NYC Lecture: Living Laura Ashley

An early '80s Laura Ashley design

I thought of Home Before Dark's remark on the memories and connection to generations past imbued in her treasured handed-down sets of china when I came across a picture of "Priory" in Martin Wood's compelling tome on English lifestyle icon Laura Ashley.


Ashley's Priory sheets saw me through high school, college and - dare I admit it? - beyond. Seeing its distinct scattered blooms was like running into an old favorite friend.

Designer and author Martin Wood, who is cornering the market on English country house style with his other monographs on Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler, all published by Frances Lincoln, reveals that Priory was based on a document fabric found at Chatsworth.

swatches from Chatsworth

Apparently, Mrs. Ashley showed up for her appointment at the Duke of Devonshire's palatial manse, donned a smock, and got down to business rummaging through cupboards and piles of old chintz covers. No grand lady here.

Many of Ashley's prints were inspired by archival sources,

like this sprig from a soup tureen.

In fact, the firm of Laura Ashley, founded by Laura and her husband Bernard ("Laura Ashley" deemed by Bernard as more euphonious than "Bernard Ashley") started as a print manufacturer. As both maker and retailer of its stuffs, it prided itself on its low prices as a result of being able to sell direct to customers without a middleman.

Well, if you were living on my side of the pond in the 1980s, bargain prices aren't what immediately spring to mind when you think of Laura Ashley. And you would be right. Wood writes that the Ashleys found greater success in the U.S. by presenting their wares in a more upscale and aspirational way to the American market. Interesting, no?

The Laura Ashley Look: in full flower and ruffle

Laura and Sir Bernard's own Yellow Drawing Room in Brussels

This Wednesday, February 10, Mr. Wood will lecture on "Patterning Nostalgia: The Designs of Laura and Sir Bernard Ashley" in NYC at Scandinavia House, presented by the Royal Oak Foundation. I for one (along with my friend Beth who even worked at the Laura Ashley store in Kansas City while a design student) will be front row for what will most certainly be an insightful AND entertaining lecture on late 20th century traditional taste.

Click here for the details or call 212.480.2889. Mention this post and receive $5 off.