My first memory of my mother, Liz Elliot, she was of her wearing a large black bow in a low-slung ponytail. She was standing on the landing about to set off for work. At the time she was working for Private Eye magazine, she was the Girl Friday who also wrote the ‘Sally Deedes’ column and loved it there. Fleet Street in the 80’s was the male-dominated environment. In an article written by Jefferey Bernard in 1984 Low Life column from The Spectator, he writes, "Sadly, I know only three equal women, Irma Kurtz, Sally Vincent and Hazel Evans, all of whom generously stand their round. Oh yes, and my landlady and Liz Elliot at Private Eye." As proud I am to hear my mother was never tardy with her paying for her rounds, I can see why she thought that it might be time for a change.
The move was made, and she ended up at Tatler in the early nineties. Although a magazine of great history it was not one of her happier times. My mother used to recall one of her colleagues saying, ‘I am going to throw some chintz around my neck and march up and down the fourth floor (the home of House & Garden) until someone gives me a job’.
Thankfully she left the chintz at home, but she did manage to secure a position at House & Garden. I learned from Sue Crewe, that this was down to a mutual friend of theirs, ‘Almost as soon as I became editor of H & G, Christopher Silvester told me that the one person I needed on the magazine was this person called Liz Elliot. For some time, I didn’t do anything about it, but he kept nagging me to call her because, as he insisted, she had style and taste and discernment - all the things that a good publication needed.
'Finally, I got in touch and went to see her at home and immediately realised that here indeed was someone who had an ‘eye’. Not only that but she would be great fun to work with. What Liz has is an ability to filter out the pretentious and derivative in design and ferret out things that have integrity and creativity; be it a simple chair or a grand drawing room. When she goes on a house shoot, the pictures of the places make them look at their best but also lived-in - as if the owners have just popped out. The fires crackle, the flowers are fresh, a book lies open.
Combined with Liz’s talent is her capacity to follow up leads and search out new designers; not to mention a terrific work ethic. She’ll undertake long journeys and long days, sometimes finding beds unmade and kitchens in a mess which she’ll transform. Photographers love her, owners and subjects of ‘Lifestyle’ features love her, her colleagues love her. She’s a wonderful and generous friend and the best person in the world to go clothes shopping with.’
These three paragraphs, which incidentally brought a tear to my eye, showed me exactly why I wanted to write this piece. Since I started my career, I have been in the interiors industry with a brief hiatus where I decided to work for a charity. But apart from that, I have been lucky enough to say that I am 'Liz Elliot's daughter', a calling card that has not only opened doors but arms. I am regularly hugged.
The first time I met David Nicholls, Features Director at House & Garden, I was working on a stand at the Milan Furniture Fair, and we hugged. He had only just started at H&G at the time, and he said how lovely she had been to him. Which to anyone who knows me, knows this is the sure-fire way to my heart.
Saying that, one cannot ignore her steely determination when it comes to getting her point across. She is absolute in her aesthetic opinion, she understands when things are good but not to her taste, but she will not suffer bland and boring interiors. Her hatred for the Candy Brothers and all that they brought to the interiors was quite severe. At the mention of their name, you would see her eyes role; she would heavily breathe in and then start a biting soliloquy regardless of who was present. I believe this to be born of having to go around many a banker’s house where she would see thousands upon thousands of pounds spent on silver fabric, spot paintings & diamante embellished cushions. It would seem that the interiors world has nicely manoeuvred their way through this decade, so she is slightly less fierce, but still, there are certain designers whose names will turn her into an rather outspoken ice queen. Something to behold, if you do get the chance.
I believe the best cut - of people have an intense passion. Whether it’s for politics, food or interiors, it helps them maintain a degree of enthusiasm for their chosen field of work. All those around her firmly feel that passion and rigour in Liz. In excitement, I have shown her a piece of newly purchased Tat and her face says it all, and you retreat, feeling a bit disheartened.
Finding houses requires discernment and also unwavering determination to acquire exactly what the magazine needs. No example is more apparent than with one of House & Garden’s best-recognised features, the interior designer Caroline Holdaway’s cottage in the Cotswolds, ‘Liz simply waltzed into my life, persuasive, beady-eyed and with an air of absolute certainty. My Scandinavian sheepskin rugs were unceremoniously whisked off my sofas, and with her flashes of genius she turned our little cottage into an icon.’
Writing this small article has been a great delight to me, having ended up in the interiors world my mother has long been my go-to. She has been the person I continually want to impress with a find, an idea or merely a picture she has yet to see. Writing this I wanted her to know how important not only I find her opinion but those who know far more than I, those whose ‘eyes’ are refined and their praise not to be taken lightly,
Caroline Holdaway, ‘I hope she continues to waft, to inquire, to amuse, to improve everything she touches and that she continues to keep convincing people that they have done the right thing, forever.’
Paul Massey (Photographer), ‘On every shoot she marries her keen journalistic mind with a uniquely honed, sophisticated sense of style. She gives her photographers room to explore and express, is a great travelling companion and bloody funny too. Thanks to her generosity, kindness and rapier wit, she has become a much-respected colleague and dear friend. Long may she reign.’
And finally, Robert Kime, whose first hunting lodge was the reason my mother set her heart on interior design. ‘When I found out you were doing this article I was very pleased because she is always the one to help other people and push others, but she has got to remember she brings it all together, she gets the show going’. He
did also mention that he hadn’t seen her since she had persuaded him to let House & Garden feature his flat (House & Garden October Issue 2018), we both agreed she was a bit of a hussy.
Holding Photograph Taken by Paul Massey.
Photographs from top: a picture of my mother, my sister and me.
Sue Crewe's Flat, Featured in House & Garden, Photographer: Simon Brown, Locations Editor: Liz Elliot.
Caroline Holdaway's Cottage, Featured in House & Garden, Photographer: Simon Brown, Locations Editor: Liz Elliot.
Alastair Hendy's shop in Hastings, Featured in House & Garden, Photographer: Paul Massey, Locations Editor: Liz Elliot.
Robert Kime's London Flat, Featured in House & Garden, Photographer: Simon Upton, Locations Editor: Liz Elliot.