Nancy Lancaster

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Nancy Lancaster (September 10, 1897 - August 19, 1994) was a noted 20th-century tastemaker and the owner of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, an influential British decorating firm that codified what is known as the English country-house look.

Born Nancy Keene Perkins at her maternal grandfather's farm, Mirador, in Greenwood, near Charlottesville, Virginia, and brought up in Richmond and New York City, she was the elder daughter of Thomas Moncure Perkins, a Virginia cotton broker, and his wife, Elizabeth Langhorne. Nancy Lancaster was also a niece of Nancy Astor, the British politician, and of Irene Gibson, the wife of the Gibson Girl artist Charles Dana Gibson. Her cousin Joyce Grenfell was a celebrated British monologuist and actress.

She was first married, in 1917, to Henry Field, an heir to the Marshall Field department store fortune. He died five months later, following an operation to remove his tonsils.

She married, secondly, in 1920, Ronald Field Tree (1897-1976), a cousin of her first husband, and moved to England. Tree later became a Member of Parliament. They had two sons and a daughter, who died at birth. They divorced in 1947. (His second wife was the American activist and political insider Marietta Tree; their only child was the 1960s supermodel Penelope Tree).

She married, thirdly, in 1948, Lieutenant Colonel Claude Granville Lancaster (1899-1977), a former military officer and country squire who owned Kelmarsh Hall in Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire. (Lancaster and her second husband had rented the grand house from Claude Lancaster in the 1920s.) Renowed today for its gardens, it is a popular tourist site and said to be Nancy Lancaster's favorite home of all despite their divorce after only three years in 1951. The couple had been having an affair for years prior to their marriage, and Nancy Lancaster later claimed that it was the suffocating, day-to-day intimacy caused by their marriage that made her realize why they were successful as lovers and ill-suited as husband and wife.

The renowned British interior designer David Hicks (1929-1998) called Nancy Lancaster "the most influential English gardener since Gertrude Jekyll." Referred to as the doyenne of interior decorators and smart gardeners, she created much of the English country house look.

Nancy Lancaster died in 1994 and is buried in Virginia, between her first husband and her infant daughter.

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