“We all know that the Queen has so much going on, so the minutiae of interior decoration is not top of her list. It was something the Duke of Edinburgh was very engaged with in the early years of their marriage. He did a lot of work on it when they lived in Malta and when they first moved into some of the palaces, and the Royal Yacht Britannia showed their style.
We might look at the interiors of Windsor Castle and think: “It’s a bit dowdy,” and in many ways the Queen is of the Princess Anne school of decorating.
She’ll want everything that she uses every day to be near her – dog beds, things that mean an enormous amount – so you’re going to get a bit of a disconnect when you go into the state rooms. It’s a tricky bit of architecture, built in this whimsical, Gothic style, and to get it to work, you need to be quite gutsy with it – quite brave.
Windsor Castle means an enormous amount to Her Majesty, and as such I think she’s deliberately not changed much. If the carpet wears out, they’ll replace it with exactly the same; also with the curtains. You don’t see much of her personality there, and I don’t think you ever would – she wants Windsor Castle to be about continuity.
“As an interior designer, I think that’s a bit of a shame, because there’s a lot of fun to be had. It’s basically the Gothic version of the Brighton Pavilion and, if you let it, it could be quite spectacular.
It’s highly unlikely, but I’d love to get my hands on it! I don’t believe that it needs to be the same as it’s always been to show that the royal family is an incredible institution: steadfast, where we need them the most, when we need them the most. It could also be about excellent design. But our royal family doesn’t need to show off.
“Prince William and Kate inherited this apartment in Kensington Palace from Princess Margaret. This room was all about gin and jazz, and was well known for being unbelievably ‘swish shwoo’, like one of her kaftans, with rich, saturated colours and slightly off-colour antiques.
But this is where they have to be the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, rather than Will and Kate, so it looks quite officey. It’s where they’re going to be showing a suitably grown-up version of themselves.
Everything is from the Royal Collection, good quality, impeccably tasteful and elegant. They’ve kept the colour palette very light – that’s their concession to modernity – and there’s an acreage of beige carpet, a load of pale emulsion on the walls and tiny, understated little bits of patterned textile, which were doubtless very expensive.
But there’s no sense of this being the home of a mid-thirties couple with small children. I’m sure the rest of the apartment feels more like that.
“I can imagine them shutting the door and never going in that room unless the Obamas turn up. Ordinariness is something Prince William valued throughout his childhood, and it’s something the Cambridges do terribly well, so when they’ve got to decorate a palace, which they have to do, there’s a kind of disconnect.
The decor lacks the assurance, the bravura, the confidence that other members of the royal family often have when it comes to arranging a grand space.
“This is exactly the sort of drawing room one would expect Princess Anne to have. It’s an absolutely interior-design-free zone – straightforward and practical, nothing frilly about it.
But then, there’s nothing frilly about her. What I think is touching is that everything you can see in those cabinets aren’t gorgeous bits of loveliness from the Royal Collection, but things people have obviously given her over the years – charities, or her own children and grandchildren.
She’s proud of them and displaying them. None of them have any aesthetic merit whatsoever, but I’m happy with that. I’m no [style gurus] Marie Kondo, Mrs Hinch or Kelly Hoppen – so if an item means something to you, that’s a good enough reason to display it in your room. I’m sure the sofa and armchair have exactly the same material as the curtains.
“At some point, somebody has suggested there’s a soft green in the fabric that they could paint on the walls, but there’s no sense of any curation or orchestration beyond that. I think every time she gets presented with another painting of a horse or a view, she just finds a space for it, which means the pictures are rapidly climbing higher and higher up the wall.
As an interior designer, I look at the house and think: ‘Oh my God, what I would do…’ But I don’t live there, she does, and she’s feathering her nest in the way that matches her plumage.
It looks as if it hasn’t been touched since 1982. But then, that’s why we love her. This space is all about Anne, her life and comfort, and the things she enjoys and is proud of. There’s something so unpretentious about all of that, it chimes so perfectly with her.
“Prince Charles is probably a dream client for an interior designer, as he’s literate about what he wants. There’s no sense of anyone’s personality at Birkhall other than his.
He probably had [interior designer] Robert Kime help out with some of the fabric choices because, although it looks like a bit of a jumble, it isn’t. It’s where decorating is at the moment – a relaxed attitude to putting patterns and colours together. Both Charles and Camilla have an eclectic eye, so yes, there’s a lot of tartan, and thistles on the curtains, but look at the Indian textile on the table.
There’s always something exotic, a little bit surprising. Camilla’s sister Annabel Elliot is a very well-respected interior designer, and Camilla grew up in the heyday of upmarket interior decoration of the late 1970s and ’80s – all the bows, frills and chintzes. She has an eye for colour, and a sense of wit and surprise about interiors, which she also shares with Prince Charles. You see that more in Clarence House than Birkhall.
There are super-scale paintings, which are quite unusual – one is almost like a tapestry going from floor to ceiling. The choice of a pink colour palette is also unusual and confident, and some of the cushions look as if they’re Indian or Afghan textiles.
There’s a shallow pool of specialists he uses, who know his style – things have to have meaning, and don’t need to “go” or be matchy-matchy or designed.
In Clarence House, you’d expect to see a ceremonial sword or the gift of a foreign potentate, large portraits of his ancestors, family trees, all those clichés – but he’s not got a lot of that. And if he does, he’ll subvert it slightly. It’s a way of making people feel more at ease.
This is what he’s so good at, going: “Yes, I know I’m the Prince of Wales, but let’s not get bogged down in the highfalutin’ ceremony of it.”