one of the most extraordinary interiors ever created, it was designed by Mrs Bettina Bachmann, who was the wife of the former Head of MGM Studios in England. Outside, it's a gracious, understated, bordering-on-austere 17th-century manor home. Inside, however, it's a spectacular MGM-style stage set.

The dining room, which was inspired by cauliflowers, according to Mrs Bachmann, features what appears to be a Neo-Classical decor. But look closely. There's a lot of trompe-l'œil going on. The ribbons. the wall. Even the grand black marble table is painted. And there are cauliflowers – CAULIFLOWERS – as a floral display, tied together with black grosgrain ribbon. Genius.

If you think the whole house is going to be monochrome, think again, because the master bedroom and bathroom are circus-inspired delights. Pink and tangerine, to be correct. Mrs Bachmann even painted the television to match.  Mrs Bachmann, you are a woman to like.

This is what I have since discovered about the fabulously talented Bachmanns and their surprisingly stylish country home, courtesy of, whose author is the Bachmann's granddaughter, and Elle Decor, which featured the home.

• Bettina Bachmann preferred to challenge and shock the world of design, even though she mixed among America's high society.
• She was born with polio and lived in a wheelchair for part of her life. Determined to overcome this handicap, she styled her life so it was beautiful and impeccably groomed, but always with an unexpected twist.
• She and her husband owned several homes, including a residence in Paris next to Notre Dame, which was known as the House of Heloise and Abelard. She decorated the house using only orange, coral, purple, and fushia. While the workers were doing the renovations to it, she would greet them at 7AM and give them her orders dressed in her couture night clothes. 
• When her husband was appointed oversee MGM Studios in England, she set out to find a house for them to live in. She found this, which she dubbed The Manor House. She bought it for her 60th birthday, and lived in it for the next 30 years. 
• She decorated in a style that stood in stark contrast to her neighbour, Nancy Lancaster. The bathroom and bedroom were adorned with latticed coral and pink walls, while the formal living room featured bookshelves where the books were catalogued according to colour – decades before anyone else had thought of it. She didn't care what society thought of her new home. As she said: “Nothing they say matters. I am the one who has to live here.”

(Photos from Country Houses of England, published by Taschen.)

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