We have renamed the Gatehouse bedroom in which Lady Thatcher and Sir Denis once slept at Upton Cressett in her honour
Following the death of Baroness Thatcher, the Daily Mail reported last week how we have renamed the Gatehouse bedroom in which Lady Thatcher and Sir Denis once slept at Upton Cressett in her honour.
The former PM spent two days at the house in September 1995 as private guests of my father, Bill Cash MP. The renaming of the bedroom as the 'Thatcher Suite' has resulted in a social downgrade at Upton Cressett for it had been the Prince Rupert Bedroom, named after the nephew of Charles I and commander of the Royal troops in the Civil War who had stayed there before the Battle of Bridgnorth in 1646.
But it is not just the bedroom that has been given a prime ministerial makeover – along with the walls now being upholstered in new deep Venetian red 'Arden' velvet, in a 16th century design by Melissa White depicting medieval hunting scenes. Melissa operates from a small studio in Sussex and is a celebrated textile designer – specialising in late Elizabethan patterns.
The Master Bedroom in the Hall at Upton Cressett has a large linen hanging cloth by Melissa – commissioned for Upton Cressett before she was 'discovered' by Zoffany a few years ago – and I think it is only fitting that the Lady Thatcher suite is decorated with Venetian velvet 16th century designs – as very much favoured by Elizabeth I herself – by one of Britain's leading female artisans.
So that's the Thatcher Suite walls and side-tables. But what about the bed itself? And most importantly, what about the bed linen? When you give a historic bedroom with 16th century ornamental plasterwork a new name, you also have to give the entire room new life – and the holy grail of any guest room these days is the quality of your bed sheets.
In the Thatcher Bedroom, I thought the new sheets and linen had to somehow reflect the Thatcher legacy. Ideally, they needed to be trimmed in navy blue and express the fastidious housekeeping standards for which Lady Thatcher was known.
In the Thatcher Bedroom’s case this meant a quest for the perfect sheets (and matching duvet) to do justice to Lady Thatcher’s famous housekeeping standards – the old worn plain cotton sheets and duvet from the White Company (now years old) were not going to pass muster. I needed a new set of the very highest quality linen for the bedroom if it was going to do justice to the formidable political housekeeper after whom the bedroom is now named.
Knowing Lady Thatcher’s trenchant views on manufacturing quality – Britain’s first female prime minister was, after all, the daughter of a shop-keeper from Grantham – it was never going to be appropriate to choose any linens from such chic Italian or French luxury houses as Frette or Hermes – or Germany for that matter. Lady Thatcher may have died in a suite at the Ritz, but it was at least the London Ritz.
Yes, it’s true Frette – the super-expensive Italian linen house that has been around since 1860 – do admittedly do a very nice set of bed linen that is edged in a very Thatcher-esque mid-satin blue (the colour of many of her favourite suits) but somehow I just don’t see a Thatcher Bedroom being ‘correct’ if the bedroom guide notes state that the sheets on the Thatcher Bed are from the Taormina Baglio Bordo line of Frette, as available from Harrods.
It would be like Madame Tussauds issuing a press release saying they had just done a new model of Baroness Thatcher, only instead of her brandishing one of her famous classic British hand bags from Launer (the same brand as favoured by the Queen), they had her carrying a ‘tote bag’ from the luxury Argentinian handbag maker Prune.
No. That would not do. So I embarked on The Quest for the Perfect Linen for the Thatcher Bedroom and it took me several weeks before I was happy with what I found.
The perfect set of bed linen I have found for the Thatcher Bedroom is trimmed in a dark navy blue and can be bought in a small luxury bed linen shop near World’s End on the New King’s Road called Josephine Home. The set I selected are called the Classic 500 Thread and are made from 100 per cent Egyptian satin cotton. The smart navy blue trim was the obvious choice – but they also come in other colours.
Despite being ‘only’ a 500 thread they feel more luxurious and softer than any of the higher thread count linen being sold by other brands, including the White Company and even Peter Reed, who holds the Royal Warrant for supplying bed linen to Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and all the royal residences.
Since Josephine Home already provide the Mandarin Oriental and the Soho House group with their sheets – along with many other hotels/clubs in the world and various oligarch bedrooms and luxury yachts – I am guessing it is only a matter of time before boutique brand Josephine Home, the international luxury addict connoisseur's choice for bed linen, are given Royal approval.
In the end, the Battle of the Bedsheets came down to a choice between Josephine Home and Peter Reed – who can be bought from Peter Jones. Reed has been manufacturing sheets in Lancashire since 1861 – the same date that Frette was founded – and in many ways the brand likes to position itself as the Frette of British bed linen.
But the Peter Reed brand has suffered badly over the years and there is little doubt that the quality is not as good – does not have the drive for perfection – as Josephine Home, which is run by former Lehman banker Stephanie Betts and her husband Martin Betts.
Their office is not some flashy office near Bond Street but rather a basement below the shop on the new King's Road, with piles of glorious cashmeres and throws and more beautiful sheets than Gatsby had beautiful shirts in his closet.
The vision behind Josephine Home is that of Stephanie, an elegant French former banker and lawyer who started the business after having her first child and wanting to set up home near Henley on Thames – but not being able to find sheets or bedroom accessories or 'special things ' that matched the quality and style of her grandmother Josephine's old house in Paris. Hence Josephine Home.
'She lived in the most inviting home I have ever known,' says Stephanie, who is always dressed immaculately. 'She had the most wonderfully comfy beds, which gave me the sense of being not just expected, but more importantly, cosseted and loved. In that, she was the ultimate hostess.’
Stephanie travels around Europe sourcing only the very finest artisans and craftspeople for Josephine Home (certainly not from China, as some 'luxury' linen mail-order luxury behemoths now do to keep up with the volume of their orders).
Stephanie's shop on the King's Road is an extension of her Henley home and her private self. It is all about comfort, colour and what the French like to call the Art of Life. Nothing about Josephine Home could be further removed from the glossy alpha glass and steel world of her former life at Lehman Brothers with its soulless meeting rooms, boardroom tables the size of swimming pools and hard leather and chrome chairs. Now she has quit banking for bed linen, Stephanie gets inspiration for each new collection's mood boards from sitting in the garden at her house near Henley and creatively absorbing the seasons around her.
'Frost or dew, sunshine and shade—I find inspiration all around me. I like to focus on the simple but often forgotten, homeware products which we use every day, and which I knew from my childhood growing up in France.’
But a warning. I've never heard of support groups for people obsessed with buying the most beautiful sheets, cushions, throws and pillow cases – a new line of silk pyjamas inspired by the works of David Hockney has recently been launched – but I wouldn't be surprised to hear of a new “LL” (Luxury Linen) category of addict being treated at the Priory.
As Stephanie says: 'The experience of genuine quality becomes addictive.’ Having now experienced the Josephine Home sheets in the Thatcher Bedroom I think each tissue wrapped set of sheets should definitely contain a warning card inside to the effect that sleeping in Jospehine Home sheets can seriously damage one's ability to sleep in anything less.