Haslam’s office is more understated than I’d imagined. On the left hand wall there’s a painting of him done up to look like Elvis Presley: dark glasses again and even darker hair (one of his now famous personal transformations, where Haslam dyed his hair black).
The man himself is perched behind a small desk in the corner, and as I take a seat in front of him, he apologises for the mess, shuffles objects and papers to give me more room, and then coolly lights a Vogue cigarette. It’s so refreshing to see someone smoking inside these days; it never happens anymore, I remark – lighting my own (a far less chic Mayfair), as he slides the ashtray towards me.
“I know. It’s disgraceful,” he replies. “It should happen all the time.”
Haslam has one of those perfect English voices that you don’t hear much now: deep, yet quiet, rich with memory, dripping with elegance and summoning up another era – one of unflustered, aristocratic sophistication. He has, of course, an impeccable pedigree. He was born at Great Hundridge Manor, Amersham, the son of a diplomat; his mother was a granddaughter of the 7th Earl of Bessborough. It naturally followed that Haslam would be schooled at Eton.
Interior design was there from the beginning. One uncle created beautiful theatres. His cousin, Geoffrey Scott, wrote the definitive book on architecture, The Architecture of Humanism. Another uncle was the architect Robert Haslam, who built houses in Sussex and was an apprentice of Charles Voysey. “Unbelievable to think of that link in time,” Haslam mutters. And yet, when I ask him how he came to be in the profession, in a typical act of understatement he says, “I honestly don’t really know.”
But he does recall advising his mother on interior decoration – “stripes in this perfect William and Mary house, quite wrong” – and starting out by “doing a tiny bit for Robert Eaton, and my little house across the river. Sort of fiddly things, but there was no question of going to art school to learn interior decoration. That didn’t exist then.”
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