“Living Life Beautifully” by Christina Strutt

“Living Life Beautifully”, published by Cico Books, is a paen to the work of Cabbages and Roses founder Christina Strutt and the close friends who have informed and inspired her work. Anyone who has ever set foot inside one of her stores will know the sense of entering a world unlike any other, part folksy, part country, part minimalistic.

Clean, crisp, fresh and uplifting, the C & R look is beautifully designed, executed, edited and curated. Uncompromisingly expensive, original and innovative, the brand has held its own in the consciousness of so many loyal, affluent upper-middle class, early-middle aged women who other fashion and lifestyle brands would love to call their customers. Once captured, a C & R customer seldom leaves.

You have to respect and admire a woman who, thirteen years ago, decided to start a kitchen table business alongside a friend, to create housewares, textiles and clothes that they felt represented their values, heritage and lifestyles. Without any business grounding or knowledge, Christina Strutt has managed to turn her classically British identity, faded floral and stripy patterns, distressed furniture and shabby chic merchandising skills into a globally recognised, aspirational brand. It is a complex and fiercely competitive business, and to still be standing with two prime-London postcode shops, three outlets in Tokyo, a thriving online presence and four bestseller books thirteen years later is a considerable achievement.

Alongside Cath Kidston, Emma Bridgewater, Orla Kiely and Laura Ashley, she has created one of the most instantly recognisable design imprints of our generation, and this book is a celebration of her skill, vision and, remarkably, her humility.

She was one of the first people I asked to interview when The Foodie Bugle just launched, and I was so surprised to learn how un-corporate and un-commercial she was ~ even offering me photos of her home she had snapped on her mobile phone. Her assistants came to the rescue with professional photographs, and here is that article. What you see is what you get.

There is scant reference to the running of the company, the making of the wares or the design process. Instead collaborating writer Nancy Alsop, photographer Simon Brown and designer Louise Leffler have created a sumptuous collection of intimate vignettes, broad, double page interiors spreads and a detailed, almost forensic, focus on what makes the C & R aesthetic so successful, comfortable, coveted and imitated.

If you love looking at beautiful dining rooms, utility rooms, kitchens, gardens, shop interiors, fabrics and styling props, this book is a smorgasbord of delights. Cico Books is the home of big, glossy, tactile hardback style books that look, feel and smell a million dollars.

The book is divided into eight chapters which look at the stories behind the first shop, Brigitte Buchanan’s home based company Odd, artist Natalie Meyjes’s Somerset home and Maureen Doherty’s weekend house in Wiltshire. The latter founded Egg, the ne-plus-ultra lifestyle emporium housed in an old dairy in a cobbled mews in the back streets of Knightsbridge. There is also a voyeuristic peek at the homes of other C & R designers and collaborators ~ in the country, in the city, in the town, indoors and in the garden, the style is versatile and adaptable.

Surprisingly, C & R is still run as a small, cottage, family business, with Christina’s god-children and neighbours as employees, helping in the shops and ferreting out vintage accessories at fairs.

Refreshingly, the book shows you how you do not need to spend huge amounts of money to create harmonious, pretty, light rooms. The C & R ethos, on the whole, is quite pure, sustainable and distilled. Less is more and less is beautiful.

Cico Books: www.rylandpeters.com

Cabbages and Roses: www.cabbagesandroses.com

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