Flora Soames: ‘I’m not picky about the wine, but I’m a real pesto snob’
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My personal style signifiers are my dungarees from the Carrier Company, which is based close to where I grew up in Norfolk. I live in them, along with white brushed-cotton or linen boyfriend shirts from With Nothing Underneath and my white Converse. I love the cut of workwear – it’s chic but comfortable – and I prefer the simplicity of putting on one good thing without too many separate parts to think about. Dungarees, £95. Boyfriend shirt, £95. Converse All Star Hi trainers, £55, office.co.uk
The last thing I bought and loved was a whimsical and romantic nautical woolwork illustration called HMS True Love, by the retired Norfolk sailor Colin Millington. It depicts a seaman and his belle holding hands on a bench with a wonderful big ship in the background. It’s traditional craftsmanship at its most homespun and interesting. He’s the real deal. paffronandscott.co.uk
On my wishlist is a reprint, on hand screen-printed linen, of the Colefax and Fowler archive ribbons design print in Chintz, in blue. It would make the dream bedroom – in the style of the late decorator Tom Parr – with a four-poster bed, theatrical ruched blinds and a bath with a view. I remember seeing it first in my parents’ bedroom. It’s very early 1980s in the most wonderful way. These days there’s pressure on interior design to have a narrative, but this is just luscious and aesthetically pleasing, and sometimes that’s enough.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul by William Sieghart. It’s a simple but brilliant idea to prescribe words as a source of comfort for everything from depression and loneliness to social overload. I have a copy by my bed, my bath and on my desk.
The place I can’t wait to go back to is St Just in Roseland church in Truro, Cornwall. I visited just before lockdown, while staying at Hotel Tresanton. John Betjeman called it “to some, the most beautiful churchyard in the world” – and he was spot on. It’s right on the water, gobsmackingly beautiful, and I’d love to see it at high tide.
The best souvenirs I’ve brought home are stones in different shapes and sizes from my favourite beaches – from Jura to Cley next the Sea. It’s a compulsive thing that started after my partner died a few years ago – they all hold poignant memories of walks or holidays. And I love the way they feel in my pocket; there’s something very reassuring and comforting in their solidness. When people lend me their jackets they’re returned heavily weighed down by pebbles.
A recent “find” is The Marchmont Workshop, which is harnessing the traditional techniques of Arts and Crafts furniture. It specialises in the production of rush-seated ladder-back chairs. It was set up by Hugo Burge who lives in the extraordinary Marchmont House in the Scottish Borders.
The last music I downloaded was Beethoven’s symphony No 6, Pastoral, celebrating the start of spring. It’s the only thing I play. It has an amazing effect on my daughter – it calms her and sends her to sleep. I realised later that it was also one of the Desert Island Discs of my grandmother, the author Mary Soames.
My life has been turned on its head in the most extraordinary way over the past few years – I’ve launched my fabric collection, moved to Dorset, met my partner [the artist Alexander Macdonald-Buchanan] and given birth to my daughter, Lily Hope. Having a baby at the height of lockdown was an extraordinary experience, and Alexander held my hand – and his nerve – through all of the inevitable anxieties.
The podcast I’m listening to is House & Garden’s series of online talks Conversations with The Calico Club, which features designers including Beata Heuman. I’m not generally a podcast person, but I find these enlightening and approachable.
My style icon is the Duchess of Devonshire. I’ve been aware of Debo from a young age, and have read all of her sisters’ books. I love that picture of her feeding her chickens in a ballgown and wellingtons. She was a genuine eccentric with incredibly varied interests. I admire her Elvis-themed silver loo and the way she hung her Lucian Freud art in the most casual way. It’s the kind of good taste you just can’t learn.
The best gift I’ve received recently is a series of beautifully evocative photographs by the artist Julie Brook, inspired by the land and sea when she was living on Jura. Alexander gave them to me after our daughter was born.
In my fridge you’ll always find white wine, dark Booja-Booja chocolates and Barilla Pesto. While I’m not picky about the wine, I’m a real pesto snob. In my 20s, I spent years touring Italy for the perfect pesto. This one’s not very healthy, but it’s damn good – strong and not too oily.
The tech I couldn’t do without is a Datacolor ColorReader. I’m not a gadget person and was suspicious when my brother-in-law gave it to me. But it allows you to record paint colours anywhere – you just sync the zapper to an app to get the pigment breakdown. Now I can nose around other people’s houses and find the perfect hue. From $99
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood, I’d choose to remain in my remote corner of Dorset. The village shop, Ludwell Stores, sells everything, including confit of duck and the best egg-and-cress sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. Compton McRae is a sublime family-run deli and café. Edward Hurst’s barn is a wonderful source of antiques and inspiration, and Bayntun Flowers is an artisan grower with impeccable taste.
An indulgence I would never forgo is the ballet. I avidly follow dancers such as Francesca Hayward and I go to see the English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Award every year. There are certain productions I never tire of, such as Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House, which is the last thing I saw.
An object I would never part with is my beloved spaniel, Humbug. She has been my loyal shadow through so much. We also have her daughter, Coco (named after Chanel). They go with me everywhere.
The beauty staples I’m never without are Fracas by Robert Piguet Parfums, a heady, distinctive scent I’ve always worn; Enhance, a primer by Dr Frances Prenna Jones, which smells delicious and makes everything look better without having to do too much – she really knows her stuff; and Susanne Kaufmann Herbal Whey Nourishing Bath – it’s so deliciously reassuring. Robert Piguet Parfums Fracas, £155 for 100ml EDP. Dr Frances Prenna Jones Enhance primer, £57 for 30ml. Susanne Kaufmann Herbal Whey Nourishing Bath, £33 for 300g
My favourite websites are UnHerd, a thought-provoking and brilliant platform for journalists who aren’t afraid to speak out. Collagerie is a great edit of fashion and interiors (as someone who doesn’t go clothes shopping much, it’s a handy way to be introduced to new brands – it has Zara and Valentino, and everything in between). And I love the Sleep Stories on the Calm app – it’s hilarious listening to Matthew McConaughey’s southern drawl to send yourself to sleep.
I have a collection of antique textiles. I collect anything that catches my eye, including wallpaper and trimmings. It’s the core inspiration behind my own fabric collection and informs the way I decorate. It all started with a roll of old wallpaper I bought in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France when I was 14 and has grown from a suitcase to stables to containers full – it’s got a bit out of control.
My favourite room in my house is the dahlias bedroom. It was a small, decadent guest room; now it’s Lily Hope’s nursery. It’s decorated with my Dahlias Original print wallpaper – I’m starting her young with a love of colour and pattern. It also contains precious things from my own childhood bedroom – the carved wooden angels above her cot and a picture by Margaret Tarrant. I love that my mother kept these things and that I’m now able to pass them on.
My beauty and wellbeing gurus are Heather at Josh Wood for my signature nails in Chanel’s Pirate red; Rosemary Ferguson for all things nutrition – she makes everything palatable and easy to do; Victoria Young, who is so much more than simply a homeopath; and Amanda Harrington – I never go in the sun, so on the rare occasions I put on a party dress she’s my tanning guru.
I’m planning to create a cookbook with my father, Jeremy Bernard Soames. We’re mutually obsessed with food. I have a library of wonderfully old-fashioned cookbooks by people such as Lady MacLaine, and a folder full of typed recipes from my grandmother, Mary Soames, that I’d love to adapt and modernise with him. It would be full of really nostalgic food that’s simple rather than sophisticated.
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