Sunday 7 August 2011

In spiral carpet

There is something rather magical about a spiral staircase.  Perhaps it stems from a childhood fairytale memory: steep, enclosed stairs winding round inside an enchanted tower, leading to a high, mysterious room with one small window.  Look out of this and, through wispy clouds, there will be an amazing view of deep woods inhabited by unicorns.  Maybe I’m getting a bit whimsical here…

Dreams of ever fitting one inside my real home are banished by the knowledge that it’d probably be a pain to use on a regular basis.  I imagine the difficulty of carrying anything up or down, or vacuuming those awkward steps.  Mind you, if I ever had to get a stairlift fitted, it could be fun - like a helter skelter in slo-mo, or even reverse  - although perhaps likely to bring on a few dizzy spells.  But, still, every time I see a spiral staircase (which is less frequently than I’d like) I get a tiny flicker of excitement, a kind of internal “oooh!” and a very strong desire to climb it.

One spiral staircase I did indeed ascend, and descend, several times, was this one:

I bought this postcard (of a fabulous photograph by Sharon Kusunoki) in the early ‘90s when I spent a week at West Dean College in West Sussex.  West Dean, where you'll find the spiral staircase pictured, is devoted to courses and workshops in the arts and crafts, but it’s not just all the creativity which goes on inside this stately home which is fascinating.  It is a like a mixture of museum, curiosity shop and art gallery inside too - crammed full of unusual artifacts ranging from a stuffed giraffe to one of Dali’s original Mae West lips sofas.  Everywhere you look something catches your eye.  All these weird and wonderful items were collected by West Dean’s previous owner, Edward James. 

Edward James was a poet and ardent supporter of Surrealist art.  He was friends with Dali and Magritte, and his vast array included works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Hieronymus Bosch and Max Ernst.

The thing I love about this spiral staircase though (aside from the Alice In Wonderland feel of the décor on walls and pillar), is the carpet.  Apparently one day Edward’s wife (dancer, actress and painter Tilly Losch) stepped out of the bath and left a trail of wet footprints on the stairs.  Now I do this frequently but as yet nobody has rewarded me with a gesture of undying love for doing so, which is what Edward did for Tilly.  Inspired by those wet footprints, he commissioned their pattern to be woven into the carpet.  It’s just a shame that the marriage didn’t last as long as the flooring…  

And it’s also a shame you can’t buy anything quite like this in Allied.


  1. Interesting post. Hadn't heard of Edward James but I like his carpet!

    Spiral Staircases seem so Sixties somehow don't they? I know someone that has one (or two) and they do have their drawbacks. But the helterskelter chairlift is a great idea.

  2. Thanks, A. Yes they do seem very sixties for some reason, like those chairs that were suspended from the ceiling - they never caught on though, did they? (Would also be fun to slide down the bannister of a spiral staircase...)

  3. That wallpaper is suspiciously similar to the background of this blog...

  4. Oh yeah - that's quite strange... I never noticed before!


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