COTE DE TEXAS

The Mystery of the Yellow Sofa

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The previous story on Ben Pentreath showcased his Dorset country house, The Old Parsonage, decorated in his charming English style.  I daresay (I’m writing like a Brit now!) the most impressive piece in that house is without a doubt the yellow sofa.  It’s just so different than anything we typically see here in America.  Take a second look:

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Ben’s sofa is a knockout.  He obviously knows it too:

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The sofa called “The Katzsic” made the cover of his first book.

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Busted!   We can see where Ben Pentreath might have gotten his inspiration for his Old Parsonage’s sitting room – from the first Prince of English Design, John Fowler.  Notice the similarities between the two sitting rooms:  the dusty, matte pink walls, the yellow sofa, the small accent table, touches of green, piles of pillows, area rugs, clutter, books,  and masses of wild flowers.
But, where did the yellow sofa come from?

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Was this the first time the world saw this sofa?  Way back in 2008, the popular web site, The Selby, photographed the Soho apartment (!) of co-ed Chase Cohl, then a student and budding singer/songwriter and chapeau designer.   How she could afford the sofa that starts at $7,500 BEFORE fabric costs?  But it’s not a Katzsic. The legs aren’t painted.  Actually, it’s from Anthropologie.
Hmmm.

Did the Katzsic designer see the Anthropologie sofa, called the Ditte, and use it as an inspiration?  Perhaps.  The Selby is a very popular web site but so is Anthropologie.   It is strange that these two sofas look so much alike – down to the yellow linen.  Yellow linen?   Why yellow linen?

And then there was this other VERY popular book cover in 2009:

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Michael Smith’s book cover shows his own library in Los Angeles with the Katzsic sofa.  This IS an original Katzsic.

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The authentic Katzsic sofa was designed by England’s Max Rollitt.  He based the sofa on a   1790 antique he bought at a manor house in Lancashire.  His sofa has a solid beech frame, with mortise & tenon joints, painted legs with square cup casters and leather wheels.  No detail is left to chance and its hefty price reflects this.

I’ve never sat in one (nor seen one!) but I can only assume it’s much more comfortable than its inspirational antique.   It is without a doubt, gorgeous.

While we know that Max Rollitt designed the Katzsic sofa, who designed the Anthropologie version with the same yellow linen?   Was Anthropologie’s Ditte inspired by the Katzsic or vice versa? 


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Rare English Sheraton Circa: 1815. 

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Georgian, 18th century sofa, with one major difference – there are stretchers between the front and back legs.


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The George III sofa from 1790 – looks almost exactly the same as the Katzsic except for the sloping arms.

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Max Rollitt decorated this showroom for the Royal Institute of British Architects – and used his sofa where it received much attention.


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Another yellow sofa owner, popular British Vogue Editor Pippa Holt, showed off her Katzsic sofa in two publications last year.

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Exactly who IS Max Rollitt?  His name isn’t as well known in America as it is in England, but it will be.

The man behind the yellow sofa,  is a tall, lanky Englishman, whose 6’ 4” frame barely fits into the old low ceiling cottages and vicarages he typically decorates.


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Rollitt is a trifecta of design:   a decorator, an antiques dealer, and a furniture maker.


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The Katzsic sofa has become the iconic symbol of Max Rollitt’s busy design business and what he is most known for as these previous interiors he designed show.


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The Max Rollitt showroom is off the beaten tract, to say the least.  It is located across this country lane from his house, in the middle of nowhere.  Literally.  His lives in tiny Alresford in Hampshire, in the modest and very charming 18th century brick and flint farmhouse seen above.

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Max and his wife and 3 sons bought the 10 acres of land that the house sits on, above, and then bought the farm buildings across the street.  Last year he moved his showroom there.  You have to know where you are going to visit the shop.   It doesn’t happen by accident and this set up is reminiscent of how Robert Kime runs his own design business.


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The old dairy across the lane was converted for Max’s wife Jane Watson who practices the Feldenkrais Method – a posture based therapy.


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Max got his start in the design business in 1993.    He says he looks at thousands of antiques every week, but buys three at most. His selection is highly edited.   Beauty, purity of design and authenticity are the three things that he looks for in a piece.
His mother owned a popular antique shop in Winchester and after college and a stint at a furniture shop, Max went to work with his mother.   He started selling at antique exhibitions where the sales were fantastic.  He realized he was selling to big-named designers – including notables such as Michael Smith and Axel Vervoordt.  His eye is influenced by Christopher Gibbs, David Hicks and Robert Kime.
Here are a few other pieces of furniture that Max Rollitt has designed that I particularly like:


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The Sargeant.   The settee version of the Katzsic sofa designed by Rollitt.

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Another beauty that Rollitt has designed is the Uppark based on an original sofa from Uppark House that is now on view at the National Trust Uppark House Museum HERE.   These white legs also come in stained wood.

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The original Lancaster Georgian III sofa at Uppark. 


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Corner chairs by Rollitt – that fit together to make a settee.

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And the Katzsic slipcovered.


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A collection of chairs made by Rollitt, many inspired by original antiques.


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And a small selection of the reproduction sofas Rollitt produces.


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AND, there is this canopy bed that Rollitt designed and has used in several interiors.  The scalloped top is a unique touch.  Love!!!


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The bed was used in this guest room in Hampshire and it was decorated with Lewis & Wood wallpaper.  Beautiful.  Rollitt decorated a house seen below where he used the same wallpaper.


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The Max Rollitt Showroom is housed in a former grain store across the lane from his house.   Here, Max stands in front of the zinc-clad shop.


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The Max Rollitt showroom. 


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The showroom is large enough that pieces are spread out with room to examine each antique.


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The main showroom is just beautiful with its dusky pink walls.  Notice the large mirror – you will see it again soon.  And, also,  notice the red sofa.    The French bed is to die for!


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You can see the countryside out the window.    Beautiful gilt French settee.


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Traditional brass fender with green leather.

And, then there is this:

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From Michael S. Smith’s  former Los Angeles house – his library.  This is the room that was on the cover of Smith’s book. 


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Max Rollitt says that Smith bought this sofa from him and Smith discusses it in his book.  This is very interesting – because Smith sells the same exact sofa in his Jasper line: 

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Michael Smith’s “Austin” sofa is exactly the same as Max Rollitt’s.  They are both the same size and the legs are the same – painted white – with casters, although Smith’s do not have the brass endcaps.  In his book, Smith says he bought the sofa with the yellow linen fabric already on it, which he kept, and then designed his L.A. library around the yellow.   I suppose Smith started selling his sofa after he bought his Katzsic from Max?


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And, then there is this sofa against the back wall in Smith’s former L.A. living room.  That sofa is also the same exact one as Max’s red one:


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Max’s “Camel Back Sofa” is based on a 1760 Georgian sofa.  With its nail heads – it is quite beautiful and again, expensive.  It retails at around $12,000, before fabric costs.

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And here is Michael S. Smith’s “Cornwall Sofa” – an exact duplicate of Max Rollitt’s Camel Back Sofa.  I do see one change in the placement of the nailheads.  At the bottom of each arm, at the leg, the ‘square’ of the nails seen on Rollitt’s sofa is missing on Smith’s:

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The tiniest of differences:  the small row of nailheads that makes a square above the leg.  On the left, Smith’s is missing the square. And on the right, Rollitt’s sofa has the square.

VERY INTERESTING.  

I find this fascinating that after Michael Smith purchases two sofas from Rollitt – he starts carrying them in his line.   Truly,  this has me a bit flummoxed.   Does Rollitt provide the frames to Jasper, Smith’s company?  Does Rollitt even care that Jasper sells the two exact same sofas that he originally bought from Rollitt? 

And where does the Anthropologie sofa fit into all this?  The yellow linen on both Anthropologie’s Ditte and the Rollitt sofa are just too alike to be coincidental.  
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The discontinued Anthropologie version was first shown in 2006.
And, to be sure,  that without the yellow linen, the Katzsic seems less iconic.  Rollitt has made a career out of his sofa, yet no one hardly even realizes that Michael Smith sells the same exact sofa!!!  And no one seemed to notice that for more than half the amount, you could purchase the Anthropologie version – as almost exact duplicate.

Moving on…

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Max’s first interior design job was this vicarage – which was featured in House & Garden.  I adore it!!!   The house recently was sold, so I added some real estate photos to the story’s photos.    After Rollitt finished this house, his interior design business took off and today – it’s a big part of his work.  He says that being in the antique business is perfect because he can furnish the houses with his inventory and if something doesn’t look good – all he has to do is return the piece to the shop!

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The old vicarage – the house where Max Rollitt’s interior design career was launched.   The facade is noted for its two Dutch gables.


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And an aerial view from the back and side shows how large the house is.  It looks like it was added on to at least three times since it was first built in the 17th century.


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The entry is furnished with an 1790’s church pew that Max found and an antique console.  The ikat lamp shades probably came from Ben’s shop Pentreath & Hall.   The door to the left is the morning room and the door to the right is the dining room.   The drawing room is located further down the main hall.


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Seagrass runner and chinoiserie clock dates from the 17th century.  It is incredibly gorgeous.


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The living room – as Rollitt designed it.  Bleached wood floors and gray walls.   Rollitt purchased the mantel from Jamb.  The 1780’s gothic mirror?  Remember that?  It’s now for sale at Max’s shop.  Price on request.  Whoa.  You know when they say that – you can’t afford it.


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When these owners moved in – they had virtually no furniture or accessories.   Within a few months it was completely furnished – thanks to Max and his shop.


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The view towards the sofa with its beautiful scalloped back.    The sofa is Regency.   And THIS is the “Camel Back Sofa” which is the same exact copy as Michael Smith’s Cornwall sofa and is the red velvet version in Max’s shop.  It is so graceful.


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These cane chairs were also designed by Max Rollitt and are for sale at his shop.


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Off the main hall is the Morning Room – my favorite room.

Max says that a room should look like it evolved over time.  And yes, the vicarage does look that way.

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The wallpaper is Lewis & Wood’s 'Chateau' in the Sienna colourway HERE.   This sofa was also designed by Rollitt and is in his line. I hate to even bring this up, but Jamb sell the same sofa HERE!


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Across from the fireplace is this antique bench which is the focal point of the room.  I love this settee.

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Another view of the bright Morning Room.


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The door leading into the dining room.  The walls are Farrow & Ball's 'Light Blue.'


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With the chairs off to the side, you can really see the beautiful table.


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Another view with the pink curtains and yellow chairs from 1765.   The table is Regency.   The curtains are '2018 Toile de Tour Murillo' by Le Manach.   Beautiful fabric! 



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The dining room leads down a few stairs into the kitchen,  a large farmhouse, English version, with a Knole sofa against the back wall.


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Close up of the original antique Knole sofa in the farmhouse kitchen.


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The window looks onto the side terrace.  Marble counters and blue & white tiled backsplash behind the stove.


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From the other direction.  There is both an Aga and a gas range. 


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The pantry or scullery with the farm sink and skirted cabinet.


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Next to the scullery is the cloakroom – with its own fireplace!!!  Love!!!

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And the sink in the cloakroom. 
    



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The cloakroom has an old fashioned toilet, which is probably new.  OK.  This house sold for over  3 1/2 million dollars!!  You would think they would have a proper toilet paper holder????  Especially in the powder room!!!


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Well, it IS a cloakroom, even though that includes a toilet, I guess?  Only in the English countryside.


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The master bedroom has the bleached wood floors and the scalloped canopy bed that Rollitt designed.   This room has another wallpaper, 'Adam's Eden' from Lewis & Wood  HERE.


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Silk curtains at the window.  At the foot of the four-poster is a George I chair-back walnut settee.   I love the wallpapers Rollitt used throughout the house – and how the different papers unify the disparate rooms.


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Here’s an antique dressing table.   The curtains are really beautiful.   Notice the nook above the closet door.  Love!


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The guest room has yet another Adam Calkin design for Lewis & Wood wallpaper  - this one in red and white  HERE.   This is the same paper as in the master, yet the different colorway makes it look so different.


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The master bathroom has a large Victorian photograph hanging on the wall.   Old bound Country Life magazines are used as a table.


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Years later – the bathroom looks like this for the real estate brochure.  I guess Max took the rug and books back.

  

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The playroom is located across the side terrace by the kitchen.  Check out those doors and the hardware.


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Outside – the back patio.   The kitchen looks over this through the large paned windows.  Notice the beautiful flags and that door!   The playroom is through those paned doors.  Love!!!!


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View shows the side terrace and past that, the pool.   After the enclosed pool area is a large parkway with an allee of trees.


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And, the pool is enclosed behind high walls.


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So beautiful – only in England.  The parkway with the allee of trees.
The vicarage was the start of Max Rollitt’s interior design business.  The beautiful photographs in  House & Garden attracted even more clients.


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A few months ago, House & Garden showcased the busy couple, Max and Jane Rollitt at work on their property where Jane runs her movement therapy business and Max has his antiques and furniture showroom.   Notice that the name of their house is carved into the stone above the door.


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Max and two of their three sons hike along the river than runs behind the property.

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Their house is much more simple and smaller than the large old vicarage.  There is a central hall. When you enter, the sitting room is on the right and the morning room is on the left.  Behind these main rooms is the kitchen and above are four bedrooms.


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The sitting room, to the right of the front door, has a sofa from Rollitt’s line. 


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The morning room is sparsely furnished with antiques and a few chairs from Max’s showroom.  Beautiful marble fireplace – probably from Jamb.


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And across the morning room is the window seat and secretary.  It’s hard to see the rooms – no big pictures were in the magazine.


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The farm kitchen has saltillo tile floors and a large island.


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The antique cabinet wears its original green paint.


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Upstairs, the master has a canopy bed and Pierre Frey “Sans Papillion” wallpaper.

Here are some ideas to purchase your own Yellow Sofa, without breaking the bank:


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Houstonian Sally Wheat designed this living room with a custom sofa.  Going custom is probably the best way to go.  The Katzsic looks easy enough to make.  Google to see who custom creates upholstery in your town to get one of your own, at a much lower cost than either Rollitt’s or Michael S. Smith’s version.

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In 2008, Velvet & Linen’s Brooke Giannetti was inspired by the Anthropologie sofa when she had this version custom made for a client in a yellow Raoul fabric.


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Houstonian Courtney Barton bought her Ditte at Anthropologie – before they unfortunately discontinued it.   Be sure to check out Courtney’s web site – she sells beautiful textiles from Indian.  The pillows are from her line:  Mela & Roam


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Anthropologie does have this sofa HERE.  A good copy, sort of!
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Wayfair has this sofa above,  HERE.     A bit bright tho.

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Lex Mod,   HERE.


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Ballard HERE.  A nice, reasonable copy.

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Another Ballard Designs  HERE.

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Macy’s HERE.

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Bulkea HERE.  Cheap Cheap!  And I mean, this would be cute in a dark library.

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Furniture of America HERE.

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Dot & Bo HERE.

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John Derein – slipcovered.  HERE.  No fabric examples.  The shape is really good.


If you do want to have a similar sofa made, be sure to get the proportions right.  This is the key:   The legs have to be high, higher than normal or else it will look short like this:

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This Anthropologie sofa is very pretty and a close copy with the white legs, but the legs are too short and that very important proportion of the tall antique sofa is missing.  Another detail:  four front legs, not three.   The tall legs are balanced by the tall arms and back and are essential to the design.

Another important element is the arms.  They should be as tall as the back.

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In the old Anthropologie sofa – they got it all perfect:  the tall legs, echoing the tall arms and back.   And finally, while the bolsters seem incidental, they are necessary to add just a bit of curve to juxtapose all the harsh, straight lines.  Max Rollitt’s sofa comes with one bolster – but I think two is perfect.  You will notice at the Vicarage – Max doesn’t do symmetry.  He is more an asymmetrical designer, hence, the one bolster.

Through the years, Anthropologie had great success with their Ditte Sofa and they put designer fabrics on the frame:

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In pink, with Fred Shand fabric.

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Marimekko fabric in green – love!


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And another green.  Somewhere along the way, the plain cream leg became a turned one.  They also introduced the tufted side version, which was awful:

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Here are some of Max Rollitt’s thoughts about design and antiques:

Can you decorate using antiques without a big budget??

Rollitt:   “Of course you can – you can do it all from a car boot sale. I have friends who have the most amazing houses; there’s nothing grand in them but they’re still just beautiful. Unless you live in a particularly grand house, then it’s not about how much money you throw at it but about your eye and how you put things together.  I was brought up in an interesting house full of interesting objects. It wasn’t particularly grand, but I had parents who had gone through the war so stuff had been repaired or restored. It was a house of thrift rather than grandeur.”

Are antiques a good investment?

Rollitt:  “Antique furniture will always hold its value better than new pieces, although sometimes new, well-made upholstered furniture is preferable for budgetary reasons.”   I highly agree with this.  He is so right.
What is your favorite antique period?
Rollitt:  “My primary interest is in furniture that’s pre-1840 and my favourite period is about 1725-1770 – William Kent and early Chippendale. I love the architectural nature of furniture of that period – its very simple, Palladian feel.”

Antiques trend in and out.   What does Max think is “hot” right now?

Max: “Minimal and sculptural antiques, bold forms that stand out in a pared down environment.”

Chairs are always popular. Rollitt likes Windsor chairs that stand out on their own.  He likes to layer interiors with antiques, but not in a contrived way.

What does Max say about starting an antique collection?
“First, you should find dealers who interest you.   Dealers are all different and some are more interesting and passionate than others.  Look for someone you connect with and trust, of course.” 

Buying from auctions and online is fine, but you can’t bring the antique home, try it out, and then return it if it doesn’t work – something that Max thinks is one of the reasons for his success – the ability to try out his antiques and return them if they aren’t right.

When layering a home – should you mix in a contemporary element? 

Max say yes.   Light fixtures and art work are great ways to introduce a contemporary element.   Also, mix in an accent piece of furniture.  Antique art work can be very expensive – so using a contemporary canvas from an unknown is a good alternative. 

   
Antique versus new furniture?

Max says antiques are built better and hold their value – and I totally agree with this.  Pieces made in the 18th century are extraordinarily well made – due to the cheap cost of labor back then.   And also materials were finer then. 
The exception though is upholstered furniture.   An 18th century sofa is VERY expensive.  Buying a good reproduction will cost less.
Finally, the Rollitt’s are host to an AirBnB that I stumbled upon while looking for a place to recommend if you care to visit!  Small world!  

The AirBnB is located across the lane from their house, next to Jane’s studio.   The BnB has been recently renovated and built-out in the old dairy building.  There were over 25 reviews and I think they were all completely positive.  A lot of people commented on how nice the decor is.  Duh!  I wonder if they knew they were staying at one of the premier antiquarians in England – AND the Man Behind the Yellow Sofa!!


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The AirBnB cottage. The kitchen is through the door and the sitting room is seen through the two windows.   Upstairs are two bedrooms, a single and double.   The cottage is just $142 a night.  Dogs welcome, but smoking is not!


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The country lane with the house on the left and the river behind it and across the street is the Rollitt Showroom and the AirBnB cottage.
For recreation, there is fishing on the river and there is a nearby golf course.  You can walk to the pub and restaurant at The Bush Inn,  which is right down the road.  The closest town is 3 miles away and Winchester is just a 20 minutes drive, where there is a Michelin starred restaurant.

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The owners installed a real luxury – underfloor heating!!!

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The sitting room is filled with antiques from Max Rollitt.  There is an antique French cabinet and table and an antique leather chair.  The sofa is from Rollitt’s line.  The tiny wood fireplace is a perfect size because there the floor is heated.  Notice the woodwork is painted green and is continued down onto the wall where there would be base molding.

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Darling Smeg refrigeration in the kitchen!!  Notice the tiny yellow window that looks out to the terrace.   Love the tiled floor. 

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Breakfast is provided each morning.   Notice the three glass pendants.  Wood countertop and skirted cabinets.  The bread bin matches the green paint in the cottage.  Just darling!

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The window out to the terrace.  Notice the curled hardware – just like that at Ben Pentreath’s Old Parsonage.  This must be typical English country hardware.


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The cottage has first class bedding.

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The second bedroom, in pink.


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The view out the bedroom.


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The bathroom with subway tile walls.

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Subway tiled shower.

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The view from the porch.   The cottage is just an hour by train to London.  Located in South Downs National Park, it is very quiet and rural, but it is just a minutes drive to the nearby town.

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To visit the Max Rollitt web site, go HERE.

To visit the AirBnB on the property, go HERE.

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And, if you do visit the area, be sure to tour Avington Park. HERE.  It’s one mile from the AirBnB and is also on the River Itchen.

So…who DID design the yellow sofa first?  Anthropologie?  Max Rollitt? or Michael Smith?

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I’m going to give the award to the man who designed the original George III sofa.  Whomever he may be.  He certainly had good taste.  Just look at this beauty below!!!

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AND:

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The perfect cookware to go with the English Country Manor look???   Or French!  LE CREUSET ON SALE!!!!!   HERE

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AND….finally


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AND, as seen in this month’s Better Home & Garden, a Hamptons house sale HERE.