I understand when Stella Tennant says: I’ve been itching to return to making, and now I’m doing it. I’ve been working on projects, mainly renovating houses, and that’s been my outlet. It’s really exciting to focus on this now. ‘This now’ is a collection with her sister Issy. There is a craftsman’s satisfaction of working with your hands, an intellectual and creative buzz of following your inspiration through to the ‘hard graft’ of the studio culminating in a complete collection formed around your personal vision.
This Tennant vision is inspired by their surroundings, the beauty of our countryside, the legacy of fine architecture and the glories of native decorative arts and natural history. It’s quintessentially British: quirky and charming, pure and authentic, grand and decoratively beautiful. All together.
The Tennants possess a gilded lineage: descendants of the Mitfords, Tennants and Devonshires: They are rooted into an aristocratic heartland and ‘tastemaker’ genes, growing up in the Scottish borders Chatsworth and Wilsford Manor were their holiday playgrounds and are etched into their imagination and design DNA. Did you know Chatsworth windows are gilded on the outside?
Issy studied the Decorative Arts becoming a gilder: I love the process, that it has never changed since it began. If you go around Renaissance and Byzantine churches it is all the same. For the last 30 years she has pursued this ancient craft, including these magic frames for Marianna Kennedy’s complex fairytale mirrors.
It was Stella (who studied sculpture at Winchester College of Art) who sparked their collection, seeing the 3D possibilities of gilt and getting Issy off the wall as she jokes. Ready to have a look? reviewers have cited ‘alchemy ‘ and called it a ‘curio cabinet‘, yeah, my kind of collection this! I love how they have opened up about their creative process and sources of inspiration:
Top left: Issy’s beautiful fireplace at home curated with personal treasures: her ‘F is for ferocious foot’ cast, the natural coral and gilded beauty, Top middle and right: Items from the collection including wall art and lamps, the decorative beetles? inspired by their childhood nursery reading A Book of Beetles still at hand in the studio and surely those AMAZING jewelled brooches inherited from Debo? bottom, far left, note to reader, scatter liberally over tweed, cashmere or blazer for full effect. Bottom right: Tools of the gilding trade Bottom middle: Butterfly mirror over a cast bronze hawthorn console with raw-edged marble top. This particular branch was found by Stella scouring the woods near her home for weeks and purchased by the current Duke of Devonshire, their uncle, for Chatsworth.
Which seems fitting as the Chatsworth Attic Sale sent their pulses racing, they snapped up delicate flower carvings, gilded and gessoing them into 21st Century Collectables in the studio.
What captures my heart in this project is not Stella’s model status, a family of aristos and legends, but how grounded in heartfelt beauty this project is: I think Stella, Issy, Mum, Granny (Debo) understand living well, feeding the soul: they are gardeners and artists, homemakers and life enhancers: this is a true legacy, a country and cultural heritage rooted in family life. Issy and Stella grew up on a hill farm with a mother who was born with a trowl in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, Emma Tennant, a botanical artist and gardener.It must feel natural to work in a studio like your Mother, get your hands dirty, before putting your chickens to bed and (possibly) harvesting the vegetables for family supper. Although I think I’d need a bit of Paris thrown in a la Stella.
Mother and daughters live in the borders and the life they have carved out and committed too is gilded: large families, warm hospitality, creative work in beautiful natural surroundings in touch with the seasons and the heartbeat of hearth and home.
Oh and those interiors? the ones that have been Stella’s outlet, photographed by Francois Halard they are timeless, quintessentially British and show you the way home to bucolic border bliss, where the heart is.
Click into the images and where possible the source is referenced. For some of the gallery pages with multiple images this is not possible, below are a list of articles/book consulted.
Want to know about how gilding is done? check out the House and Garden article.
Fallen for the Borders? check out Bruce Webber’s photoshoot for Vogue Italia, celebrating family, friendship and border life.