The new episode of the podcast, The Great Indoors, is out today and today, for the first time, we have managed to bring you pictures and words so you can look or listen or, perhaps, do both. Sophie and I were thrilled to be invited to the Somerset home of Pearl Lowe, the singer turned designer, who let us rummage round every room to discover her decorating secrets.
Pearl first visited the house, which is near Frome, several years before she was able to buy it with her husband, Danny Goffey, the Supergrass drummer. Advised by a friend that she had found the perfect house for her, Pearl followed winding lane, which is almost track-like in parts, and suddenly rounded the corner to see a pretty stone house surrounded by fields. The owner was tobogganing down the garden slope.
Inside wasn’t much warmer. There was no central heating and “we could see our breath” but it was out of their budget so, sadly, they had to leave. Over the years Pearl kept an eye on the house as it didn’t sell and the price dropped and eventually they were able to buy it. “I do think houses are supposed to be,” she says as we sit around her long kitchen island chatting.
The plan was that their new home would earn its keep as a location house and, while it has 11 bedrooms and costs a fortune to heat, half of it can be closed off or rented out so it certainly contributes to its upkeep. But it was an uphill climb to get to that stage.
While full of original features, there was a lot of repairing to do which Pearl oversaw. The slight issue being that she has dyscalculia, a form of number dyslexia. When she measured up for the Devol kitchen, the cupboards (pictured behind us above) came back the wrong way round.
“They were too low and too wide and I was crying and rang them up and said you’ve got it wrong and they said – no you signed off on it – so my carpenter thought about trying to add bits on and make it work and they said I would have to buy another kitchen.”
In the end an agreement was reached since when about of Pearl’s friends have since bought their own Devol kitchens and the company has just opened a New York showroom.
This kitchen sums up Pearl’s style completely. It’s full of vintage pieces that she picks up from local markets and ebay. However, while it seems to be quintessentially her, the rest of the family isn’t afraid to voice their opinions.
When they moved in they decorated the sitting room in green wallpaper but Pearl immediately felt it looked like a 1980s conservatory with the white curved windows. She felt instinctively it should be red but struggled to find the right paper. Eventually, Danny suggested using the same green in the new colourway and it was the right solution.
“Sometimes he begs me not to keep changing things. Alfie, our son, took me to one side once and said: “Dad’s really unhappy; you’ve got to stop and I have promised I won’t do any more decorating. Although I did say to him the other day that I am doing a house for a client that’s all white and I would quite like to explore that all white look.
“I’ve promised no more until my book Faded Glamour is out.” Which doesn’t give him long as it’s out in October. This is the man who was writing at his desk, went for lunch and came back to find the rug under the chair had been sold.
The rugs – all nine of them – were brought back from a trip to Marrakech.
The dining room, which is covered in bold floral wallpaper is classic Pearl with its huge oval table – made from a piece of MDF, with a furry zebra tablecloth over the top. So what are her tips for buying vintage?
“You have to be very specific about what you want. You really must focus on the key, descriptive words and be very clear that if it says ‘antique style‘ then it will be reproduction and I will immediately send it back.
“If you are going to a flea market then you need to get up early and have sharp elbows. Take a tape measure and know what you are looking for. That’s not to say I haven’t come back with different things as well.”
Another tip, if you are looking for small furniture, is to use the word “bedroom” that can be a good way to find small sofas and chairs that Victorians might classically have put in a lady’s bedroom or dressing room rather than in the more public, larger, rooms downstairs.
When it comes to shops, Pearl cites The French House, which I’m told Soho House also uses (if you’re a fan of that particular style) Rag and Bone, in Bristol and Decorative Collective.
Upstairs, the vintage style continues with French beds and armoires in every room, painted floorboards and lots of pretty lace and fringing. Daisy’s room, pictured above and below, is on the cover of the new book with a large vintage butterfly mirror that Pearl picked up on one of her vintage trips when she was looking for something else. “I had to have it.”
The blinds, which you can’t really see here are in a sort of metallic silver material, which looks fabulous against the vintage style wallpaper and is a great idea if you’re after a bit of romantic rock and roll. Pearl is also a fan of vintage lace draped at windows which, in her hands, looks cool not granny. Although perhaps it’s Granny Punk. It’s a look to approach with caution if you aren’t as cool as her. She also has pelmets, which I found slightly horrifying, but now think they will probably be making a comeback soon. As long as there are no tie-backs. I draw the line at tie-backs.
In her own bedroom, you can see there are fitted wardrobes. These were fairly classic on either side of a door and Peal added beading, which she sprayed gold to make them appear older. She then found a vintage armoire to sit between the two and painted it to match so the overall effect is one of old cupboards that have been there for years.
Mind you, not everyone in the family is as enamoured of vintage as Pearl. Her son Alfie recently returned from his first trip to Ikea and was predictably gobsmacked by the idea that everything came flat and you could build it yourself.
“He asked if he could have his whole room from Ikea and I said; ‘yes of course you can darling. When you leave home and have your own place’.”
We looked at more rooms – there are 11 bedrooms after all – and each one is charming and full of personality. It’s clear that Pearl loves, not just her home, but her new career as a designer. She doesn’t keep doing it because she gets it wrong, but because she loves change, and discovering new things and using them.
But everywhere you look there are little “Pearl” touches. Like the mirrored tile splashback by the bath above. Or the copper bath below. There’s even a freestanding bath that has been covered in pink fur. And why not? It’s not like the outside gets wet.
The key is that Pearl has found her style and keeps reinterpreting it. “It is a bit girly and it isn’t for everyone but you have to find your own style. Go to the core of who you are and you will know when it’s wrong. I always remember the things I haven’t bought.”
And with that she is off to supervise some of her children and Sophie and I head back to Brighton and London respectively. Pearl’s right. You may not like her style but it’s hers and she does. And that’s all that matters. We should all strive to know ourselves and our decor as well as she does.
With enormous thanks to Pearl for letting us hang out for the day. I have linked to her book. You might like to see her wallpaper and fabric collection as well as her fashion line.
Thank you all to DFS for sponsoring this podcast so we can venture out of our sitting rooms and on the road to bring you content and, thanks, as ever to Kate Taylor our producer, who follows us round holding the microphones and edits out all the background noise to make it sound perfect.