March 11 2011
Lucia van der Post
The design cognoscenti have long been rather snooty about Laura Ashley’s home lines. Of course, way back in the Jurassic age when the original Laura Ashley came up with some stylish wallpapers and fabrics at astonishingly low prices (£4 I seem to remember paying for chic-as-they-come rolls of mustard yellow wallpaper with a little brown floral print), they were the hot ticket for the bedrooms and loos of the aspirational classes (they didn’t usually make it as far as the drawing rooms), but since the death of its founder the company has never quite had the same cachet.
However, I’ve always thought that if you searched properly through its wares there were often some surprisingly delightful pieces – delicious bed linen, very pretty beds, some curiously comforting and capacious plain sofas and chairs, some nice good checks and pretty florals among the fabrics that were perfect for country studies and bedrooms, as well as some attractive lighting, mirrors, glass and other bits and pieces.
Now, however, Laura Ashley has decided to up the ante – it’s launching a second line which it calls Indulgence. Diffusion lines are usually slightly diluted, more lowly priced versions of the top-of-the-range-lines. Laura Ashley has gone in the other direction – its diffusion line is more expensive, more luxurious and more, if you like, refined than the main line. It doesn’t have the sweet, artless prettiness which was deep in the DNA of the mainstream homewares collection but instead offers an alternative in the shape of a more sophisticated, more metropolitan look. Given that the original fabrics and wallpapers nearly always worked better in the country than in the city, it seems a neat move.
So Indulgence is Laura Ashley slicked and smartened up, adapted to the more urbane tastes of its evolving customers. I like a lot of it very much. The palate is now chicly neutral with infinitesimal variations on shades of what it poetically describes as “truffle, sable and ivory” – more prosaically translated as grey, beige and white. While that may sound dull, let me assure that it isn’t. It offers lots of basics – some lovely simple sofas and chairs, sumptuously padded bedheads, a cashmere mix blanket, rugs, wallpapers and fabrics which provide a brilliantly neutral background all the better to show off your own pictures, artefacts, cushions and other personal pieces.
The element of luxury is provided by the textures and quality of the upholstery – I like the Newman corner sofa in dove grey corduroy (second picture, £2,200 for a whole corner unit), the high threadcount of the bed linens, the rather glamorous lines of some of the furniture (and here I love in particular the 1930s-influenced Darwin armchair upholstered in a pale grey and white stripe, first picture, £800). Laura Ashley’s furniture has always had a strong reputation for quality and this collection offers it with knobs on but has allied that to some much more sophisticated though very easy-to-live-with pieces. Special other things to look out for include the Gypsophila Sable silk fabric (a delicate self-patterned silk, £50 a metre).