Britain is about to witness the dawn of a new age once King Charles III officially ascends the throne on May 6, 2023. Whatever your feelings are about the British monarchy (and I’ll spare you mine), it’s interesting that the country’s rulers have historically become synonymous with the design styles prevalent during their reign (Victorian, Georgian…you get the idea). So now seems a perfect time to consider the legacy of the second Elizabethan era, assess where things currently stand, and ponder what Charles’s tenure as sovereign might bring.
London-based designer Lee Broom says he, for one, senses a shift taking place. “A change in monarch after Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign will form part of that, I am sure,” he says. “I don’t believe it will be the sole influence for change, but it will form part of a sign of the times.”
Elizabeth II’s reign was indeed very, very long, and the world has evolved beyond recognition from the one she inherited at her coronation in 1953. As did British design, which underwent several dramatic shifts: from the birth of modernism and the scrappy resourcefulness following the Second World War, through the bold patterns of the 1960s, earthy tones of the ’70s, to the contemporary minimalism that came with the new millennium. “Her reign truly saw an evolution of styles and decor,” says South African–born British interior designer Kelly Hoppen. “Despite challenges, creativity thrived.”
“Different design professions flourished at different moments of the era,’” says Tom Dixon, OBE, one of Britain’s leading product designers, who affirms that British design “remains as vigorous as ever,” although he’s observed that interiors “have been a bit of a neoclassical backwater in the UK” of late. But the situation seems to be improving, according to Broom, who has witnessed a recent bloom in the country’s fervor for decorating: “British interiors are embracing design that is bold and experimental, and people are exploring sculptural forms, patterns, finishes, and art more than ever before. The cross pollination of different art forms is so much more accepted than it was even 10 years ago, and this is revealing itself in people’s homes.”
Two major events have impacted the British design industry over the past few years, and promise to cast a spell on the early years of King Charles III’s tenure. First was Brexit, a very localized issue; second was the COVID-19 pandemic, which of course affected the entire world. While the former has hit the movement of goods and talent to the country, it has also led to a rebirth of local manufacturing and a return to craft, according to Hoppen. The latter, meanwhile, has led to a renewed sense of pride in the home among Brits. Take designers like Deirdre Dyson, whose artistic rugs are made in the UK, and brands such as Another Country, which manufactures the majority of its wood furniture on British soil.
“British design is intriguing because it’s constantly evolving, and never more so than in the past few years,” says Broom, who also mentions a fresh return to the country’s roots in terms of material, form, and color. Collaborations between British heritage brands and the country’s in-demand designers are certainly flourishing in that respect. Osborne & Little’s partnership with designer Nina Campbell—which screams British country home—is still going strong after more than three decades, and Romo recently collaborated with fashion designer Alice Temperley on a collection of fabrics and wallcoverings that encapsulates “British eccentricity.”