João Magalhães: Miguel, you have been in many of the most beautiful houses in the world that have appeared in magazines like The World of Interiors, Cabana and Architectural Digest, and you decided that your first book would be about this wonderful group of tastemakers that you define as haute bohemians. Who are these figures and how would you define them? Andrew is one, of course…
Miguel Flores-Vianna: Well, it’s a rarefied world which I’m afraid is disappearing and I feel that Andrew represents that world. It’s a world that not only it has seen a lot, has acquired a taste and way of living from observing other parts of the world where they don’t necessarily live all the time. They have embraced different cultures and have studied them. They are people not only have a certain vision, but that vision is supported by a very well-informed way of seeing. They understand that things don’t just happen. That things evolve and stay evolved. They are people with a lot of cultural baggage and it’s that that informs their taste.
JM: You call it a cultivation of the eye and of the mind.
MFV: Absolutely, yes. I don’t think any of these people are premediated, and that is the beauty of it – you absorb things as you go along.
JM: Andrew, how do you approach an interior, what do you look for in an interior, both for yourself and when advising clients and friends, do you approach it differently?
Andrew Allfree: I envy decorators who have a system they can go along with, like a piece of graph paper they can colour in areas and say to the client “you need a pair of these and a pair of those” or “why don’t we do the wall with a warm compromise, cool compromise and so on”. That approach is not something I could even contemplate, it would be very hard for me to do it in the way that some people do because I’m not able to make an instant decision. I have to be in a place for some time and things grow. It’s like a garden. I consider myself more of a make-do-and-mend technician. Learning how to use what is available on my broad palette, the objects that I’ve got or the things that are available to me and how to use them to maximum effect.
I tend to find things that I like and they can be anything, they can be out of a skip, or things somebody has given me. I keep lots of things that people don’t understand, the compressed cardboard wrappers from telephones and things like that, I absolutely adore hardware shops. I think there is a marvellous meeting of utility and common-sense design with nice, simple materials in those shops.
JM: The pieces we have in the sale really show how you’re completely eclectic in your tastes and non-judgemental in terms of quality. It’s about the objects, it’s not about their perceived value.
AA: A great friend of mine, one of my great influences in my formative years, used to say, “form first, fuck the quality” and I think it’s a little bit brutal but it’s absolutely true.
MFV: The haute bohemians are extremely discerning but on the other hand, completely un-snobby. They can marry something that they bought in a hardware store and because they’re enamoured of the beauty of the object they give it the same sense of importance of a much more valuable object.
JM: The approach to the objects is not about value, it’s about how they fit into our lives. There is no hierarchy when looking at the objects.
JM: Andrew, you have mentioned India, which is very much featured in the sale, tell us about your love for the country?
AA: It started with my first visit to India about thirty-five years ago with Howard Hodgkin. We came for his opening of a work he had done for the British Council building that Charles Correa built. So, we came along to the opening of that with Prince Charles, I think it was 1988 or 1989 and Howard, as we got on to board the plane, looked at me and said: “Andrew, you don’t realise it here, but you and India were made for each other”.
A love affair would be a silly way of putting it, but it’s magnetism. I’m just drawn to it. It’s the ugliest and the most beautiful of everything all at once – totally concentrated. You can see an innate sense of style in so many minor things in India, from a little shop on the street, which is basically just a crate, and the way somebody has done it up and arranged the products, the way the simplest person manages to dress.
One of the first trips I made was on my own to Agra, because Howard was busy. I went on the old road in those days and you have to leave at four or five in the morning. Seeing the sun rise over the agricultural fields, bumping around in an Ambassador. And through the mist were small groups of women going to their daily work in the fields, in groups of three or five or seven or nine. If you had said that an artist had arranged the colours that they were wearing, you would believe it. The colour sense is just absolutely incredible.
JM: Did your sense of colour change after that trip?
AA: It opened up what I already had. Howard paid me once an enormous compliment, which of course he would not admit to, to anybody else but he once said, “you have the colour sense of Titian…”. He could see I fretted about colours in my various projects quite often. He said, “stop worrying, just choose without thinking” and that’s what I started to do. Colour is a total reflection of emotion. In places where people are rather bunged up emotionally, they are also rather reticent in their use of colour.
