Monk's House, Virginia Woolf's rural retreat, owned by The National Trust

    Style sourcebook: how to recreate Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House

    14 January 2020

    The tranquillity of the Sussex Downs attracted novelist Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard to Monk’s House, the 16th century cottage they bought in 1919 as a country retreat.  Now owned by the National Trust, the cottage’s rustic simplicity provided the setting for Virginia to pen her seminal feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own.

    As part of the Bloomsbury Group (though not a label they used themselves), Virginia and Leonard contributed to what Stephen Spender has described as “the most constructive and creative influence on English taste between the two wars”. And if the charm of their sitting room interior spurs you to similar creativity, here’s how to get the look at home, from simple paint ideas to where to go for exceptional Bloomsbury art.

    Go natural

    Verdigris Natural Paint from Edward Bulmer

    Verdigris Natural Paint from Edward Bulmer

    Natural paints age beautifully and tend to give a softer finish with colour that appears to change subtly according to light. Edward Bulmer Natural Paint is made using natural pigments combined with a plastic-free binder; Verdigris is similar to Virginia Woolf’s favourite shade of green. Try painting the walls in the lighter shades of the colour (available as 60 per cent, 40 per cent or 20 per cent) and window frames in original Verdigris to achieve the dark-frame-versus-light-wall effect shown here.

    Wall Art

    Virginia Woolf book jacket The Waves, sourced at Haviland Designs

    For a rare find, London gallery Piano Nobile is an established source of twentieth-century British and international art, including paintings by Bloomsbury Group artists from time to time – with a number of oil paintings by Duncan Grant available at the time of writing.

    Art consultant Marcus Wells of Haviland Designs is known for sourcing interesting paintings and prints, and for his imaginative approach to framing. He has an interesting selection of prints of book covers that Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell designed for Hogarth Press, as well as prints of their designs for the murals, The Muses of Arts and Sciences.

    Paint the furniture

    Annie Sloan painted furniture by Jeanie Simpson

    Annie Sloan painted furniture by Jeanie Simpson

    While paintings are an important component of Monk’s House, so is the painted furniture – from bookcases, door panels and bedheads to chairs and tables – and Monk’s House is home to pieces painted by Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and by Duncan Grant.

    Decorative paint specialist Annie Sloan has colours in her Chalk Paint collection specifically inspired by the Bloomsbury home at nearby Charleston Farmhouse. Chalk Paints can be used on furniture without priming or sanding, and are ideal for creating the loose, painterly effects in striking colour, so beloved of the Group. 


    Hand painted lampshade by Cressida Bell

    Hand painted lampshade by Cressida Bell

    Designer Cressida Bell is the granddaughter of Vanessa Bell, so it may not surprise that her murals, carpets, furnishing fabrics and lamp shades suggest something of her Bloomsbury Group forebears’ artistic exuberance. Her paper lampshades and hand painted wooden bases will add instant joy to any interior.

    Add a striking rug

    Christopher Farr rug: 'Fishes' by Cressida Bell

    Christopher Farr rug: ‘Fishes’ by Cressida Bell

    Christopher Farr has a series of colourful wool rugs based on original artwork by the Omega Workshops, a design enterprise founded by members of the Bloomsbury Group in 1913. They are bold and dynamic, and well suited to adding the kind of artistic individuality of which the owners of Monk’s House would surely have approved.