JOCASTA INNES Lesley Blanch's dashingly personal blend of romantic evocation, sharp observation and sheer gusto has echoes of Colette one minute, Lady Mary Whortley Montagu the next ... What I have always admired about Lesley Blanch is the deft way she reconciles femme de tête and femme d'intérieure, independent mind and adventurous person, with a notable talent for making homes beguilingly pretty and social gatherings festive and fun
1974 Lesley Blanch working on her terrace by Henry Clarke for House & Garden USA © The Condé Nast Publications Inc
Lesley Blanch has invented herself and her own world, as exotic as any world she has known. She says, “You must change life a bit. If you are going to sit down and accept a pattern for life, that’s all right — some like a domestic pattern, but I happen to like a romantic one.”
In 1994 a fire destroyed her home — “I escaped in my nightdress just before the front wall fell in.”
Shusha Guppy had interviewed her a few years previously for Looking Back, A Panoramic View of a Literary Age by the Grandes Dames of European Letters (1992). She writes: "Lesley Blanch’s house is filled with mementos of her travels and adventures: Russian icons, samovars, Qajar paintings and rugs from Persia and Turkey, exotica from India. Divans and the scent of incense and jasmine further enhance the exotic and relaxing atmosphere …"
1974 The writer's desk. Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast Publications Inc
Guppy continues, "She works at a desk strewn with books, papers and clippings in the living room. All the other rooms, including her own, are also lined with bookshelves. She is visited by a stream of friends and admirers, but her much loved constant companions are her cats. An ardent gardener, Lesley Blanch has created a very personal enclosed garden, with fig and citrus trees, jacarandas and mimosas, as well as lesser shrubs and bushes. It is a green bower screened by tall cypresses and bamboos: ‘Annihilating all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade,’ Blanch quotes Andrew Marvell."
Lesley Blanch still mourns the loss in the fire of all her treasures and memorabilia collected over a lifetime of travel — an 18th century Staffordshire rabbit, the first possession she ever bought; a portrait of Empress Elizabeth of Russia; a collection of Russian silver snuff boxes; antique rugs of all kinds from Bessarabian to kilims; a court painting of Fath Ali Shah’s Persian ministers; a teak rocking elephant from India, once a child’s toy; a cupboard the front four panels of which she painted herself to represent the wooden or gilded domes and crosses of the churches of Moscow, Kazan, Kiev and Leningrad, their differing architecture spanning the vast surface of the Orthodox religion; her surviving oriental book collection left to New College Oxford, along with most of her archive…
1973 A traditional icon corner evocative of the mysteries of Othodoxy, the "solemn chants, shadowy depths" of remote Balkan monasteries. Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast Publications Inc
Lesley Blanch has always lived amidst a harmonious assembly of esoteric objects from distant corners of the earth. She likes to mix everything up and loathes anything en suite — for example she might use a Caucasian rug as a wall hanging, drape a fur rug over a bed, or use an old toile de jouy curtain framed as a picture, a work of art.
Blanch is a pioneer of what is now referred to as ‘ethnic style’. She is admired by her friends for her decorative flair, and is emulated by her fans. Her advice when it comes to domesticity and decoration is to “surround yourself with the things you love and your house will make you happy … I never decorate, I just make sure that I’m going to be comfortable and let the effect come with the living. You must have comfort first, everything else follows naturally.”
1973 An alcove swathed with Indian cotton and crowned by a Victorian coach ornament. The man's velvet wedding costume is from Afghanistan. Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast Publications Inc
She feels rooted when she has her own things with her, and considers that “things have life” — a belief expressed by The Traveller in her memoir Journey Into The Mind’s Eye. “Eighteen years of being a diplomat’s wife taught me to carry my precious everything with me, on my back like a snail … I made eleven bases with Romain, which I always had to do very quickly.”
Also known for her hospitality, Lesley Blanch has a special talent for blending the exotic with the intimate, thereby creating a unique and very personal atmosphere.
Although her writing desk is in the living-room, she could work anywhere — just by dropping cushions on a favourite carpet she would make that her work-nest for the day. She likes to write to music: “I must have classical, Bach and Wagner, and also Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, or reggae. I love the folk or traditional music of Bulgaria; the Middle East, Persia, Asia, or elsewhere I have travelled. And that would include New York's marvellous jazz clubs.”
1973 Roquebrune. Henry Clarke © The Condé Nast Publications Inc
She concludes, “My rooms are gestures of defiance against every rule of the pundit decorators. Now East, now West, my rooms reflect the globe. Cultures, races, climates, colours and epochs mix in harmony here, as do bargains and chintz..."
"I find my things very good company: they are not capricious, or boring, or demanding. They do not have to be entertained, or dined and wined like so much of the human species. By which you will judge me a hardened misanthrope. Quite so. I defend my privacy fiercely.”