14 January 2011

Get Inspired: Sydney Redesdale

Wilbury House, Wiltshire, England, as seen in Vitruvius Britannicus, 1715. Considered one of England's greatest Palladian residences, it was skillfully restored over the last decade or so by Miranda, Countess of Iveagh, who died last month.

"... [Wilbury House] made a lasting impression on [my mother] at an age when sensitive children notice the details of their surroundings. Muv never again lived in a fine eighteenth-century house like Wilbury, her ideal, but her ability to make her succession of houses attractive and original on little money was one of her outstanding talents. She did not bow to fashion, mixing furniture and objects from different periods which many people would have thought unsuitable for their surroundings. She used what was available .... Junk shops drew her like a magnet .... She never employed a decorator or sought advice; she knew what she wanted and got it done."

So the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire wrote, about her mother, Lady Redesdale (née Sydney Bowles), in her recently published and highly entertaining autobiography, Wait for Me! Memoirs (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010). As a child in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Lady Redesdale lived at Wilbury, when her father, publisher Thomas Gibson Bowles, and Wilbury's owners, Sir Henry and Lady Mallet, agreed to save on expenses by sharing the house.