Christmas at her restored farmhouse in cumbria provides annabel lewis. Owner of specialist haberdasher’s v vrouleaux. With the perfect canvas on which to display her talent for artistic embellishment and dazzling decoration.
The front door and balustrade are festooned with pine boughs.
If you’re accustomed to ‘doing christmas’ on a grand scale. There’s no doubt you need an appropriate backdrop to develop your vision. So, when annabel lewis, owner of ‘hip haberdasher’ v v rouleaux.
Found a suitable period farmhouse lying empty in her native cumbria, she was prepared to fight for it. Unfortunately, the national trust, the property’s owner, was initially resistant to her enthusiasm. ‘I badgered them for three years to let me take it on,’ annabel says.
‘I kept saying, “we’re going to be the most fantastic tenants; we’ll make the place superb.”
Annabel made the wreath in the diningroom window by stringing old and new crystals on to a wire frame.
Last year, annabel was finally granted permission to move in. ‘You have to be able to match yourself to a house and, right from the start.
I could see all my furniture here,’ she says. ‘It was dirty and dingy, but it was still the perfect blank canvas. I always thought it would be a wonderful place to celebrate christmas.’
The hall often doubles as an extra dining area. The red-berry and faux-fruit garlands, both from VV Rouleaux.
Add cheerful colour, as does the turquoise ostrich skin covering the antique swivel stool.
A decoration made from a vintage diamanté buckle tied with ribbon.
Twelve months on. The farmhouse has been restored to sparkling splendour and, as annabel had foreseen.
Its gracious rooms overlooking the river derwent offer the ideal platform for staging the festive season.
A display ‘tree’ has been created in the boot room from wood and ribbon.
The core of the house dates back to the seventeenth century. But subsequent generations of solid farming stock added two well-balanced extensions, a smokehouse and, in 1823, a traditional ‘bank barn, which uses the natural slope of the land to give easy access to the upper floor. Where hay was stored to feed the cattle below in winter. Annabel has begun using the barn as an exhibition space and has plans to transform it into a regular arts venue.
Annabel herself was born just a few miles from the farm’s front door but, as girls in those days typically did, she left for london as a teenager, doing a stint at lucie clayton and cordon bleu, before landing a job with fashionable foodie justin de blank in belgravia.
Here, she was soon put in charge of running the flower stall and, not long after, went on to launch her own florist’s. ‘i became responsible for the window boxes of 38 pubs all over london,’ she says.
Annabel made this decoration from vintage jewels.
The faux panelling in the dining room was created by decorative painter Kim Sisson (www. kimsissoninc.co.uk); the wooden cherub candlesticks were found at a local auction.
It was, however, her inventive way with a bouquet that particularly attracted customer attention. ‘i always tried to make everything look exciting and people would ask,
“where do you get all these trimmings?'” in 1990, to satisfy this interest, she opened the first v v rouleaux shop in parsons green, instantly transforming staid english haberdashery from grandma dull to urban cool.
Now located in fashionable marylebone, v v rouleaux continues to offer a treasure trove of delightful frills and furbelows to a global clientele that includes major fashion houses, interior decorators and costume designers.
Keira knightley, for example, wore v v rouleaux silver birds in her hair in the film the duchess, while the ribbon that trimmed the bridesmaids’ dresses at the royal wedding in 2011 was also sourced at the shop.
Inevitably, christmas is a hectic time at work for annabel – this year she did the ‘look’ for the sloane square hotel – but her professional demands never stand in the way of domestic priorities. ‘I start with my mother’s house in early december and then go on to do four more. i decorate like mad.’
At the farmhouse, her own three daughters and son, all now in their twenties, return home from work and university, and insist on the traditional tree with all the trimmings – a demand easily met from the contents of annabel’s tea chests.
Which are packed with such long-time favourites as a parade of wooden huntsmen, an array of brilliantly coloured mexican tin ornaments and a cluster of oversize light bulbs, which annabel recycled from parsons green railway station in the eighties and then painted in primary stripes.
The ornate carved dining chairs (left) were a present from Annabel’s mother; Kim Sisson also painted the sideboard, which was bought at auction for £10
Though the house has been entirely redecorated, the fluid arrangement of the ground-floor rooms has been retained and each light, well-proportioned space offers the opportunity for a distinctive mood. ‘When we entertain large numbers, we quite often use the hall as a dining room, bringing in two tables,’ says annabel.
The baskets hanging in the kitchen (above left) are from Annabel’s former floristry business; the painting above the door is by Michael Green.
Her florist’s past is clearly in evidence. ‘I like uniting indoors with out,’ she says, and one of her first steps is to gather armloads of blue pine and apple boughs from the garden.
Carefully selected for shape and shade. out of doors, these are arranged over the main entrance and intertwined with fairy lights, glass baubles and ribbons to create a magical pathway up the smokehouse stairs.
Inside, annabel’s blue peter tendencies come to the fore. she is a practised hand with a coat hanger and a piece of tin foil. ‘When it’s time for the turkey, there’s never any foil left,’ she says. ‘i’ve always used it up making birds for the tree.’
The bathroom in the former smokehouse (top) is furnished with a vintage saddle frame, used as a towel rail, and a blind made from strips of grosgrain ribbon attached to poles; the picture is by Fiona Clucas.
In the lewis household, however, the ‘here’s one i made earlier’ approach is elevated to a higher plane. vintage jewels, for example, sourced from a defunct paris shop – ‘i bought the entire contents,’ says annabel – are tied with ribbon and strung on wire to glitter enticingly in the light of the open fire. While redundant bobbins are delicately wrapped in silk and used as candlesticks.
The barn (all other pictures) is used as an exhibition space to promote the work of local artists.
Ribbon, of course, plays a central role, criss-crossing the snowy damask of the dining table, dangling from log baskets and door handles, and encasing a vast array of perfectly presented presents. ‘I love wrapping presents,’ says annabel. ‘For a wedding in india recently, we did 500.’
For annabel, however, a ribbon is not just for christmas. Much of her approach to interior design is conditioned by the possibilities of satin, chiffon and grosgrain. Throughout the house, inexpensive junk-shop and auction finds – a tatty mirror here. A frayed banquette there – have been given luxurious new life in a rainbow of shades. And, when she reaches the limitations of ribbon, she calls on the services of painter kim sisson to rethink a stark wall or unappealing surface. ‘If something’s a good shape it can always be repainted.’ She notes.
In the sitting room. The chair in front of the fire has been reupholstered with antique millinery velvet and trimmed with vintage ribbon fringing.
Annabel made the garland above the fire from. A cluster of light bulbs salvaged from Parsons Green station in the Eighties. Which she painted with bright coloured stripes.
At the back of the house, colourful ribbons adorn a log basket. Balls of blue pine wrapped with fairy lights alternate with colourful German gazing balls up the smokehouse steps.
With the decoration and decorations now in place. This year the lewis family will wake up late on christmas morning to champagne and smoked-salmon sandwiches. If any foil can still be found. Lunch for 20 served will be served as the shadows start to gather on the valley of the river derwent.