Laura Ashley: The fashion house where florals were always in season

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Laura Ashley's Welsh estate mirrored her style – and her children want it saved. By Kate Watson-Smyth

Her floral fabrics and smocked dresses inspired a generation of women and her name became one of the world's most recognised brands. But now the legacy of Laura Ashley is under threat; her former home in Wales is shabby rather than chic and her children fear they may have to sell up unless they can find a way to preserve the building.

Rhydoldog House, near Powys, is in the centre of a 500-acre estate and her children are hoping that it can be restored and opened to the nation so that others can see the inspiration behind a global business that is still flourishing today – nearly 25 years after its founder's death.

Laura's eldest daughter, Jane, says the house and surrounding countryside clearly inspired her mother: "A lot of the rooms are still the same and you can see how her style evolved. It's a bit shabby now but that's part of its charm. I don't want to be sentimental about it, but so many people have suggested to us that it's the right thing to do and that the house is relevant, that we feel we should explore the possibilities," she said.

The house itself is a mishmash of styles, part 16th-century long-house with both Victorian gothic and neo-classical elements. Martin Wood, whose biography of Laura is due out in September (Frances Lincoln, £35), said: "The house itself is no great beauty but it has views to die for."

The setting is one thing, but it's how this design icon chose to decorate her own home that interests us, and it's not all heavy swagged curtains and floral cushions. "When she started out making tea towels at the kitchen table in her Pimlico flat, she did some quite modernistic designs and black-and-white images," says Wood.

"The morning room, also known as the print room, where she worked, is still decorated very much in that style with apricot wallpaper and lots of black-and-white pictures. It's perhaps not what people might expect."

In fact, Laura had always loved floral designs but didn't initially have the expertise to print such tiny, detailed designs. "She didn't set out to be a Victorian survivalist but she did believe that that was a time when people lived decent, straightforward lives," adds Wood. "A lot of the furniture is that rather lumpy Victorian gothic style with oil lamps and skirted tables, although her style later became more Victorian milkmaid."

Although Laura was the name on the brand, Wood says her husband, Bernard, exerted great influence over the décor. Bernard once said to Wood: "Whenever we bought a house we had a fight that lasted 24 hours and then we were fine."

The couple worked closely together on all aspects of the business and indeed it was Bernard who suggested making long dresses because they would use more material, according to Wood. That long dress became the Ashley trademark and was perfectly timed to fit in with fashion's change from the mini-skirt of the 1960s. So popular was her style that the Fulham Road branch once sold 4,000 dresses in one week. In the Eighties it was taken up by the "Sloane Rangers", chief of whom was a young Princess Diana.

Bernard died in February this year, nearly 25 years after his wife fell down the stairs on her 60th birthday, and his death has prompted their children to think about the future of Rhydoldog. "The fact that the business was built in this house over decades is what makes it special, said Jane. "There would be business meetings in the kitchen and my parents planned their international business strategy on walks around the gardens.

"If it is to be restored and opened then we need to find partnerships to help us with their expertise. But if that doesn't happen then it will to be sold to a large, happy family who will give it a new lease of life.

"The house holds such bittersweet memories for me, because the bed-room that is still intact was mine and I always expect her to be there when I go in. It was a very creative, happy time," she adds.

The National Trust has offered to work with the Ashley family to look at possible options for the future of the property.

Inside the homes of three other design stars

Barbara Hulanicki, founder of the iconic Sixties boutique Biba, turned to interior design in the 1980s and has been credited with reviving Miami Beach's art-deco area. Her own home is painted mainly in pale grey with shots of the bright pinks and oranges for which she is famous.

"I was brought up with Technicolor film and I'm mad about orange and fuschia so I'm not afraid of colour – except for green, which I never use, perhaps because my school uniform was a dull, sludge green," she says.

But she urges caution: "Too many gorgeous things in one room can spoil the effect, you need to mix the simple with the very busy for the best effect."



Sir Terence Conran, the so-called King of British interior design, has lived in a 17th-century manor in Berkshire since 1971, and, as you might expect, the interiors are simple, modern and, crucially, clutter-free.

He says that storage is key in bedrooms, which allows them to be restful, in bathrooms so they can be sanctuaries, while in the kitchen you need to be able to cook near the eating area, have plenty of comfortable chairs, lots of light and, for the lucky ones, a glowing open fire.



Cath Kidston, is the 21st-century Laura, according to Jane Ashley. Her reworking of the English country-house style, as opposed to Laura's new take on Victoriana, has seen her business expand globally.

She has 33 outlets with more planned this year, but her own house is not all flowers and pretty prints. "Despite the distinctive style for which I am known, parts of my own house are sleek and modern so I can keep it fresh," she says. "My sitting room is very fun and not at all grown up. I prefer houses that you can live in and where the dog can jump on the sofa and for it to feel relaxed and informal."

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen