It would have been easy for the Tory sleaze scandal to have been dismissed as political point scoring by a pandemic beleaguered public. We’re all so very distracted right now, who can get their head around the maths?
But then they brought the nation’s favourite troubled department store into it, and shit got personal. Because whatever you make of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ £30k interiors allowance – or the fact they saw necessary to go over it by a stonking £58k from a rich benefactor – there’s little doubt the crucial moment in which the row struck a chord across Britain came with the uttering of three little words: “John Lewis nightmare”.
For many voters, of course, John Lewis furnishings remain deeply aspirational. Furniture that comes without the flatpack fight? No offence Ikea, but yes please. So, in dismissing the store as plebian, the occupants of Downing Street finally offered forensic evidence of, let’s be honest, outright snobbery, as well as a total detachment from most peoples’ reality.
But if you can peer through the red mist of fury to the apartment beyond – go on, squint – there’s little question Carrie’s hit on a trend. Maximalist interiors, such as those she’s said to have achieved with the help of society interior designer and pattern proponent Lulu Lytle, are A THING. Still, when your allowance comes from the public purse, we expect to see a little more spending on philanthropy, a little less on upholstery please – no matter how “exquisite” your taste.
So, with a little bit of digging – manual labour, how grim – we’re delighted to confirm you can maximise the decor drama without maxing out the nation’s credit card. Who knew?
Here, then, are the brands we’d have plumped for if someone gave us a mere £30k to play with – as well as the ones we might actually be able to afford IRL. If only Downing Street had thought to ask us…
Pattern and print
While no one has yet seen the interiors of number 11 Downing Street, we can get a taste of designer Lulu Lytle’s style from the Instagram feed of her own Soane Britain – and the look is very much more is more.
While the wallpaper from Soane’s Lotus Palmette range (main image) might be beyond the reach of us mere mortals at £420 a roll – the matching fabric is a steal at £180 per metre – turns out, you can get the look well within our budgets.
British B-Corp House of Hackney’s sustainably produced wallpapers start at £85 a roll, with fabric from £95 a metre – not insignificant, but well within that £30k. Meanwhile, World of Wallpaper has botanical prints starting from £7.99 a roll, and I can confirm my own £10.99 tropical print paper from that very site is holding up just fine in my high traffic hallway, thank you. Take it up and over the ceiling for extra money’s no object vibes.
One thing I genuinely applaud about Lulu Lytle’s approach is her support for craftsmanship – she rescued the UK’s last remining rattan workshop from closure, keeping its skills alive for a new generation, and that’s certainly nothing to be sniffed at. As such, her range features rattan in a big way and I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit obsessed with this ripple console table.
Sadly, it’s price on application and as my mum always says, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. But Sika-Design, which handmakes all of its rattan furniture sustainably and ethically in Indonesia, is available in the UK through Amara, where prices start from an allowance-friendly £217.
Meanwhile, with my own feeble finances, I can still get a taste of the look, courtesy of Ikea’s £20 sustainable rattan Kristinelund mirror. Winning.
Dim the lights
Whether you live with Boris or not, the need for low level lighting is imperative in any scheme, and it goes without saying that Soane has it nailed, from hand-woven hanging shades to painted ceramic lamp bases. Sadly, the brand’s signature Apothecary table lamp comes in at a cool £1,250 – which, assuming you want one on every side table, will quickly blow a £30k budget out of the water.
Thankfully, there’s a host of more affordable ways to get the look. Illustrator and ceramicist Polly Fern’s cute and quirky work regularly sells out, though her range of handpainted shades, pictured, are in stock now, starting from £59.
And for soft lighting to set the mood on a shoestring? Well, turns out there’s a range that encompasses something for every scheme over at good old *whispers* John Lewis.
Objets and artefacts
Of course, no Sloane (or Soane) interior would be complete without a host of objet d’art. And while the highest of high society probably just inherit them when they take on the family pile at a certain age, the more arriviste can always throw money at the situation.
A quick scout of Soane’s retail website suggests a bone china cockatoo at £3,900, or “A Pair of Finely Mounted Bovine Horns” at £1,250. But given the look requires an artfully arranged selection of pieces, this might be a little beyond our budget (unless Lord Brownlow rides to the rescue).
With £30k to play with, I’d head straight to Anemone Interiors, where owner Lia Briamonte’s own exquisite taste is on display in a lustworthy mix of vintage Dior candleholders, antique furniture and, right now, a £455 leopard print rug from the 1960s that I can’t stop clicking on.
For slightly more pocket-friendly finishing touches, Quail’s quirky animal-based ceramics start from just £20. Artist Yinka Ilori covers all colourful bases with a gorgeous selection of ceramics, prints and soft furnishings, starting from £45, and I adore the bold, bright and very on-theme tablewares from Glasgow-based Ciara Isabel Ceramics, below, which start from £38.
However, given my own budget right now (click here if you want to know how that’s going), I’ve found more luck at my local salvage yard, where a couple of hours and a willingness to roll up my sleeves has unearthed everything from old book collections and the most brilliantly ugly 1970s dinner set to my original Gangso Mobler mid-century sideboard, inexplicably picked up for £40 including delivery.
Yes, I do believe I robbed them blind and yes, I do still feel guilty about it. I wonder whether Boris shares my buyer’s remorse…