Katie Fontana talks personal taste: Part One

Katie Fontana is the co-founder and creative director of Plain English, known for its traditional joinery with Georgian and Shaker influences

Katie Fontana
Katie Fontana | Image: Michael Leckie

My personal style signifiers are my Robert Clergerie shoes, because they’re quirky but also comfortable, and a Georgian gold and emerald ring that my husband Greg gave me when we got engaged. It’s from around 1830 and I like it because it’s trying to be fancy but it’s quite crude and not totally over the top like a modern one would be. The emeralds are cut flat, as they didn’t know how to cut them to make them glisten in those days. There’s something charming about it as it’s handmade and a bit imperfect. I love all things Georgian. Robert Clergerie, 180 Walton Street, London SW3 (020-7584 4995; www.robertclergerie.com).

Fontana’s handmade silver and walrus ivory necklace
Fontana’s handmade silver and walrus ivory necklace | Image: Michael Leckie

An indulgence I would never forgo is Patna, our wooden yawl built in the 1920s by Charles Nicholson of Camper & Nicholsons. She’s 17m long and took Greg six years to repair; she’s currently docked in Cannes. Greg saves important, classic boats and people give him wrecks, rowing boats mostly. We keep them all in a boatshed on the Helford River in Cornwall and have so many we’ve lost count.

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The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a candlewick trimmer. In 1999, I sailed across the Atlantic and ended up in Antigua for several weeks while our boat was being fixed. I came across it in a junk shop in St John’s. It’s bronze, probably Georgian, and must have come across on a trading ship. I keep it on my windowsill at home.

Fontana’s 1920s yawl Patna
Fontana’s 1920s yawl Patna

The books on my bedside table are Findings and Sightlines by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie. My sister writes poetry and gave them to me, and Jamie writes beautiful descriptions of the places she has travelled to. I recently bought Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham in the junk shop opposite my house. She’s from Essex, like me, and it’s set on Mersea Island, which I used to sail around with my parents as a child.

Fontana’s Georgian bronze candlewick trimmer
Fontana’s Georgian bronze candlewick trimmer | Image: Michael Leckie

The last meal that truly impressed me was at L’Autre Pied. To my astonishment, I only discovered it was practically opposite our showroom in Blandford Street by reading about it. It has a Michelin star and does a lunchtime special – the presentation is divine. L’Autre Pied, 5-7 Blandford Street, London W1 (020-7486 9696; www.lautrepied.co.uk).

The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea
The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea | Image: St Peter’s Chapel Committee

The best gift I’ve received recently was a necklace Greg gave me. He’s a sculptor and he made it from silver and 3,000-year-old walrus ivory. It’s shaped like a cloud and is inspired by a Margaret Howell cashmere jumper with a frilly collar that I love. On the back is an engraving of our cat. You’re probably not allowed walrus ivory now, but Greg got it when he lived in Alaska with the Eskimos. He was there for nine years and learnt how to make tools and things like snow shoes out of whaleskin.

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And the best I’ve given recently was the lid of a sea chest with a painting of an early clipper on it. I bought it in an antiques shop in Tetbury and gave it to Greg for his birthday. Sailors often painted their ship inside the lid of the chest where they kept all their belongings, although this one has no name. It’s hanging on the wall at home like a painting. Lorfords, 30 Long Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8AQ (01666-505 111; www.lorfordsantiques.com).

In my fridge you’ll always find very little, because I live between Framlingham, Helford and St Katharine’s Dock in London, where I have a houseboat. In Framlingham, I have eggs that my art director Sue Skeen gives me. She has chickens and writes the date they were laid in pencil on them. Being an Essex girl, I always have a half-consumed pot of Tiptree jam and something sparkling; it’s Gusbourne sparkling white wine at the moment, left over from a do in the showroom. My housekeeper wraps my vegetables in paper as she says it preserves them. Gusbourne, Kenardington Road, Appledore, Ashford, Kent TN26 2BE. (01233-758 666; www.gusbourne.com).

The site that inspires me is The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, in Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex. It’s on its own in a lonely spot near a disused power station. It’s where the Christian Othona Community still worships and when it’s stressful at work I dream about spending a week in solitude there. www.bradwellchapel.org.

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