June 11, 2009

Howard's End (1992)

I am now back in Mass., visiting my family. It's been raining intermittently here all week so I've worked myself into "one of those New England moods." (you know - gray, somber, and a little wistful...a sort of seaside malaise that only those who grew up in small coastal towns know about). Anyway, I thought I'd post about a film where rain plays a pivotal role in the story-line and that would be Howard's End (1992), yet another Merchant Ivory masterpiece.


Howard's End is a story that revolves around three groups of people, each representing a different stratum of the English social class during the early twentieth century. We'll begin with the Schlegel siblings, who represent the intellectual bourgeoisie and who have a lot in common with the real-life Bloomsbury Group. The 2 sisters (portrayed flawlessly by Emma Thompson & Helena Bonham Carter) and their brother live in a well-kept townhouse in London. Their townhouse is one of my absolute favorites as far as film interiors go and I could totally see myself living blissfully in such a space without needing to change a single thing.

The exterior of their townhouse:

The entry is decorated with an abundance of framed photos and prints:

Notice the beautiful pewter frames to the right:

Wooden umbrella stand filled with several umbrellas and walking sticks with varying handles:

The narrow entryway opens into the stairs to the upper floors. Notice the collection of shells on the radiator (behind Helena Bonham Carter), the interesting mirror on the left, and the large feathery plumage on the right:

The wall along the stairs are again adorned with a plethora of framed drawings and prints. Notice how the frames are very different in size and style. This sort of eclectic mix is one of the defining design elements throughout the house and it shows that the owners display simply what they love without too much concern over whether or not it'll mesh well with the others (remember those shells randomly sitting on the radiator?). Of course everything does mesh perfectly but that's because it's all been carefully selected to do so by the production designer/art director but even so, I still stand by this philosophy because it'll denote your space with a greater sense of individual character and your home should always be a reflection of you.


The stairs lead up to the second floor, where most of their activity takes place since the sitting room is up here. Notice the cream wall paint. Actually most of the house is painted in light and airy colors, which is a departure from the generally dark and heavily wallpapered Victorian decor of their era. Also notice the beautiful china pieces on the console table to the right.

Below is my favorite room of the house: their general sitting room. I love the light bluish-gray wall color and the panel moldings. I also love the mix of colors, patterns, and textures found in the upholstery. The creams, greens, blues, and burnt siennas just make the room feel so cozy! Also notice the almost hidden desk chair in the mid-ground to the left. It looks to be made from polished tree branches. Maybe even bamboo.



The fireplace mantel looks Greek-inspired to me. Notice the little collection of greeting cards on display. Nowadays this is considered tacky but I think it's rather a nice idea because they can be frequently changed as new cards from friends arrive. A very personal touch well-suited for a personal space:

While breakfast is more formally served in the dining room, afternoon tea is served in the sitting room in their household. Notice the little table set up in front the fireplace, with a delightful assortment of cakes and scones.

A couple more attempts to show you the beautiful burnt sienna throw with the cream floral embroidery:

Also, notice the elevated plant containers resting on tall stands:

Below are examples of their assorted porcelain china collections, charmingly scattered throughout the house:



Notice, more porcelain china on display on top of the mantel and on open shelves in the breakfast room:


And resting on windowsills:

Below is a shot of the same breakfast room now used as a dining room for dinner. Notice the beautiful wooden chairs with the shell/scalloped design on the seat-backs!

Now we finally move on to the second group of characters in the story: The Wilcoxes, headed by the imposing Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), a rich capitalist who made his immense fortune in the African colonies. His mansion in London is the prime example of wealth.

I love the large-scale stained glass windows (left) and the white on red ceiling molding (right):

I know it's difficult to see, but notice the magnificent white door in the background (the one the characters are standing in front of). The entire thing looks to have been carved from one enormous block of something. Could it be marble? I am really curious as to what the material could've been. Surely not wood that was painted white?

Notice the grand Asian vases nestled in the small alcoves along the stairs. I also love the concept of having small niches built into walls. It gives the space so much more dimension.


A small detour. Below are 2 images of Mr. Wilcox's office, which is located separately from his mansion. But I wanted to show it because I like the rich dark wood paneling, something that I probably would never have in my own house but for some reason am curiously drawn to when seen in other people's spaces.

Also, I really like the lamp on the left. It's in a candelabra style and the lampshade is in the middle instead of at the top. The top section is reminiscent of a weathervane. Most interesting!

And finally we meet the Leonard Bast and his "fallen woman" who represent the lower classes and who live in a very small and cramped space in a bad part of town. I know their apartment is considered "ugly and inferior" but it doesn't seem that bad to me, especially since I too live in a tiny studio and to me, their space actually looks kind of cozy and attainable.

I love the cast-iron fireplace screen. Also notice the somewhat poor attempt to decorate the built-in shelves with lacy fabric. Notice the wall sconce with small b&w photographs taped under it (smart way to bring focus to them).

Also notice the wonderful collection of beautiful demitasse teacups on the mantel!

And now we finally come to Howard's End, the country estate from which the novel/film gets its name. Howard's End belongs to the Wilcoxes, and was specifically Mrs. Wilcox's sanctuary. After her death, she leaves it to Meg Schlegel (Emma Thompson) whom she befriended shortly before passing away. She wanted it to go to Meg because she felt that only she could truly appreciate it, but her poorly written will was dismissed by the rest of the Wilcox family as an act of an unstable woman on her deathbed. Irregardless, this brings up the wonderful notion of having "an affair with a house," that is - that special connection to a certain place that many of us know so well. Because to be honest, Howard's End is not really that extraordinary of an abode. It's a small country retreat, like so many of its kind. Inside the ceilings are low and the amenities are sparse. But there's a certain magic to it that's hard to explain. Mrs. Wilcox felt it and Meg Schlegel did as well and I'm sure many of us also know a place that reinforces that same feeling within ourselves.

I'm only going to show you the exterior because there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the interior:


The brick "cottage" is covered with ivy, wisteria, and all sorts of other climbing plants.


A lovely trellis in the garden:

Okay, now we depart from our main characters' houses and look at some other things.

Below are images from the Schlegel siblings' aunt's house. I like the large bay window and the pink floral curtains. I also like how it feels so light and airy as well.

Notice the light striped wallpaper and connecting conservatory:

Notice the wallpaper in the aunt's bedroom:

Also notice the row of round framed prints over the headboard. Round! You don't see many of those! Also notice the huge gas lamp on the left:

Below is Meg Schlegel visiting Mrs. Wilcox at the hospital but I want you to notice the beautiful red, cream, and teal paisley curtains in the blurry background. I really like that color combination.

The below image is taken from when Mrs. Wilcox and Meg Schlegel go Christmas shopping. But I want you to pay attention to the gorgeous red lamps on the left and right sides! The base is made from sticks of ivy and berries and topped off with tiny lampshades. This looks like something you can do yourself!

Loving the car and the Tudor style houses in the background:

Coveting those driving goggles and wishing I had a reason to wear them in modern day:

And finally, the obligatory showing of the train station and the lovely leather luggage sets:


have not seen the film but seeing how beautiful the stills are makes me want to go get the DVD.

Loved the movie, loved your observations. Awakened new appreciation for stylistic details that I can duplicate! Thank you.
Christine in Virginia

"Absolutely nothing remarkable about the interior" of Howard's End? What about that absolutely lovely green parlor with the interesting bordered walls and the delicate William Morris willow slip-covered sofa? Truly I dream of that room...

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