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Melissa Eleanor Tyler

MA work

Subverting Invention Nancy Lancaster and Early Twentieth-Century Country House Decoration

Interwar country house interior decoration is stigmatised as elitist and biased by connoisseurship. Melissa's dissertation re-examines the legacy of Nancy Lancaster (1897-1994) as the doyenne of country house decoration. Current histories argue that Nancy invented the country house style because of her ability to inject comfort into grand houses and her nostalgia for Virginia.  But these histories have not properly addressed Nancy’s self mythologising or the problems present in an archive that depicts idealised versions of her interiors. Therefore, the dissertation asks what, if anything, distinguishes her interiors from other country house decoration between the years of 1920 and 1947. It seeks to identify why Nancy’s decorative style is considered to evoke a sense of continuity and easy comfort. Through three case studies—Mirador, Greenwood, Virginia in the United States; Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire, England; and Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, England—,the dissertation interrogates Nancy’s homes in the context of eighteenth-century revival styles and use of space in Anglo-American country houses. It demonstrates that Nancy both respected, subverted, and created trends in country house decoration and how these interiors were used. And while Nancy’s legacy is a highly fabricated mythology, it is possible to identify Nancy’s decorative style. It concludes that she subverted rather than invented a new kind of country house interior; it was one which depended on her ability to curate understated interiors with a sense revived grandeur.


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2017

  • Melissa is a design historian with a practical past in interior design. Her research focuses on the 20th century decoration of historic houses. Previous research includes the emergence of heritage as a post-war concept in England and the development of Nancy Lancaster's decorative style between 1920 and 1947. Melissa particularly enjoys exploring how shifting socio-economic-political-cultural dynamics impact the decoration of historic houses and our perceptions of heritage and interior decoration.

    Melissa's interest in contemporary impressions and reinterpretations of the past inspires her to create exhibitions that reconfigure the past through a decidedly 21st century lens. While at the Royal College of Art, Melissa curated and exhibition managed Reimaging Objects: A History of Design Exhibition, which encouraged History of Design MA students to turn their object based research into a physical entity that both conveyed what their object was also also how the object influenced their research.

  • Degrees

  • MA Joint Honours, English Literature and Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, 2010; Postgraduate Diploma, Inchbald School of Design, 2012
  • Experience

  • Researcher (external contractor), National Trust, London, 2017; Researcher (internship), Furniture, Textiles & Fashion Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2017; Curator and Exhibition manager, History of Design RCA Show 2017, RCA/South Kensington, London, 2016; Curator and Exhibition manager, 'Reimagining Objects: A History of Design Exhibition', Hockney Gallery, London, 2016; Interior designer, Enarch Ltd, London, 2013–2014; Interior designer, Freelance, London, 2012–2015
  • Exhibitions

  • Reimagining Objects: A History of Design Exhibition, Hockney Gallery, London, 2016
  • Awards

  • Oliver Ford Trust, 2015; British Institute of Interior Design Award, Inchbald School of Design Graduate, 2012
  • Publications

  • 'Demolish / Chintz', Sooner or Later: A History of Design Publication, 2016; 'Reception and Reaction: (Un)official Japan at the 1862 Exhibition', Visit 1862,