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In northwest England, wallpaper designer Mia Reay ushers in a vivid new era of creativity, mixing exuberant patterns with heirloom grandeur.

Among the undulating fells of northern Lancashire, sheep grazing peacefully all around, sits Whittington Hall, the castellated Jacobean style home of the 15th Lord Reay (pronounced “Ray”), Aeneas, and Lady Reay, Mia. Surrounded by extensive formal gardens, parkland, and orchards of damson and apple trees, the house overlooks the spectacular Lune valley and lies at the heart of its sporting estate, comprising fishing, shooting, woodlands, and dairy.

It was designed by George Webster, the prolific English architect based in Kendal in the first half of the 19th century—a period often referred to as the golden age of the English country house—and displays all his usual hallmarks: a grand imposing structure; informal turrets and chimneys; and long, tall windows to maximize light.

After Aeneas’s father bought the home in 1997, his stepmother, Victoria, and English antiques dealer Piers von Westenholz (who’s decorated for royalty) worked together to redecorate the interiors, creating a charming, quintessentially English feel. In 2013, when the couple inherited the property, it needed refreshing. Aeneas’s family is of Scottish and Dutch descent, and Lord Reay historically holds the title of chief of Clan Mackay, the family name. Mia, who was born in Finland, settled in the U.K. after attending Cambridge University.

This cocktail of cultures has informed the way the couple and their three children live at Whittington. “In terms of the decoration, I didn’t want to change the feel of the house,” explains Mia. “I wanted to add touches, subtle additions that felt as though they’d always been there. I love the look and feel of hand-painted wallpapers, but they are expensive and I couldn’t find anything I absolutely loved. I had painted since childhood, so I decided to create my own. Friends loved them and I started producing them.”

Guided by the knowledgeable decorative painter Graham Carr—and taking as inspiration the beauty of nature, historic and contemporary design, and random fragments of antique textiles and ceramics—Mia produced her first collection in 2023 using all UK-made and ethically sourced materials.

Rooted in country house tradition, her handpainted designs combine timeless grandeur with a fresh perspective. “On parchment-like paper panels, I use ‘broken colors,’ meaning each is a mixture of several shades,” continues Mia. For her Drottningholm Tree pattern, for instance, she mixed dashes of umber, sienna, and black into a white base to achieve just the right shade of brown for the stems. “These layers add softness, patina, and depth. No patterns match perfectly and this brings an old-fashioned charm.”

Weaving her creations into the home’s existing decoration has brought a sunny gaiety to the already elegant interiors. Bukhara, her adaptation of an antique Uzbek suzani needlework, now hangs in the kitchen hall, a subtle burst of salmon pink and turquoise lilies among the walking sticks, hats, fishing rods, and dog bowls. A 17th-century Persian plate inspired her Utopia pattern, alive with flowering vines and emerald birds, covering the library; it matches exactly, quite by chance, the existing Colefax and Fowler curtains. In a guest bedroom, her garnet red Queen’s Necklace design reimagines an 18th-century indigo textile fragment believed to be produced during a Marie- Antoinette jewelry scandal.

Throughout the house Mia has rearranged furniture and rehung pictures and miniatures, particularly in the drawing room, where a creamy white wall shade, new sofa cushions in an abstract red motif by Penny Morrison, and antique Uzbek ikat suzanis all play engagingly with the deliciously faded Colefax and Fowler chintz on the Howard & Sons sofas and armchairs. Below the Highland antlers and the Dutch ancestral portraits in the Green Hall, the room the family uses every day, the once somber dark green paneling with its Lancastrian rose carvings has been refreshed in Farrow & Ball’s cheerful Pea Green. This new shade, alongside existing Pierre Frey curtains, has proved a compelling combination, adding a lightness of spirit. In contrast the dining room epitomizes harmonious restraint, with its newly painted warm white walls and existing pleated silk striped curtains.

“The most important thing for me is timelessness,” explains Mia. “If I see a trend, I do the opposite. John Fowler never followed fashion, and his decoration looks so relevant today. Modern or traditional, if something is beautiful, it will always be beautiful; that is my motto.”

Veranda Magazine, March/April 2024
Veranda Magazine