The main guest bedrooms at Highclere Castle are arranged around the Gallery. After the Second World War, there were really only two paint colours that were produced in any quantity: a shiny cream and a shiny green. Pat Withers, who has been decorating at the Castle since the 1950’s and now heads the decorating team, has recalled to me that she and her father were just told to paint a bedroom, no detailed colour scheme specified. Thus the skirtings, ceiling, doors, walls and cornices were all either all green or all cream. Over the last fifteen years we have transformed the bedrooms – the green ones had to go first as I thought anyone who woke up with even a fractional hangover and saw the green walls might feel rather ill, and then the peeling cream bedrooms have found their themes and identity again.
East Anglia bedroom lies in a corner with stunning views to the south and east, a dressing room to one side and a bathroom in a corner turret. The curtains are pretty but the walls an indifferent, insipid cream. It has troubled me for some time but it was not a disaster so there it stayed. After our “Heroes” weekend, however, I decided to do something fun and that it would be East Anglia. Pat then rather briskly told me she was off on holiday and rather soon. Before she had finished speaking, I rang Sarah Morris, a girlfriend who has an excellent eye and an interior design business, and within two hours the colours were chosen. Triumphantly I returned to Pat with a plan.
The wall colour is called Archive, one I have used on the top floor and one Sarah thinks would be perfect for the Robing Room (yet to be started). Pat set up ladders, called in Campbell to help, sent young Richard up on the scaffold and within a day the room began to have depth and look more sophisticated.
The Charles Barry linenfold doors, windows and earlier 18th century ceilings were a more complex painting scheme, involving a total of seven different colours of off-white. Pat rose to the challenge, although they needed an endless supply of tea and biscuits. I spent my time teasing Pat about how she is now painting everything properly, remembering to duck before I get spattered by a grinning and very special lady. Pat, her husband Mike and her team do not have to accept projects here but I feel honoured they carry on and so I carry on too. They have a tremendous knowledge and pride in all they do. I have learnt a lot from them.
The fun thing in life is not just having an idea but actually carrying it out. Pat and I have worked our way round so much of the Castle, painting ceilings last touched 100 years ago, breathing life into bedrooms, creating havens for peaceful coherence and sleep. We have hung pictures, mirrors and lamps, painted window frames, tables, tearooms and chairs.
About three years ago I stood with Pat at the foot of the first staircase leading to the great tower rising above the second floor of the Castle created by the architect Sir Charles Barry’s in about 1855. I wanted to bring it into the Castle again, connect it and celebrate the architecture. In conjunction with Sarah Morris and her team we created a wallpaper and I think both Pat and I felt near to tears. We had worked so hard and done so much and now here we were. Pat said she did not expect to ever work up here again but we had made it.
Naturally my husband was not quite aware of the Tower project, nor do I think he has spotted East Anglia is underway. It does make it easier as, if he does not know, then there is no need to discuss budgets and, if there is no budget, I cannot go beyond it. I think many budgets are exceeded but in this case the budget and the bills are one and the same total. Thus I am on budget. In any case when, or if, he does notice, I am sure he will be thrilled.