MFV: I was once interviewing Andrew for a magazine in America and I referred to a room as pink and he said to me: “that’s not pink, that is venetian marzipan”. He has these incredible ways to describe colour which I find enchanting. His relationship with colour evokes a whole load of emotions.
JM: When you’re acquiring antiques and objects, you are clearly attracted to Anglo-Indian ebony furniture – a very striking black. Do you think about the relationship between that and coloured interiors?
AA: One of the many reasons I like Anglo-Indian furniture is that they are often made of ebony or ebonised and therefore have strong silhouettes. And that does very well against strong colours. In a way, objects are secondary to the colour of the room and a good strong colour will show most things off very well, even bad things look good against a strong colour. The colour is absolutely fundamental. If a room has simple, good proportions, simple, good architecture and a good colour, it’s almost furnished.
AA: There are conventions, of course in every period, every century and the Indian versions of European, obviously follow somewhat, the European models of the time. But they are not strictly conventional. Convention is something that doesn’t sit very easily with me in any area of life but it’s the antithesis of French furniture which seems to sum up almost everything I don’t like about the decorative arts. I know there are absolutely magnificent examples of design and craftsmanship but it takes itself far too seriously. It’s not just French furniture; I find English furniture more interesting than French, for other reasons.
MFV: I think what I like about English furniture is that it seems to mix so well with different things and you can create your own language using it.
JM: What about your passion for textiles which we’ve seen glimpses of in the sale?
AA: It’s about surface, texture, colour, I won’t use textiles that I don’t like, I won’t put up curtains just because I need to have a pair of curtains. In fact, most places I have worked on, and most places I have lived don’t have curtains, I don’t really like them. I think you’re a long time buried without any light, I want as much as I can get.
JM: Do you see yourself as a maximalist?
AA: Does that mean I want to get the most out of things?
MFV: Rather than being a maximalist, I see Andrew as a statement-maker because he furnishes room sparingly and yet the rooms feel very full. He thinks about what he’s going to put in a room, so everything has a presence and he uses colour to fill the room. So, in a room which may have just a sofa and a few chairs and no art on the walls, the walls are painted in such a strong colour, it fills the room and I think that’s quite an art. Every piece he uses becomes like a sculpture, which is something I don’t see very often but he does it very well. His rooms have a certain silence that comes with a certain grounding, and nothing that seems out of place. So, whether he’s a minimalist or a maximalist, he wants only what he likes.
AA: Miguel reads me like a book, he can say all the things that I can’t quite formulate in my head.
JM: Miguel, how do you see the trend for maximalist interiors and the role of antiques in it?
MFV: I think we go through phases, so although we went through a phase of a lot of beige furniture and off-white, now it’s going the other way and we have an understanding of colour, pattern, and filling up rooms with objects. I like that but I’m also very aware that there will be a point probably when we will swing back to something calmer again. As time goes by, you understand that, the value of each of these periods.
JM: Miguel, when is your new book coming out?
MFV: Haute Bohemians came out in 2017 and the follow-up, Haute Bohemians Greece will come out at the end of May. It was my publisher who suggested it and I was a bit terrified because I thought he just wanted holiday homes with lots of infinity pools and I was not going to do something like that. Whilst I was researching it, I thought a lot about the late Min Hogg because she was so marvellous at putting those magazines together in which she showed things that seemed completely opposite and yet everything worked. I looked for things that were different and tried to stay away from your typical blue and white idea of Greece, showing different cultural aspects of the country.
JM: Were you surprised by the reaction to your first book and how the concept really captured people’s imagination? It’s now part of the Interiors vocabulary.
MFV: I was very surprised, I had the idea of the title for the longest time, but the book only materialised once I moved to Europe because in a way, Europe is the place where this concept originates from. This idea of people who live in places where you look at a room and you see the type of life they had, rather than a room which has been put together by a professional. The rooms are not necessarily perfect, but they are absolutely enchanting and they definitely have a lot of soul.