Luxury childrenswear designer Rachel Riley gives Country & Town House an insight into her home life with our ‘at home with…’ Q&A.
What’s your house like?
We have recently moved to the country, so now we have a new project to work on! It is within easy commuting distance of my office in central London, but I love that when I get home in the evening, if it is still light, I can go straight into the garden and pick flowers, or sow seeds, or ‘take a walk around the garden’ and see what is growing – it is so calming. It is a 1930s house, so now we are going to restore it and I have lots of ideas about the perfect print wallpaper and fabrics that will suit our thirties furniture.
How does your home reflect you as a person?
It will once I have finished working on it, but even now there are bits that are very ‘me’ and that influenced us in our choice. It has lots of vintage details that I really appreciate, such as original blue glazed moire tiles, and a glass-fronted cream lacquered cabinet in the kitchen so that I can show off my collection of floral tea-cups and saucers, and the commemorative Royal jubilee mugs over the past 100 years.
If we knocked on your door, how would we be greeted?
You could knock, but last week my husband installed a new bell! It is a canny contraption as the exterior is a vintage wooden surround with ivory button, and inside it is connected to a high-tech ring tone with the choice of 32 song choices. For the festive season we chose Jingle Bells, and thought it was so hilarious we had to push it each time we walked past, even if it was 6am. For me, home décor is all about the detail, and I love the mix of vintage and modern which this doorbell encapsulates, and because we both like to use our hands we will both make, mend and fix things that we appreciate.
What’s your favourite room in the house?
It would have to be the bedroom, for many reasons. Firstly, I love to sleep and my bed is so comfortable. I love the furniture, we have a fifties sycamore sleigh bed, with matching chest of drawers and writing desk that we bought in the Paris flea market. We also have buttoned-back chairs upholstered in pale green satin to match the bedspread, and my favourite – a kidney-shaped dressing table for which I made a ruffled cover in white Swiss dot, and it has such a sweet view of the English countryside.
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for your home?
I suppose it would be the dining room table, with matching chairs, again found in Paris. We lived in Paris when I first met my husband and we would go to the Marche aux Puces every weekend. What is lovely about the proportions of our house is that the furniture fits so well, and I am looking forward to adding wallpaper, as we have the original picture frame in all of the rooms, so wallpaper doesn’t go right up to the ceiling. I love that look.
And what’s the oldest thing in your home?
Inside the house, I suppose it is the original features such as the fireplaces, and the architectural details, as we haven’t brought in anything older than 1930. However, in the garden it would definitely be the mature trees, as one of the attractions of the house is that it is quite rural, and has lovely trees in the garden. I am told the apple tree is over 100 years old. I am looking for a vintage summer-house and some of my favourite are turn-of-the-century metal and glass, so maybe that is still to come.
If we snooped in your kitchen what would we find in your fridge?
Hmmm, not much for which I am responsible! My husband is French and is such a good cook that I leave most of that to him. He is the kind of person who will stock the fridge for me if he is going away. And I usually ask him what’s for dinner. However, if I am pushed I can cook a meal, but I would much prefer to sew, knit, hand embroider, smock, or iron before I would start to cook!
And if you invited us for dinner, who would be there and what would you cook?
It was fun to have my grown-up children arrive on Christmas Eve, and we started with a cocktail party, to which we had invited our neighbours. I had asked in advance what they all liked, and had set up a full bar. My favourite part was having the perfect vintage accoutrements, a silver shaker, and an ice-box in the shape of a drum all laid out on a scalloped and embroidered table cloth. Then I cooked an Asian dish that I had tried in Hong Kong, rice with shrimps fried with ginger, celery and coriander.
If we rifled through your wardrobe, what favourite items would we find?
That would be my second-favourite room of the house, as we are lucky enough to have a dressing room. I want to kit it out with vintage wooden haberdashery drawers and full-length wardrobes, although at the moment all my clothes are hanging on racks. I have a lovely collection of silk blouses, as I have been collecting fabrics since I was a teenager and I make them into tops. Often I will match a certain fabric to a specific event, or wear my favourite blouse – a lily-of-the-valley print on a soft blue-grey background that I designed. Lily-of-the-valley signifies good luck.
It’s Saturday night at home, what’s the plan for the evening?
That’s easy. It would start by building a fire in our sweet brick fireplace from wood that we had collected from the garden and that my husband had sawn into pieces small enough to fit into the grate. He would have prepared a lovely French meal and I would have laid trays with my best embroidered linen, and we would take trays into the sitting room to watch re-runs of Mad Men. I love the style and the glamour of that series, especially the first ones that were set in New York in the early sixties in the commercial world of advertising.