Violet Naylor-Leyland’s new book, Rare Birds, True Style, tours some of the most beautiful and idiosyncratic homes in existence, asking the question: what makes British signature style?
And so it proves through the enchanting pages of Rare Birds, True Style: Extraordinary Interiors, Personal Collections & Signature Looks, Violet Naylor-Leyland’s love letter to the unexpected, the offbeat and the colourful. Note: there is not a whiff of minimalism to see here.
In this extract, she delves behind the doors of the young artist and interior designer, Luke Edward Hall, whose work is informed chiefly by his love of stories.
WANDERING THE ROOMS of Luke Edward Hall and Duncan Campbell’s Gloucestershire cottage, a perfume of newly picked sweet peas present, brought on some form of tactile-emotional synaesthesia – a rare syndrome (previously undiagnosed) whereby just the touch of something can bring on a strong feeling, or compulsion. I found myself in a frenzy of pointing to and picking up objects, cooing, asking what, where, and why. Everything was so beautifully placed, so inviting, it was impossible not to. I must have been the most annoying guest.
Each miniature bust or sculpture reminiscent of a Renaissance master, mounted tastefully on a smooth chunk of marble or painted plaster plinth, made me ache for the cobblestoned piazzas of Italy. A print of two muscular Greek nudes standing contrapposto brought on a pang of guilt at the memory of a classics teacher we tormented at school. I giggled at a gilt-rimmed ashtray from the Grand Hotel Quisisana, Capri, with thoughts of my own stolen treasures from fancy restaurants, visited as a teenager, in mind – no doubt theirs legitimately procured. On another plinth swirled with a marbleised pattern, sat a match box painted with the image of a long-haired and bejewelled Empress Elisabeth of Austria – uncannily, the reference I had used to inspire the hairstyle worn on my wedding day.
In the bathroom, I could not help but pick up a bar of almond soap from the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a Florentine institution started by thirteenth-century Dominican monks, which my mother had introduced to me as a child. Trying to take in the delicate scent through the fawn paper reminded me of waiting patiently in the cool respite of the Tuscan pharmacy, gazing at the vaulted ceiling frescos, as no soap went unsniffed.
On the same arsenic-green shelf, the pink spotted tail of Lampedusa’s Leopard seemed to be waving from a metallic Ortigia soap packet, sending my mind’s eye across the sea to a Sicilian bar, where my husband and I, newly in love, sipped blood orange Bellini and corralled bags full of lime di Sicilia and melograno soap under the table with our feet.
Opening Luke’s wardrobe was like delving into an Evelyn Waugh novel: double-breasted linen suits in lilac, green, and wide white pinstripes; and waistcoats in whimsical prints (all his own design) – one floral, another depicting a medieval hunting scene of hounds chasing hares with a wild boar climbing the collar to safety. But then a flash of wild 1980s print hit my eye, a splat of red embroidery leapt out as I leafed through shirts, and a buckled corner of stonewashed denim stamped with a Californian bear iron-on patch showed its incongruity.
The electric-blue satin Loretta Caponi pyjamas were another lavish surprise. And oh, the knitwear drawer: loud checks, fat stripes, and multicolour harlequin diamonds – it was like a David Hockney dream, but better! At the bottom of the stairs by the door sat matching pairs of Moroccan velvet slippers: one mustard yellow, the other emerald green. Looking through the door out onto a lawn backed with cow parsley lining a willow fence, there were pink and green tartan rugs set with pepper tarts on amber plates decorated with the sea god Neptune, pink peonies bursting from a tiny vase, rosé in a wicker basket, and a rolling view of the Cotswolds beyond. It was in this moment I realised my mind was fully in the present, engrossed in Luke Edward Hall’s idyllic and wonderful world of style.
‘I am a knitwear fiend,’ he says. The drawings are artworks, the story inspiring them full of romance, and his collection was given a write-up on Dazed Digital in 2012. In between studies, he worked with fledgling Scottish fashion designer J.W. Anderson – now a global brand – and also at Dazed magazine with style director Nicola Formichetti, who is now, among other things, part of Lady Gaga’s fashion design team at the Haus of Gaga. At weekends Luke worked in a Brick Lane vintage shop, and as a side project he started an online antiques business, Fox and Flyte, with Duncan and their best friend, selling items such as ‘1920s-inspired cocktail shakers and glassware, found at markets or on eBay,’ which they styled cleverly for photographs.
‘I always loved forming little businesses,’ he says. It was during this endeavour that he met British architect, Ben Pentreath, who took him on to work at his design firm in the interiors department. I asked why, after four years of studying fashion, he gravitated towards interiors. ‘I loved drawing, styling, and creating stories, but I hated making clothes. I was really bad at it, as I got older, I realised the fashion world, at least in the full-time sense, was not for me.’
Influenced by classical architecture, Pentreath’s portfolio provided the perfect backdrop to the mythological stories Luke had fallen in love with, and after two years he felt the itch to start up on his own. ‘I loved working for Ben, but in the back of my mind I knew that I would always want to work on a lot of different projects, a bit of fashion, a bit of interiors, and my own artwork too, and somehow join all the dots between.’ And joining the dots is what Luke does so brilliantly and with such imagination, gathering all that he enjoys best in life and with sleight of hand – or seemingly so – marrying them up into an artwork, design, or even an outfit. Look at anything Luke puts his hand to – whether it is chalk drawings on paper, paintings on ceramics, a flower or table – and you are not only taken to a lovelier place but also reminded of bygone eras where the people are glamorous, the living carefree, and the quest for beauty is at the very heart. Yet amid the references to the past, through his unconventional use of colour and juxtaposition of style, your eye is drawn by its newness and quirks.
‘I like to take inspiration from different places. There are the people I look up to – Cecil Beaton, Stephen Tennant, Rex Whistler, and Oliver Messel. And while reading about ancient Greece, I might also be listening to 1980s pop music. It’s about mixing things up and clashing them together – taking something old and infusing it with something new.’
The Luke Edward Hall signature style manages to conjure up all that is beautiful, inspiring, and optimistic about this world, reminding one of being in love, travelling, good food, music, and warm weather. It is so refreshing to dip into his world – a place that is also difficult to tear yourself away from, without, at least, a little souvenir.
Rare Birds, True Style: Extraordinary Interiors, Personal Collections & Signature Looks by Violet Naylor-Leyland with principal photography by Andrew Farrar is published by Rizzoli, £40.00