Tete a Tat With Jane Ormsby Gore
8th September 2023
As you know, Tete a Tat is predominantly a vehicle for me to pester those I admire. It is a terrific Trojan Horse. I pretend it's an interview, but the truth is, I really just want to know whether the people I respect happen to believe in star signs or like surprises. Never truer than this month's interviewee, Jane Ormsby-Gore. I have been a fan of JR Designs since I started at House & Garden. I vividly remember seeing her Welsh home in the New York Times. It embodied everything I adored about English design. A haphazard harmony that comes with collected, well-used interiors. I constantly revisit that project and each time I pick up on something new that had previously eluded my eye. I am not the only one who feels this way; the writer of the New York Times article Andrew O'Hagan asked Jane to decorate his London house, and as he cites in the House & Garden: “I just had to have her come to see our place, and we started working together almost right away. I love her sense of how to make a space different from anything else. She's a true bohemian – a one-off, and a distinctive genius about colour and atmosphere.”
Jane Ormsby-Gore's life is one that few of us could comprehend. Her father was Lord Harlech, the British ambassador to the United States during the Kennedy Presidency. They lived a life where scientists, diplomats and philosophers would come to dinner, and as Jane reminisces in the New York Times article, "we weren't allowed into the dining room until we were 13. And my father's great tip was that we should ask these people about their lives. Talking about school was banned."
As she grew up, she, like many others, was drawn to the Capital to take part in the swinging sixties. A fan of Rock & Roll, she hung out with some of the most fantastic names in history. It is said that she is the inspiration behind the song, 'Lady Jane' by the Rolling Stones. Her partner, Michael Rainey, opened the boutique ‘Hung on You’ in 1964, well-known for its flowery shirts, kipper and ties in vibrant colours. The clientele was a who’s who of the sixties rock scene, including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Kinks.
Around this time, Jane was working with the antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs at his shop in Camden Passage. In the 2013 article in The World of Interiors, he said of Jane that “her ingrained sense of elegance was there already, and her delight in lovely, the strange and the simple has remained with her. She was always a master at arranging the ragbag of wonders that flowed into the shop in fresh and surprising harmonies. And also at dealing with customers from Lucian Freud to Lady Dartmouth”.
After ‘Hung on You’ closed, Jane and Michael travelled the Mediterranean. On their return they setup shop in her home town, Oswestry, selling rugs, hardware and kitchen paraphernalia. After a brief sojourn as Design Director at Laura Ashley (before it changed course) she went on to work with her friend and legendary interior designer, David Mlinaric. He describes in the same article how “Jane's gift is very rare. You can teach people interior design, but there is an elusive and magic ingredient which is inherent in only a few people I have ever come across - and she has it”.
In 1998, Jane set up JR Designs. Since then they have tackled an array of projects, from opulent residences and historical landmarks, to hotels and commercial spaces. Her versatility as a designer is evident in her ability to adapt her style to suit her client's unique needs and personalities, resulting in memorable, personal and elegant spaces. As ever, I am so delighted that Jane took time out of her busy life to answer these dopey questions.
Ground floor, 5-7 Vernon Yard, Portobello Road, London, W11 2DX
In the Welsh hills
Top Destination in the UK?
Holker in Cumbria.
What is the best gift you have been given?
A needlework hanging given to me by Christopher Gibbs.
What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
‘Rebel Without a Cause’ with James Dean
Do you like surprises?
Yes, if they are joyful.
Do you believe in Star Signs?
I do, I think it does indicate people’s personalities.
Any good advice? Who gave it to you? ‘
Be prepared for the worst, hope for the best, and take what comes’ said to me by the writer Richard Hughes.
If you could be a fly on the wall, where would you land?
The Alhambra in Granada in the Moorish times.
List two pet peeves?
Chesterfield sofa’s and polyester pillows and cushions.
What would your autobiography be called?