Chivalry off the Shelf; You Don't Need a Complete Medieval Makeover to Enjoy the Gorgeous Glow of Gothic, Says Barbara Chandler Homes & Property

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FIRST it was Art Deco, now Gothic.

Londoners, it seems, can't get enough of period detail. But they are able to go beyond a simple appreciation of the beauty of a historical object to consider its style and relationship to the modern world.

They queued daily to see the V&A's Art Deco exhibition earlier this year, with its gorgeous Thirties rooms. In four months 360,000 came to pay homage to Deco and retailers were quick to respond. The exhibition helped us to rediscover glamour in black, white and chrome, and geometric shapes were soon flying off shelves.

Now Gothic is getting a similar boost from the V&A with Gothic Art for England, 1400-1547, its latest exhibition, opening tomorrow, and filled with radiant gilt, richly stained glass, tall and dominating architecture, fan-vaulted ceilings, decorative arches and the heraldic hues of vert, azure and red gules.

While few of us are up for a complete medieval makeover, who could fail to be impressed with sumptuous velvets and exquisite tapestries? The Victorians certainly were; they took on the style with a revival vigour.

Victorians and the voluptuous "They were more Gothic than the Gothics," laughs the museum's Gareth Williams. As a result, we have the sublime ornament of the Palace of Westminster, and the spiky golden towers of the Albert Memorial, created at the peak of Victorian Gothic fervour.

But Victorian Gothic also filtered down into middleclass housing - see it today in the decorative brickwork, tiled pavements, pointed gables and fancy bargeboards on many a suburban street. Inside, there were wooden panels and patterned papers, voluptuous velvets and romantic tapestries, cornices, corbels and carvings and pretty coloured window panes.

Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, whose home as a child of the 11th Duke of Marlborough was Blenheim Palace, has just published Classic Interior Design: using period features in today's interiors (Cico, [pounds sterling]29.99). She says that rooms work best when period details are as total and authentic as possible, applied universally. Yet many London decorating professionals beg to differ and happily take a more relaxed approach. For example, interior designer Grant White recently gave a dining room carved Gothic chairs around a circular baroque stone-topped table, against a background of delicate painted Chinese wallpaper.

Combining styles with conviction can be as delicious a mix as minestrone, he argues.

Getting in a bit of Gothic does not entail adherence to a set of dictatorial design decrees. A little bit of what you fancy does you good, and it is fine to mix and match: borrow the pointy arches for a display cabinet that shows off your amazing collection of contemporary ceramics, offset the intricacies of ceiling roses with a simple wooden floor, choose modern matting in natural fibre.

Wood does not have to be stained dark oak but can be lifted to the more modern and mellowed tones of maple or beech.

The Stencil Library has more than a hundred Gothic-style stencils costing from [pounds sterling]6 to [pounds sterling]104. …


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