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Inside design: Jane Cumberbatch

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Design Experts

Inside design: Jane Cumberbatch

She was once a highly successful, much-in-demand decor editor for British House & Garden, but the pace of life left Jane Cumberbatch so breathless she opted for a slower, simpler existence. Jane has made simple living her mission, and in each of her five books -- including last year's Decorating Easy -- and on her website ( purestyleonline.com), she offers "a blueprint for living in the 21st century."


ID-Jane-Cumberbatch-inline.jpgS@H: What prompted your quest for a simpler life?
JC:
My first decorating job was for a big magazine. It was the '80s, and in every house we photographed, so much money was spent on fabrics, ribbons and bows, but it was all tasteless. It was such a consumption-driven society. The obsession to have the latest and greatest had become more important than having a well-functioning, pleasing environment. I began to realize there was another way -- you didn't need to spend a lot of money to have a good-looking home that reflected good values. What could be more beautiful than flowers from your own backyard?

S@H: Tell us about the values of simple living.
JC:
It's not just about aesthetics; simple living is a philosophy, too. Rampant consumerism takes a toll on the environment, so simple living embraces composting; having one car, not two; and buying fresh produce over packaged food (and whenever possible buying locally). What's also intrinsic is a consciousness about not being wasteful. I'm talking about reusing old, discarded pieces of furniture by sprucing them up with a coat of paint, and saving fabric remnants to use on jeans or for other sewing projects. It's a creative way of living, really.

S@H: Why do you think the quest for simple living resonates with so many people?
JC:
I live in London, a rather big city, with three children. That alone is stressful, but then consider we live in a century in which technology is impeding our need for respite. Cellphones and laptops promote the notion you have to be available at all times. I'll admit technology can also help you live simply -- dishwashers, for example, allow you to spend more time doing the things you love. But a bigger impediment is that we live in an era in which there is so much choice it's bewildering. We walk into grocery stores and movie rental shops, and we're inundated with products -- made to believe we need them all. We're seduced by advertising. Shopping has become a hobby. I believe we need to pare down, to seek out what is essential and good to look at.

S@H: What's essential for you and good to look at?
JC:
I just bought an old house in Portugal, and I'm sitting here right now going over the plans. I'm trying to decide what I really need -- a good supply of hot water, comfy beds and a functional kitchen. I don't need to spend a lot of money on fancy fabrics and endless trinkets that ultimately make you stressed because you have to take care of them.

Once you've determined what you need, you can concentrate on finding items that will stand the test of time and are pleasing to the eye. For me, that's a sturdy kitchen table, robust glassware, plain white plates, classic cutlery, and washable paints and slipcovers. The greatest benefit of a simple life is having time to enjoy simple pleasures -- to appreciate life, to feel calm. So anything that makes life comfortable and affords more time to explore worthwhile pursuits is pure and simple living at its best.

Simple formula
Few, functional and fine -- those are the three "Fs" of Jane Cumberbatch's blueprint for a simple life. Her new line of practical products, including Irish linen tea towels, blue-and-white enamel bowls, and sewing kits, will soon be available at purestyleonline.com.

Few
Pare down belongings to only those necessary things. You need a sofa, but what about all those throw cushions? Similarly, says Jane, "having two sets of china and three sets of glassware eats up time taking care of them."

Functional
Ovenproof pots, tumblers that work for both juice and wine -- "multipurpose items are the key to simplicity," says Jane. "Everything I bring into my house must fulfil more than one function."

Fine
Colour and texture are intrinsic to what Jane calls the "DNA of simple living." She takes her cues from nature, favouring the shades of earth, sky and sea, with pops of colour added (fresh flowers are a great way to do this). Jane also likes "rough log baskets, crisp cotton sheets and frothing soap."

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Inside design: Jane Cumberbatch