Christina Strutt was delighted but surprised when friends not only complimented her on her home, but wanted to copy its country-chic decor.
After all, the hard-up mother-of-two had only a shoestring budget to transform her cottage into a cosy home, but it was the way she used delicate, faded fabrics, painstakingly collected from fairs, markets and antique shops, which caught the eye and made her style unique.
Finally, unable to find enough fabrics to satisfy the demand to replicate Strutt’s look, she resourcefully set to and designed her first fabric. That moment marked the humble emergence of such an innovative interpretation of country style, a world away from predictable twee chintz, that 15 years on has blossomed into Cabbages & Roses — the hugely successful, quintessentially British fabric and lifestyle brand.
“I really had no intention of starting a business all those years ago. At that time, I was just a mum looking for a way to earn some money that would fit around my family,” says Strutt with a smile, as she takes me on a tour of her flat and shop in a charming Georgian building in London, to give an insight into her design ethos.
“My only aim was to create something beautiful, which could move and charm with its hint of nostalgia, and would fit people’s homes and the way they wanted to live. I suppose I just wanted to sell things I loved and hoped that others would too.”
Happily, what Strutt loved; fabrics and accessories featuring washed-out florals, stripes and toiles in cool colourways, has, in turn, become adored by her legions of fans. These include a host of celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Helena Bonham Carter. Cabbages & Roses’ mail order business sells worldwide, and her fabric range, including her first Bees design, recently launched in John Lewis.
“This is a place where I can work in the week and get inspiration for new designs and new looks,” she says, as she leads the way through a string of beautifully decorated rooms, including her studio, which feature in her latest book, Cabbages & Roses: Living Life Beautifully. Although it’s miles away from Brook Cottage, the 15th century country home in the rolling hills of Bath, Somerset, where it all began, the interiors reveal not only her style, but are also redolent with the atmosphere of ‘country’ that seems to suit any setting.
The bias, as it’s an urban apartment, leans toward stripped back shades of grey and muted tones. She’s kept to a tight decorating budget. “It’s possible to make a big difference without spending loads of money,” Strutt says.
So a sofa and bed were bought in Ikea, bathroom fittings sourced in sales, and hard-wearing sisal flooring runs throughout. Walls are painted in a classic Farrow & Ball shade of Cornforth White and make the perfect backdrop for her signature Cabbages & Roses floral fabrics and skilfully curated displays of memorabilia, crockery and art.
The kitchen, which leads to a sunny patio, is a masterclass in bringing a slice of the country to a city setting. Subtle shades of white predominate on the walls and floor, and the only hints of colour come from decorative plates and one of her fabric tablecloths.
A home-from-home look continues in the ground floor shop, where her range — fabrics, wallpapers, towels, cushions, and perfumed candles — is artfully displayed in room settings. She enlivens the atmosphere with antiques — French furniture and quirky collections, from straw hats to vintage perfume bottles, and even an old-fashioned bicycle. Everything is sourced during her travels both in the UK and abroad.
“Basically, I haven’t an idea of what I’m doing and I mostly make it up as I go along,” says Strutt, 58, who has a charming self-deprecating modesty which belies her success. “I’ve always firmly advocated that homes need to be filled with more than lovely things. To be really beautiful, they must be lived in, with the ‘things’ complementing the human stories that run through them. Spaces must also be comfortable, practical and functional.”
At weekends, she returns to Brook Cottage. She often sits and comes up with ideas at the kitchen table, where she hesitantly sketched out her first design all those years ago. “I still can hardly believe that it has all turned out the way it has,” she says. “All I ever hoped to build was something around, not just an idea, but a real life.
“Cabbages & Roses has always been an expression of the things I have found most enchanting throughout my life,” Strutt continues. “ It’s a manifestation of halcyon days here, of summers spent picnicking in the English countryside, of rambling coastal walks overlooking seas twinkling in the evening light, and of winter nights curled up by the log fire with a pile of books and all the accoutrements of cosiness.”