We pored over their Downing Street kitchen – from the Ikea cabinet, River Cottage cookbooks and Jamie Oliver pans, to the virgin coconut oil and Maldon sea salt – so far, so upper-middle-townie essentials. And now we’re pressing our noses against the windows of their house in the Cotswolds.
David and Samantha Cameron are at home.
David and Samantha Cameron’s country retreat is a solid house in Cotswold stone ... You wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chief Inspector Barnaby turn up at the door in an episode of Midsomer Murders
In an interview for Harper’s Bazaar, Samantha describes their “cottage” as, “To be honest, it’s slightly falling down. The windows are rotting, the roof needs replacing, but it’s lovely…It’s our family nest.”
First of all, maximum points for the faux modesty to go with the faux fur throw. Calling it a cottage is reminiscent of American Wasps of the Gilded Age who chucked up ocean-front mansions and coyly called them “cottages” (I’m looking at you, Cornelius Vanderbilt II).
David and Samantha Cameron’s country retreat is a solid house in Cotswold stone, smothered in rambling roses and surrounded by a pretty garden. You wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chief Inspector Barnaby turn up at the door in an episode of Midsomer Murders (come for the tangled tale of murder, stay for the idyllic scenes of English village life).
To traditional Cotswold dwellers’ eyes, as opposed to the more-recently-arrived Chipping Norton Set (to include the Camerons, Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, Jeremy Clarkson, Elizabeth Murdoch and cheesemaker-in-chief Alex James: possible collective noun ‘A Weekender’), the look is a little too clean and too cream.
Even the Camerons’ sooty fireplace borders on too artful. The soft pink pompom lights above it are the same shade as the roses in the painting on the chimney breast which reflect the roses which romp around outside. The sitting room is inviting, with its smart soft furnishings and bibelots, many of them from Samantha’s mother, Lady Astor’s, furnishing business, OKA - a sort of one-stop-tasteful decorating shop for the well-heeled.
But it is perhaps too done for the posh purist.
Rachel Johnson described a perfect scene of upper-class smart when she was visited at home by Ben Budworth, to be interviewed for the job of editor of The Lady: “He walked in and was clearly checking out the sitting room. He looked over the decaying antiques, our ripped sofa, decrepit armchairs and books scattered all over the place. Then he nodded with satisfaction and said; 'This is shabby. Just right. ”
In real Cotswold life, the muddy boots in the hall are more likely to come from the farm supply store than Dubarry, the Barbours more hand-me-down knackered than catwalk crisp, and their poacher’s pockets may well have played host to a rabbit or two.
The modern Cotswold set are more likely to have a shepherd’s hut than sheep. Famously, David Cameron bought just such a hut in which to write his memoirs. Or, as most of us would call it, get away from the kids.
The Camerons’ sitting room is an excellent example of the complex and ever-changing politics of country chic. It epitomises the new rules for rural living – which is a bit cleaner and more polished, sweeter smelling with better heating and plumbing, than the trad. If you’d like to emulate it yourself, these are the new rules for the modern rustic chic look…
How to do ‘Cotswolds Modern’
Things which hint at travel
DO have Indian throws, Moroccan rugs, vintage French cushions – surround yourself with chic objects you picked up on your travels. If your great grandmother picked them up on her travels, even better. It makes you look interesting even when the conversation is boring.
DON’T Have anything matchy-matchy. It’s a bit too Real Housewives of Cheshire.
DO dot it around the place. It can be gruesomely whimsical – a moth-eaten crow, an otter missing a foot.
DON’T use anything too obviously killed by you – there’s nothing more guaranteed to put your townie weekend visitors off their kedgeree/avo on toast.
Pile on the paintings
DO go for quantity over quality. If they are terrible, have loads of them and make it look deliberate. If you have only one or two, make sure they’re really good. Modern pieces are excellent for show offs.
DON’T go for try-hard fakery. In his golden eyrie in Trump Tower, Donald has Renoir’s La Loge over his desk. Except he doesn’t – the real thing is in London’s Courtauld Institute. Don’t be like Donald.
Mind your beeswax
DO be careful how you clean – yes to beeswax, no to Febreze.
DON’T under any circumstances be seduced by one of those aroma diffusers which are a bunch of twigs in a jar – a single boisterous swipe of a Labrador’s tail can erase the centuries’ old scent patina of polished floorboards, woodsmoke and Sunday roasts.
For god’s sake have a telly
DO follow the Camerons’ lead and be out and proud with a big telly, plus Sky, and Netflix. Winters are long. Not having a telly is a bit Brighton reiki master (and we know they all download it onto their laptops anyway).
DON’T be that person.
Rattan on the floor
DO go for seagrass, rattan or coir matting. It grubs up quickly so it looks like you’ve always had it, and looks great with all those rugs you dragged back from Morocco.
DON’T be seduced by fitted shag pile, no matter what your cool Shoreditch cousin is telling you about it coming back.
DO go big on books - and magazines, auction catalogues, newspapers, stacked up on tables, tumbling from shelves. DON’T even think about ‘rainbow shelving’ them, ie, organising them by the colours of their spines, if you ever want to show your face at the village fête again.
Ensure a warm front
DO have fireplaces in as many rooms as possible. A capacious log basket à la SamCam is also essential. Ideally you should chop the logs yourself – it makes up for not having a gym within 20 miles.
DON’T even think about a fake gas fire.
Lots of lamps
DO go big on floor lamps, table lamps, and reading lamps.
DON’T consider a central light, AKA The Big Light, as a sole source of illumination. It’s a bit too Peter Kay.
DO consider borrowing a dog – if, by some terrible oversight, you don’t have one - to add the essential sprinkling of hair to every surface.
DON’T bother with a lint roller.
The full interview with Samantha Cameron appears in the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, on sale 4th August