In honour of Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday, Luxury London explores the Royal residences’ rich design history – and talks to the interior specialists inspired by them
When Buckingham Palace first opened its doors to the public in 1993, it attracted crowds from across the world eager to see how Her Majesty The Queen lives. As she celebrates her 90th birthday today (and officially in June), we’re still just as curious about our sovereign’s official London residence – hundreds of thousands of visitors queue each year to gaze in awe at this masterpiece of lavishness.
The palace’s ornate architectural history can be traced back to the early 17th century, but it was not until the reign of George IV that it began to transform into the opulent showpiece we know today. Regency architect John Nash was put in charge of designing the new property, adding the grand staircase with its dazzling gilt-bronze foliate balustrades. From the majestic, marble columns in the impressive entrance to the acres of green – emerald silk walls, porcelain and jade upholstery – in one of the drawing rooms, Nash transformed the palace into an archetype for luxury that continues to inspire designers the world over.
“This regal style is not easily translatable, even in the grandest homes, but we can borrow a little of its glamour,” says Daniel Hopwood, president of the British Institute of Interior Design. “In a modern context it’s best to mix and match old and new pieces and use heritage colours. A touch of gold is always good, although use it sparingly to avoid looking garish. I borrowed an element of this grandeur in a recent project I designed for a client in Barnes, west London.”
Add in the priceless art and antiques belonging to The Royal Collection, and you have the ultimate in uber-luxe decor.
“Among my favourite pieces are several excellent works by the 18th-century Birmingham industrialist Matthew Boulton,” describes antiques dealer Nick Wells, an accredited member of The Association of Art and Antiques Dealers (LAPADA), “including the Derbyshire Blue John mounted perfume burners, the famous mantel clock known as the ‘King’s Clock’ and a gilt-bronze perfume burner of exceptional magnificence.”
Its longest-standing residents, The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, live in private apartments on the north side of Buckingham Palace, which is just one of their many homes. Windsor Castle, Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle (reputedly The Queen’s favourite) are among the most used and, while boasting different styles, are equally impressive.
“Taste,” The Queen is supposed to have said, “doesn’t always help” – meaning perhaps that having the right artworks on your wall doesn’t count for everything.
Despite the swathes of claret carpet, Fabergé eggs and Canaletto masterpieces she owns, there’s the impression that in private The Queen likes to keep things a tad simpler.
The Royal residences are also stocked with best of British pedigree. The 800 Royal Warrant holders range from suppliers of paints and carpets, to wallpapers and crockery. Royal Doulton, Cole & Son, Dorma and John Lewis are among those called on to supply the Royal household.
“There aren’t many businesses that can claim to know the Royal family well, but as their trusted bed provider, Hypnos can,” says the company’s group marketing director Chris Ward. “Indeed, we are considered their sleep and bed experts, organising the manufacture of beds and mattresses for the Royal household, the Royal family and all their palaces, as well as crafting bespoke beds for visiting dignitaries.” Hypnos’ designers draw on the Royal archives to create the regal aesthetic across its collections (from £1,200).
Brintons, the Royal Warrant holder and carpet maker, is launching a ‘Fleece to Floor’ campaign to raise awareness of its heritage, coinciding with The Queen’s birthday and celebrating its 200 years of British manufacturing. “The very first carpet Brintons created was a tartan in 1953 for Prince Albert’s sitting room in Balmoral Castle,” says in-house archivist Yvonne Smith. “We can call on our archive to recreate any existing or original carpet – such as the Blue and White Room carpet or the 1844 Room rug we supplied for Buckingham Palace by matching the original designs.”
Sanderson has held a Royal Warrant for over 90 years, supplying Royal households with wallpapers, paints and fabrics. “The Royal family is the epitome of British style: elegant, timeless and classic. Regal design can be conjured using damasks, such as our Richmond Damask, which add a sophisticated elegance to the room,” suggests head of design Rebecca Craig. “For a classic country house style, combine a floral print with a simple stripe, such as our Sissinghurst or Tournier.”
Based on historic fabrics and by studying the interiors of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and St James’s Palace, Designers Guild adds new designs to its Royal Collection of fabrics and wallpapers each year. “It was incredibly thrilling to be given exclusive access to the Royal residences and in particular the Royal archive – a vast space filled with wonderful treasures, from incredible silks literally taken from the walls of the throne room, to exquisite furniture and historic paintings,” enthuses founder and creative director Tricia Guild.
“The Buckingham Collection includes the Tapestry Velvet design inspired by a late 17th-century chair in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and Windsor velvets and wallpapers that evoke the pastoral landscape of Windsor Park and Castle.” (Fabrics from £80 per metre; wallpaper from £249 per 12-metre roll.)
Mikhail Pietranek, Warrant holder and interior designer to the Royal family, has worked in Balmoral Castle and designed a new collection of regal-inspired home accessories.
“While the state rooms, with their gilding, plush fabrics and impressive masterpieces, are very grand, the private rooms in most properties are, of course, a little more relaxed.
“These are places that have a sense of tremendous history, so there’s a lot of responsibility to get it right. Having said that, working for The Queen is as inspirational as it gets.”