font-family: 'Engagement', cursive;

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Queen Mother

The Queen Mother at her very cluttered desk in
Clarence House, her London home.
Speaking of inspirations, the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother certainly was one.  Hail and hearty until the end, the Queen Mum lived to be almost 102.  Having lived through countless world calamities and triumphs, fads and fashions, and several personal setbacks, the Queen Mother was nothing if not resilient.  But in this forum, I want to talk about the Queen Mother as an inspiration for style and good living.

Despite having access to an endless supply of money, and also a endless overdraft at her very accomodating bank, the Queen Mum, like her daughter the Queen, didn't spend money foolishly.  Although entertaining at her homes was known to be far more luxurious than it was at the Palace up the street, the treats were rather prosaic by American standards.  Fresh raspberries out of season, hot house flowers from the greenhouses at Windsor Castle - all things that it was believed would delight guests.  Clarence House, her London residence, was also known and "the International Headquarters of the Gin and Tonic", referring to Her Majesty's fondness for that particular tipple.

In all of the Queen Mother's homes you could count on seeing several things.  First, enormous arrangements of simple flowers - chrysanthemums and carnations being favorites.  In addition, you could expect to see outdoor flowers, like scented geraniums, fuschias and azaleas, in pots throughout her rooms.  There would also be a table holding her favorite videos - old films, Brticoms like Keeping Up Appearances, mysteries such as Poirot and Miss Marple -  for after dinner entertainment.  Also sitting on the table would be large boxes of chocolates for guests, and herself, to enjoy.  Countless framed photos of family members (not portraits, but happy family snaps), peach colored lightbulbs in the lamps (the same kind used at the London Ritz, said to make lady's skin glow), squishy pillows on the sofas and chairs and dogs.  Always dogs.

Perhaps surprisingly, you'd also see some very tattered upholstery and rather threadbare carpets.  Not one for change, the Queen Mother liked to keep things just as they were at the time of her late husband's (King George VI) death in 1952.  There are stories that some of the furniture at her beloved country home, Royal Lodge at Windsor Castle, became so dilapidated, the Queen arranged for it to be spirited away and recovered in precisely the same fabric while her mother was abroad!

So, what can those of us with more limited resources find to emulate?  Just about all of the little touches listed above would be welcomed in anyone's home.  Flowers, little treats for ourselves and our guests, displays of the things we love, regardless of whether they "fit into our design scheme" and a total lack of pretension.  Those tattered sofas were both comfortable and welcoming - one didn't have to worry about ruining the picture perfect upholstery.  Those big boxes of chocolates had lids that were appealingly askew - inviting guests to pop a chocolate into their mouths.  Our homes shouldn't be for show, either to prove what great taste we have or how wealthy we might have become.  They should be calm, welcoming oases from the busy and sometimes unwelcoming world outside.  As usual, it's the little things that can make all the difference.

So, here's to the Queen Mother!  A woman who really knew how to live.

You can now find books about the Queen Mother, including her official biography, in the Dapper and Dreamy Bookshop!

1 comment: