Floral designer Paul Hawkins' hedgerow inspired Christmas décor
PUBLISHED: 11:36 22 December 2014 | UPDATED: 13:55 25 March 2015
Floral designer to the stars Paul Hawkins goes for a hedgerow inspired Christmas décor at his home near Froxfield, as Emma Caulton discovered on her recent visit
Deer scatter in front of my car. A buzzard swoops low overhead. This is wild Hampshire and I am completely lost in an unfamiliar maze of country lanes.
“Everyone gets lost trying to find us,” Paul Hawkins reassures me when I eventually arrive. It’s hidden down a lane which, as Paul himself says, no cars venture down.
But his home is delightful: a thatched farmhouse of knapped flint and herringbone brickwork with an interior of gnarled beams, big fireplaces and traditional plank and latch doors. I am welcomed through to the kitchen where Colleen (one of the lovely team of people who works with Paul) prepares fresh coffee and warms mince pies in the Aga.
Paul is a well-renowned floral decorator who returned to Hampshire from the Cotswolds a couple of years ago, moving into this quaint cottage somewhere (and I am not entirely sure I could find it again) among the fields and copses of the Froxfield area. It was previously home for 30 years or so to restaurateur Antonio Carluccio and his then wife Priscilla, sister of designer Sir Terence (of Habitat renowned). They restored what were thought to be a couple of dilapidated 17th century agricultural workers’ cottages with 14th century origins into their country home, refurbished in the style of a Tuscan farmhouse with terracotta tiled floors and brilliant white walls.
“It was all white, white, white!” declares Paul.
Well, not any longer. Paul and his partner Steven have transformed it into a quintessentially English country retreat. Walls and woodwork have been painted using Farrow and Ball’s colour palette of soft muted shades, and the emphasis is on comfort and cosiness with lots of plumped-up sofas piled with cushions and dressed with check throws.
In the kitchen/breakfast room a gleaming black Aga has been installed, contrasting with kitchen units painted blue-grey, a 1950s-style Smeg fridge/freezer and an old-fashioned butler’s sink with a view across the paddocks.
Much of the furniture has been collected here and there over the years – an appealing mix and mismatch with a bit of charming make-do. Over a worktop, a row of four low-hanging lights were finds from a little junk shop in Tetbury. An old green cupboard with a drop-down enamel work surface was inherited from their previous house, while the refectory-style kitchen table was once a workbench, found in an outhouse next to the cottage.
In the drawing room the heavy, faded Victorian drapes falling into heaps on the floor were rescued from a skip in Kensington, while the walls are covered in ornately-framed landscapes which are mostly inherited and auction room finds. In front of the inglenook fireplace sits a mid-century transparent coffee table.
Paul explains: “This is a 1950s Lucite table from New York. Historically there is no such thing as a coffee table and I think you are better off having this kind of eclectic mix of old and new, rather than a reproduction piece.”
The dining room is dominated by a dresser, filled with classic blue and white willow pattern dishes and hung with jugs and tankards, and a long dining table, dressed with an embroidered runner from Robert Kime. Kime is one of Paul’s favourite designers and the designer of choice for those (including Prince Charles) who want their homes to look understated and elegant, rather than ‘designed’.
Paul has achieved a similar effect in his own home: each room seemingly an effortless and happy coming together of gathered pieces against a colour scheme inspired by the garden and countryside. He has been influenced by Tom Parr, who was Chairman of Colefax & Fowler, in his use of colour. When Paul worked there as an interior designer, it was Tom who guided Paul, “Tom said that all greens go together: lime green, apple green, racing green... Nature’s palette is green, you can never have clashing greens.”
Overall the house feels homely. But perhaps it should, for this is where Paul grew up. His parents lived in Froxfield and Paul went to school locally at Bedales.
“I know The Pub with no Name,” says Paul, referring to the nearest country pub, “I used to get thrown out of there when I was an underage drinker.”
He adds, “It’s nice to come home to Hampshire; it’s a bit grittier here than the Cotswolds.”
His mother still lives in the area, while his brother, Simon, owns The Old Drum, a county inn in nearby Petersfield.
Paul originally started out as a child actor, the first Oliver Twist (all blond curls and doleful eyes) to appear in the West End production of Oliver, opposite Roy Hudd.
He retrained, first as an interior designer working with Colefax & Fowler and then as a florist with Moyses Stevens, before setting up his own business in 1991 as a floral decorator (with an impressive client list that includes Ralph Lauren and Claridges), working not only in London and Hampshire, but all over the country and abroad.
Gardening had always been his first love. Yet there’s also a sense of performance about his floral displays, and when Paul explains how to achieve the look his references are theatrical – about positioning “star performers” against a foundation of foliage before considering “the supporting cast”.
He creates bold, abundant displays inspired by the seasons which look country Christmas perfect in his cottage.
“I like to keep my decorations as natural as possible, using lots of foliage collected from the garden: bay, cotoneaster, eucalyptus, euphorbia, dill and angelica.” The garland over the fireplace in the drawing room features bay and rosehips with dried hydrangeas from the garden and cones gathered in the woods; whilst the Christmas tree in the dining room is decorated simply with lights and more dried hydrangeas.
Paul says: “I do so many full-on sumptuous trees that I do like to keep it pared-down at home, and there is so much going on in this room that I didn’t want the tree competing with everything.”
Drama is created with bold centrepieces of pink and red blooms heavily grouped together to replicate how they would grow naturally. Paul’s not afraid to use faux - although these are faux berries from Peony which he describes as the best faux flowers in the world, mixed with amaryllis, helicrysum, celosia and Grand Prix roses: “I quite like lots of clashing colours”.
But it is the oversized wreath on the front door that says it all. With its profusion of lichen-covered twigs, lotus seed heads and monochrome roses, this is a statement that says welcome to a country Christmas at its most opulent.
Get The Look - Paul shares his top tips to create stunning Christmas displays
1. Take inspiration from the potting shed with candles in terracotta flowerpots filled with moss
2. Create striking centrepieces from the unexpected – a terracotta vessel filled with artichokes makes a stunning sculptural display
3. Fill bowls with an abundance of whatever you have, such as pomegranates, or vintage-style gold or crimson baubles
4. Dry orange slices and clementines in the oven with cinnamon sticks and nutmegs and heap into bowls for a display with a seasonal aroma of fruit and spice
5. The dining table looks stunning with a profusion of candles in candlesticks, storm lamps and glitzy tumblers massed down the centre of the table with ivy trailing through
Find out more about Paul at www.paulhawkinsflowers.co.uk