SHIRLEY CONRAN Her interiors were sultry and promised excitement. She created a glamorous and sensual atmsophere
1974 Lesley Blanch, Avenue Mozart, Paris
© The Estate of Lesley Blanch
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.
"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."
"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')."
1973 A traditional icon corner evocative of the mysteries of
Othodoxy, the "solemn chants, shadowy depths" of remote
Balkan monasteries. Henry Clarke © Condé Nast Publications
Lesley Blanch liked to mix everything up and loathed anything en suite — for example she might use a Caucasian rug as a wall hanging, drape a fur rug over a bed, or use an old toile de Jouy curtain framed as a picture, a work of art.
She was a pioneer of what is now referred to as 'ethnic chic'. She was admired by her friends for her decorative flair, and was emulated by her fans.
Her advice when it came to domesticity and decoration was to "surround yourself with the things you love and your house will make you happy; I never decorate, I just make sure that I'm going to be comfortable and let the effect come with the living. You must have comfort first, everything else follows naturally."
An Exotic Medley
Blanch mourned the loss in the fire of all her treasures and memorabilia — an 18th century Staffordshire rabbit, the first possession she ever bought; a portrait of Empress Elizabeth of Russia; a collection of Russian silver snuff boxes; antique rugs of all kinds from Bessarabian to kilims; a court painting of Fath Ali Shah’s Persian ministers; a teak rocking elephant from India, once a child's toy; a cupboard the front four panels of which she painted herself to represent the wooden or gilded domes and crosses of the churches of Moscow, Kazan, Kiev and Leningrad, their differing architecture spanning the vast surface of the Orthodox religion; her surviving oriental book collection left to New College Oxford, along with most of her archive."
'Things have life'
From North Africa. Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast
She felt rooted when she had her own things with her, and considered that "things have life" — a belief expressed by The Traveller in her memoir Journey Into The Mind's Eye.
"Eighteen years of being a diplomat's wife taught me to carry my precious everything with me, on my back like a snail … I made eleven bases with Romain, which I always had to do very quickly."
Known for her hospitality, Lesley Blanch had a special talent for blending the exotic with the intimate, thereby creating a unique and very personal atmosphere. Wide divans "smothered in rugs and cushions, Turkish style, recreated a land of memory stretching from Cairo to Constantinople."
Although her writing desk was in the living-room, she could work anywhere — just by dropping cushions on a favourite carpet she would make that her work-nest for the day.
She liked to write to music: "I must have classical, Bach and Wagner, and also Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, or reggae. I love the folk or traditional music of Bulgaria; the Middle East, Persia, Asia, or elsewhere I have travelled. And that would include New York's marvellous jazz clubs."
1973 An alcove swathed with Indian cotton and crowned
by a Victorian coach ornament. The man's velvet wedding
costume is from Afghanistan. Henry Clarke ©
The Condé Nast Publications Inc
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 ..."
"... 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."