Our dear friend Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, invented the phrase “shabby chic”. Her flat on Brompton Square epitomised the look. She told us, “’Chic’ is simply style used with an élan that has a social or intellectual overtone.” What about ‘shabby’? “Apart from its obvious aesthetic appeal, shabbiness is the only defence and bastion against ostentation and misspent money. For architecture and interiors to have arrived at a shabby state usually implies that the things were of good quality and built to last back in their heyday. It doesn’t matter a fig if they are scuffed, worn, or out of fashion. It’s the traces of the haphazardness of living that bring things to life and give them reality, and reality is what shabby chic is all about!”
If there’s a town that sums up shabby chic, it’s Margate. Now that we are all working from home, experiencing the return of cottage industries, Margate will likely become more gentrified with an influx of Londoners wanting rooms with views – less shabbiness more chicness. Not necessarily a good thing – there’s a lot of charm in the resort’s peeling paint and overgrown hedgerows. And nowhere more so than the Winter Gardens above Fort Lower Promenade. The Winter Gardens are a bit bonkers, like Min (if in doubt check out Ms Hogg’s mischievous after hours appearance in Rupert Everett’s autobiography!). The Listers praise the Winter Gardens as “an example of a rare seaside entertainment building type. Its form, with a semicircular amphitheatre is unique. It is the only known example of a winter garden constructed within a chalk cliff.”
Built in 1911 to the design of the Borough Surveyor of Margate, Ernest Borg, the roughly shell shaped amphitheatre (later roofed over) is symmetrically hugged on either side by the grassy slopes of Fort Green and overlooked by Fort Crescent and Fort Paragon. The style is Mykonos-on-Sea. Variety and vaudeville, Dame Nellie Melba and Anna Pavlova, the Winter Gardens have had them all. Holidaying in Margate? It was the best of times, then things got even better. It was our season of sunshine, it was our summer of hope. Although Marilynne Robinson does warn in The Death of Adam, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment. The present is elusive for the same reasons as is the past.”
“It’s sort of feeble really,” says Min Hogg. “Open the property section of any newspaper and you’ll see page after page of boring beige interiors. I blame technology. People just want to switch on this and that but can’t be bothered to look at things like furniture and paintings.” Her own flat is neither boring nor beige. Quite the opposite. It’s brimming with antiques and art and personality. And magazines. “The red bound copies on my shelves are from when I was Editor. The loose copies in boxes are all the subsequent issues.” Min was, of course, founding Editor of the highly influential magazine The World of Interiors.
“My mum would have made a brilliant Editor but she was awfully lazy,” confides Min. “She always made our houses really nice without any training, none of that, she just did it. She was a great decorator. You bet! So was my grandmother.” Min’s first plum role was as Fashion Editor of Harpers and Queen. Anna Wintour, who would later famously edit American Vogue, was her assistant. “We hated each other!” Min recalls, her sapphire blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “I was taken on by Harpers and Queen over her. She really knew I wasn’t as utterly dedicated to fashion as she was. By no means!” Nevertheless, Anna was the first to leave.
Thank goodness then for an ad in The Times for “Editor of an international arts magazine” which Min retrieved from her bin. She applied and the rest is publishing history. The World of Interiors was a roaring success from day one, year 1981. “I submitted a three line CV,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to bore Kevin Kelly the publisher with A Levels and so on!” It didn’t stop her being selected out of 70 candidates. “I sort of knew I’d got the job. I ended up having dinner with his wife and him that night. I think probably of all the people who applied, I was already such friends with millions of decorators. Just friends, not that I was doing them any good or anything, I just knew them because we were likeminded.”
“Come and have a look at the view from the kitchen, it’s really good,” says Min stopping momentarily. “It’s like living opposite the Vatican,” pointing to the plump dome of Brompton Oratory. Back in her sitting room, the view is of treetops over a garden square, a plumped up cushion’s throw from Harrods. As for choosing an interior to publish, “If I liked it, I’d do it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t! I came to the job with this huge backlog of interior ideas. We never finished using them all. I’m blessed with a jolly broad spectrum of vision, and as you can see, although I’m not a modernist I can appreciate modernism when it’s good. I don’t like Art Nouveau either but I can get the point of a really good example of anything.”
Appropriately Min’s top floor which she bought in 1975 looks like a spread from The World of Interiors. “I don’t decorate, I just put things together. I’m a collector,” she confesses. Eclectically elegant, somehow everything fits together just so. “John Fowler was an innovator. He was frightfully clever.” So is Min. She laments the disappearance of antique shops. And junk shops. “London used to be stuffed with junk shops. Now it’s seaside towns like Bridport and Margate that have all the antique shops. There’s nothing left in London. Just the few grand ones.” Interiors may be her “addiction” but Min is interested in all art forms. She’s been an active member of the Irish Georgian Society ever since it was founded by her friends Desmond and Mariga Guinness. “I love the plasterwork of Irish country houses,” she relates, “Castletown’s a favourite.”
“Mike Tighe, the former Art Director of The World of Interiors, joined me,” she explains. “For me it was a physical thing, cutting out paper patterns by hand. Mike did all the computer work. I learnt to do a repeat and everything else. It’s funny how you can learn something if you’re interested. By pure luck the finished result looks like hand blocked wallpaper. If someone gives us a colour we can match it. I like changing the scale too from teeny to enormous.” It’s a versatile collection, printed on the finest papers, cottons, linens and velvets. Prominent American interior designers like Stephen Sills love it. The collection may be found in a world of interiors from a Hawaiian villa to a St Petersburg palace. But not in any boring beige homes.