A Room of One’s Own
The doyenne of fabric, Celia Birtwell, takes refuge in the conservatory of her west London home. (Click to enlarge).
“I spend a lot of time in this room, as it’s the most peaceful part of the house. It gets plenty of light. My partner Andy and I often have lunch in here. I also use it as somewhere to read or listen to the radio or just contemplate the garden outside.
I’ve lived in this house for 12 years, along with Andy, who I met in 1987. He was a friend of a friend and renovates property for a living – I was introduced to him when I needed someone to do up my old house. We hit it off and the rest, as they say, is history. This house has two bedrooms and was built in 1839. We’ve also got a black-and-white 1630 cottage near Ludlow which Andy is working on now.
The conservatory wasn’t here when we moved in. Andy built it and added another storey above, which houses my studio. The conservatory’s doors are lovely – they have espagnolettes: a type of lock and handle often found in France. I also think the floor is charming.
I love gardening and go to Kew practically every Sunday. I suppose I’m green-fingered, although that makes it sound effortless when in fact you have to learn how to grow things and it’s hard work. But I had a head start: my father was a keen gardener. I like outdoor spaces that aren’t too manicured but have some order. I like to divide flowers into groups of colours, putting each colour in a separate pot. I also like gardens to be perfumed. I’m proud of my jasmine and scented roses.
I call this the garden room. I like to have fresh vases of cut flowers in here. On days you don’t want to be outside because the weather’s dismal, you can sit here and almost feel like you’re in the garden. I like drawing flowers in my sketchbooks in here, too. These often form the basis for my floral dress fabrics. There’s nothing better than looking at flowers. They’re all different, so they always surprise you.”
Photo: Celia Birtwell’s conservatory; James Royall.
Originally published in The Observer, June 28, 2009