Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tea.  How Could I Forget Tea?

Tea is not usually deemed a huge interior design influence, but for the English perhaps it is.  Whole ceremonies have grown up around it from childhood far into adulthood.  Special foods are prepared, special china is purchased, all as part of the tea time event.  Tea shops abound in England.  And, I, for one, love it all.  Since I really like the aroma of coffee but not its bitter taste, tea has always been my caffeine choice.  Whether it be iced or hot, it's always comforting and delicious.  So, today's posting is all about tea and the beautiful china, snowy linens and the tasty tidbits that accompany it.

It all starts in childhood.
Children and Gardens, by Gertrude Jekyll
These little ones look so angelic, but the tiny one to the right is having a big spill.
Having Tea by Tricia Foley
Even though the scan below shows the fold, I had to include it because of the fireplace and Tasha's beautiful antique china.  After Beatrix Potter, Tasha Tudor is my favorite illustrator of children's books. I know she's American, but the English transported tea culture to the colonies.  Right?

Sweet heart-shaped jam sandwiches for children's teas.

The tea rituals continue into adolescence as seen in these photos of St. Edmund's college and prep school in Canterbury England.  First, tea and cricket. (The photos below are from Cote Ouest, Autumn 1997)

Then, five-o'clock-tea-and-biscuits for the boys.

Tea in lovely china with a biscuit on the side in front of a miniature of St. Edmund's chapel.

So English - teak bench,  a tie striped with St. Edmund's colors, a thermos and cup of tea, a book, crumpets.  All is well.

Not only the students at St. Edmund's enjoy their tea, but also the gardener there.

Tea and flowers, an English icon.

A tradition so firmly entrenched continues well into adulthood typified in the following image of the Dowager Countess overlooking Downton Abbey with tea firmly by her side.  (Downton Abbey is a PBS series not to be missed.  Besides viewing it on TV, I own the DVD's and have watched them at least three times.  I'm such a "Brit-ophile.")

Such an important tea tradition demands beautiful china to accompany it.  Meredith Etherington-Smith's
dining room table in London is an example of such beauty.  She herself is a lifelong collector of beautiful china.
Set with Style, by Caroline Clifton-Mogg

Her London dining room again.  So beautifully English.

China close-up.

Blue and white china - always a favorite.  Here we see part of Tasha Tudor's collection.  (From Heirloom Crafts by Tasha Tudor and Tovah Martin)  Why do we women love our china so much?  Look at Ethrington-Smith's collection above, look at Ann Wyeth McCoy's collection from an earlier post.  Could it all stem from our early tea parties?

More blue and white. (

Williams Sonoma's book, Entertaining (with these photos by Quentin Bacon), even instructs us how to make tea in blue and white.

Tricia Foley writes an entire book about Having Tea. It's a delightful book from which I chose the following images.  Only some of the china is blue and white, but that's OK.

In England.

In Set in Style, Clifton-Mogg devotes several pages to Tricia Foley's Long island home and her teas there.  While I will discuss Foley in later postings - my white period, her love of tea seems appropriate here.  Foley writes, "I usually serve three pots of tea - one black, one green, and then an infusion of some description.  There are usually cucumber sandwiches, Cheddar with chutney, and one with herbs and garden sprigs.  The bread is really thin -- sometimes there is shortbread too.  Yes, I make it an occasion -- I think if you ask people to tea, you should do it properly."  Wow!  At my house you get tea and cookies, but in my Long Island fantasy house I'd serve everything else.

See, she serves cookies too.

I love her style and I know she's American, not English.  But, her tea aesthetic is so English.

Lastly, wouldn't you love to join me for tea in this very pretty English garden?

I may have gotten a bit carried away in this posting.  As I warmed to my topic and revisited all these fabulous books, it was fun for me, like seeing old friends.  If you like tea, these books are delightful.  Heck, even if you don't like tea, they're great "tablescape" inspiration.  

More to the point, dear reader, do you think tea is an English design aesthetic?  I think so.  Or, maybe I just enjoyed too many tea parties as a child.
Till next time,


  1. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Extraordinary post! Fabulous!! I do have a few books of Caroline Clifton-Mogg. I adore her view towards the English aesthetic!
    I filed lots of your images Billie! Thank you again for such a wonderful post!!

  2. Hi Billie - Yet another lovely post from you!! You must come over for tea one day!! While I take coffee, tea is my true passion! I always take mine black ;-) Definitely a major part of English culture, daily life, and design aesthetic. Whenever I visit England, I always stash a few tins in my luggage.

    And, how did you know I worship Ms. Foley? Perhaps all the white? The Wedgwood china?

    Have a great weekend!!