A Traveller’s Rest

SHIRLEY CONRAN: “Her interiors were sultry and promised excitement. She created a glamorous and sensual atmosphere”

1974 Lesley Blanch chez elle, Avenue Mozart, Paris. Photo © Roger Gain

A Traveller’s Rest

Lesley Blanch made a home for her imagination and was happy in her little house filled with treasures from her travels. She’d say, “If you are going to sit down and accept a pattern for life, that’s all right – some like a domestic pattern, but I happen to like a romantic one.

In 1994 a fire destroyed her home: “I escaped in my nightdress just before the front wall fell in.

Shusha Guppy had interviewed her two years previously for Looking Back, A Panoramic View of a Literary Age by the Grandes Dames of European Letters. “Lesley Blanch’s house is filled with mementos of her travels and adventures: Russian icons, samovars, Qajar paintings and rugs from Persia and Turkey, exotica from India. Divans and the scent of incense and jasmine further enhance the exotic and relaxing atmosphere.”

The main room. Photo © Georgia de Chamberet

“During the day Ms. Blanch works at a desk strewn with books, papers and household bills in the living room. All other rooms, including her own bathroom, are also lined with bookshelves. Ms. Blanch is visited by a stream of friends and admirers, but her much-loved constant companions are her two cats, Smiley (‘because he smiles all the time’) and Kuçuk (Turkish for ‘little’).”

Fiercely Private

Blanch: “My rooms are gestures of defiance against every rule of the pundit decorators. Now East, now West, my rooms reflect the globe. Cultures, races, climates, colours and epochs mix in harmony here, as do bargains and chintz . . .”

1973 A traditional icon corner evocative of the mysteries of Orthodoxy. Photo by Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd

. . . I find my things very good company: they are not capricious, or boring, or demanding. They do not have to be entertained, or dined and wined like so much of the human species. By which you will judge me a hardened misanthrope. Quite so. I defend my privacy fiercely.

A Traveller’s gros-point

Lesley Blanch’s gros-point cushions are coveted by those lucky enough to possess one. They record her travels and varied interests and some were done as gifts, with a motif designed around the friend in question: “For the late Nancy Mitford I worked a large pink-pawed mole, part of her family crest, with a huge sunflower indicating her book, The Sun King, and for the late Violet Trefusis, an evocation of Russia, to recall our shared love of all things Slav.”

My cushions are so many magic carpets transporting me back to faraway places I have known and loved and now re-create in terms of gros-point. As I stitch, they come to life again, and I am once more in the dappled shadow of Aleppo’s souks, in the Pachmakli along the road in Turkestan, or on a rooftop in Delhi . . . Ah! Needlework thy name is nostalgia!” Her own personal collection of her gros-point cushions was reduced to ashes in the fire that destroyed her house.

1973 The ‘Nancy Mitford memorial window’ — a mouchrabieh from a Tunisian harem. An icon found in the Greek
quarter of Istanbul. Photo by Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd