That said, each one here does have its own, discrete mise-en-scène—a fundamental pillar of decorating, naturally, but one expressed here in the most ravishing detail. “It’s that couture thing,” says Daniel. “It’s not about what you cover a sofa in, it’s how that fabric is cut, how it’s sewn, what the finish is that will make the difference.” The linen they used to upholster their sofa—in a cloud-like gossamer off-white—is far from the most expensive, but it’s been handled exquisitely. It helps, of course, that the sofa itself is very fine indeed, created to their own design based on the one Nancy Lancaster had at Ditchley, only with arms reworked so as not to block any light from the window. “My god—the conversations we had about that sofa… ” sighs Benedict.
They were worth it, as were countless others about what went where, which room the bed should be in — and the rest. Finishing this place (as much as a pair of incorrigible decorators can ever finish) has been less a process of addition than redaction—trying, seeing, trying again, taking things away. The paintings have been chosen “by a process of elimination,” for instance. Largely all black and white, each has been hung as an exercise in light, shadow, reflection, and absorption as well as for any more straightforward aesthetic considerations. Just as a looking glass can play with space, so a picture can—not least, as Benedict says, “There are only so many times you can push the mirror button.”
Decorating to a point of such detail, without making something feel overdone is certainly clever, but what is particularly canny about this flat is how full of things it is, yet—Tardis-like—it absorbs them without complaint. That’s not to say it’s cluttered—far from it. Daniel and Benedict have no truck with mess and muddle. Instead, theirs is a well-edited and, in Daniel’s words, “layered” selection of the objects of affection that have caught their gimlet eyes, from the serpentine radiator grilles he found at a fair in Parma to a painting by Francis Cyril Rose, a protegé of Gertrude Stein, that once belonged to Beaton and which Benedict unearthed, spattered in bird droppings, after it had been discarded in a Sussex barn.
As ever, though, the real lesson lies in buying things you love. Benedict mentions a piece of 19th-century Florentine silk he and Daniel bought together in the earliest days of their courtship “as a flirtation.” Today, the painted and embroidered piece makes up their bedroom blind, its gilt threads occasionally sparking in the half-light. It’s a reminder that, ultimately, for all its decorative considerations, this flat is “the story of us.” A triumph indeed.