Dream Interior Design: How Fiction and Imagination Can Inspire Wonderful Rooms

DURING MY SENIOR year of college, I took a literature class called The English Country House, which was about dumbwaiters and dining rooms from Woolf to Waugh. The class is responsible for my mastery of, say, paneling. At the risk of insisting? I went to a liberal arts school. But what seems like a rarefied entry point into the literary landscape is actually a portal to the Great Hall of any novel. Once you start paying close attention to where the novels are set – not just their country or cultural moment, but the details of where our heroines and heroes lay their heads – their stories are opening up in new ways. Once the characters are gone, you can still wander from room to room, an unpaid babysitter brushing her fingers along the wallpaper.

So many canonical examples of fictional interior design really come from the Brits, who like to inhabit etiquette minefields rife with generational trauma, class issues and chintz (“Bleak House”, “Howard’s End”, ” Wuthering Heights”, “The Portrait of a Lady”, “The Remains of the Day”…Jane Austen wins the prize for Pemberley alone). Contemporary British authors are also necessarily good on the subject (I would gladly entrust my plans to Rachel Cusk , Alan Hollinghurst or Zadie Smith).

Betty K. Park