A Brass shell wall sconce (£1,500 from Soane)

Call the junk-monger

The trashy Downing Street makeover is a criminal act of hideous uglification


This article is taken from the June 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Whenever a Prime Ministerial family is feeling a bit skint it has only to call for Lord Brownlow of Deep Pocket in the County of Dosh and those pecuniary blues will be magicked away. This former rozzer has never needed to importune a passing premier and offer to buy a peerage. He has achieved that status by selflessly helping out. 

The noble gofer is apparently always on hand to assist however he can. Samantha Cameron, Theresa May and, most recently, the Prime Shit and the First Groundsheet are all in debt to his abundant small change which is, of course, so clean it might have been scrubbed with Fairy by Nanette Newman herself.

Milord’s many interests include a house building company bizarrely named Havisham Homes, which suggests mausolea for the living. Its work seems mostly to be in the Thames valley: Maidenhead, Sonning, Henley etc. The houses are dispiritingly hideous, aesthetically null. They are, very likely, “traditional” which means that they nod towards the Roger Scruton/Quinlan Terry school of unimaginative costumed vacuity: a few beams here, illiterate classicism there. The bumf says: “Owning a luxury home is a statement of intent. It says something about who you are…” That something could be that you need a good ophthalmologist. 

Milord must, then, be delighted by the dreck that he has stumped up for in Downing Street. It is, astonishingly, even more bathetic than his own company’s evacuations.

When he was editor of the TLS John Gross once said that he could never employ Loyd Grossman because he can’t spell his given name. That sensitivity to orthography is not shared by the First Groundsheet who has spent Milord’s gift on employing an “interior designer” called Lulu Lytle. Her range of jism-resistant soft furnishings and wallpapers are marketed through her company Soane Britain. 

The Lytle style might be called “we saw you coming”. It is the far side of hideous

This name was chosen by one of her former collaborators. It’s an insult to the shade of John Soane, though not as much of an insult as the more enduring fame and popularity of his wide-boy contemporary John Nash: but, then, Soane had talent whilst Nash was a genius. 

Soane is a mere letter distant from Sloane which must be useful, for Sloanes are not necessarily advanced readers. Those who are must feel comforted by the happy confusion with a name that seems somehow familiar. 

And with a decorative idiom that more than recalls the golden age of Sloanery in the late 70s and early 80s. It reproduces it. That is when the parents of today’s Sloanes were learning that they weren’t simply braying thicks with rugby shirts, Alice-bands, hangovers and a “brain” programmed to ask “where were you at school?” but that they were part of a tribe invented for them by two mischief makers, Ann Barr and Peter York, who were, in the words of Barr’s sometime boyfriend Robin Cook (aka Derek Raymond), “all about trout”, i.e. on the qui vive for what was happening within and without the coral of Sloanery. 

One thing that was happening was a Sloane rejection of the new. It would be going much too far to claim that this owed anything to the post-modernism of that era which, whatever it meant, was really too jolly difficult to get one’s bonce around not least because not one, not two, but three of its syllables added up to modernism. The same might be said for egalitarianism but that’s difficult — it’s got more syllables, most of them really rather common.

The Lytle style might be called “we saw you coming”. It is the far side of hideous. Its appeal is, as I say, to the aesthetically bereft arrivistes: Sloanes were, and are, aspirants. In their proudly proclaimed under-development they go back, not that they know it, to the high Victorian grossness of the 1851 exhibition which William Morris lambasted, which such designers and architects as Christopher Dresser, Philip Webb, Edwin Lutyens, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Edward Prior reacted against. 

The fuss is picayune compared to the ugliness it has revealed in the minds of those who solicited his generosity

They reacted against indiscriminate polychromy, the lack of restraint, the principle that more is good and most is best, the accumulation of unnecessary stuff. Adolf Loos’s equation of ornament with crime would be borderline fanatical were it not silly. It is usually frivolous. 

However there are exceptions, occasions when it is the appropriate response to a particular act of uglification. It’s improbable that Lulu Lytle suffers Daltonism but she puts on a good show of pretending to do so. You look at this expensive junk-monger’s objects and “art” and wallpaper and ask yourself why? And how on earth can anyone arrive at this collision of below par Bayswater Road tableaux, Babylonian gewgaws, unread books, colonial longing, spatial gaucheness and gypsy caravan folksiness — where is the pile of swarf?

I guess the answer comes down to class and the pervasive influence of laughably dumb magazines: Homes and Gardens, House and Garden, World of Interiors. All of them guides for the gullibly artless.

The fuss about Milord’s subventions is picayune in comparison with the trashy ugliness it has revealed in the minds of the people who solicited his generosity. But perhaps we knew that already.

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