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It helps if you're a fan . . .
on 29 July 2011
I'm sure a lot of people will find this a "five star" book. Certainly the pictures are very seductive, if you like this ultra-feminine, boudoir atmosphere. But, apart from the fact that, after careful consideration, I didn't warm to Ashwell's style, I found that having everything photographed in such a contrived light, through what looked like a pink filter, meant that one is hard put to see what it would look like in real life. If you buy this book hoping to imitate Ashwell's style in your own house, you'd better buy some rose-tinted spectacles . . . oh, and be ready to do a lot of dusting! Many of the rooms featured would be completely impractical for anyone who didn't have the time, and the enthusiasm, to do a lot of housework. Neglect these lacy frills and intricate knick-knacks and the place will soon begin to look like Miss Haversham's. Quentin Crisp famously said "After four years the dust doesn't get any worse", but Rachel Ashwell's house could start to more shabby than chic after just four weeks.
The concept of "shabby chic" originated with Colefax and Fowler and the country house look; the aim was to make your nouveau-riche country pile look as if it had been lived in for generations. I thought this book would be like that. This is a much more self-conscious, "girlie" style and I note the author is based in Santa Monica, a long way from the shire counties or Yorkshire moors.
The author runs a design business, and at times this all reads a bit too much like an extended advert. I did get a bit fed up with the concentration on the author, which wasn't what I initially expected the book to be about. It was a bit like a magazine article between hard covers. I suppose the cover and list of contents make it very clear that this book is, to put it nicely, "quite autobiographical", and I should have known what to expect before I even opened it.