In Conversation with Roger Jones of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler

Written on 30th July 2019

Ever since its founding in the 1930s, Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler has been the watchword for carefully considered design of the highest quality. With eight interior decorators on the company’s roster, each with their own signature approach and expertise, clients are able to choose who they want to bring their vision for their home to life.

Among their ranks is Roger Jones – erstwhile barrister, antiques expert, and in-demand international decorator – who we recently had the pleasure of chatting with. We sat down with Roger to find out his top tips for historic properties, design non-negotiables, and Farrow & Ball favourites.

You’ve said that you find it most rewarding to work with historic houses in a way that feels sympathetic to the age of the property but is also relevant to modern life – what’s your best advice on how to achieve that balance?

An initial meeting with new clients to discuss not just the way they want their house to look but also the way they will live in it is a good starting point, and any interior decorator worth his or her salt will be architecturally aware and responsive to the character of the building they are working on. The aim is to create a home that is as good a fit as possible for the clients, while ensuring that any internal alterations are done with sensitivity. This doesn’t mean that an old house can’t be decorated and furnished in a thoroughly up-to-date way.

By way of example, I’ve just finished decorating a terrace house on the edge of Belgravia for a young family. The house was quite modest when it was built in the 1830s, but was extended at the back and had another storey added in the 1980s. In reconfiguring the internal layout for my clients, we replaced the overly ornate off-the-peg cornices and chimneypieces installed in the 1980s with simpler versions appropriate for the date of the house, and took care that all new joinery precisely matched the original. This much more architecturally harmonious interior was then decorated for the young clients in a fresh, modern way with mainly mid-century or bespoke new furniture.

Is there any one project that you find particularly memorable? An impressive property, a difficult brief, or a finished result that you’re especially proud of?

My very first project was memorable for me. It came out of the blue at a time when my job at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler wasn’t in decorating, but rather running the company’s antiques business. The chatelaine of an Elizabethan stately home in Sussex, who had seen an article in House & Garden about the weekend cottage I then owned in Wiltshire, rang to ask for my advice about rush matting. I ended up finding a four-poster bed for, and totally redecorating, the main bedroom in the house, once slept in by Queen Mary and shown on the tour when the house was open to the public.

What are your top tips for placing beautiful objects, such as antiques, in the context of rooms? Do your schemes often start with an individual object?

Rooms are for living in, not display, and the furniture should be arranged with a view to comfort and convenience beyond all else. Pictures and beautiful antiques can certainly be placed where they are seen to advantage, but they should seem part of the natural arrangement of the room rather than being there to be looked at; when a piece is in the right place there is a sort of inevitability about it.

Where’s the best place to begin with a project? Do you tend to start in the same place, or does it vary?

The best place to begin is considering how the room will work from a practical point of view: whether doors open the right way, whether there is enough natural light, whether there are electrical sockets in the places they will be needed… Consideration of fabrics and paint colours comes a long way down the line; a beautiful old carpet, a picture, or even just the client’s favourite colour can be the starting point for those.

What do you think no room should be without?

Lighting other than – or, if you have a beautiful chandelier, in addition to – overhead lighting.

Is there a particular era or style of decorating you return to again and again for inspiration?

Hardly original, I know, but I am mad about Sir John Soane and, in particular, the internal detailing of the buildings he designed.

Let’s talk about Farrow & Ball colours: is there a colour from our palette that you always come back to? What’s your current favourite?

Light Blue is an enduring favourite. The sitting room in each of the last three houses I have owned has been that colour, and I often use it for clients. On any job, the Farrow & Ball colour deck tends to be the one I pick up first when considering paint colours.

Is there a particular colour trend that you’d love to see a resurgence in?

Just colours generally, particularly in the context of a hotel or smart restaurant or a corporate or public building. Colour is a joyous thing, and we could do with cheering up in these grim political times.

About Roger Jones

After graduating from Cambridge University, Roger Jones spent several years as a barrister in specialist legal practice before he joined Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler to head the Antiques Department in 1994. Clients who came to rely on Roger’s advice on the acquisition and placing of antique pieces soon began to ask for his help with the interior decoration of their houses. While retaining overall responsibility for the Antiques Department, Roger now concentrates almost exclusively on a wide variety of decorating commissions. Recently, these have included flats and houses in London, properties in France, the United States and Canada, an ocean-going sailing yacht, and historic English country houses.

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