British Design Edit: Cressida Bell

What do you think the link is between this incredible cake and one of the most influential artistic dynasties of the last 100 years? Designers are often multi-talented, turning from one discipline to another, but this cake design not only took my breath away because of its lifelike cactus decoration but because it was created by British designer Cressida Bell.

Cressida is granddaughter of Vanessa Bell and daughter of critic, author and artist Quentin Bell (educated at Leighton Park, a Quaker school in Reading), who were key members of the Bloomsbury group. Also in the group were the artist, Duncan Grant, writer Virginia Woolf (Vanessa’s sister) and the author/critic, Lytton Strachey.


The design connection in Cressida’s work to her family is clear – I am endlessly fascinated how some ‘genes’ just seem to thunder down the generations. Cressida at her studio in East London designs everything from lampshades to rugs, textiles, greetings cards, fashion accessories as well as many bespoke items.


High tea

Cressida has taken the art of cake decorating to a whole new level. The highly decorated designs are like Faberge jewels and are for a very special occasion indeed. These show stoppers are more like works of art and almost too beautiful to eat!

Cressida says that cake decorating had always been a part of family life.

“I was really following in my father’s footsteps. He had a flair for decoration so it was always him who decorated our Christmas cakes – and in very lavish style, with lots of cherries and silver balls. As he got older he delegated the job to his children – which meant me as I was the one most keen on decoration. I generally only did one a year – plus the odd birthday cake.”


“A design might take a couple of hours, and the cake probably the best part of a day. It all depends on how complicated it is. The cactus cake was designed for the florist shop Grace & Thorn – and in terms of design was pretty straightforward as it looks like a succulent (house leek I think). That’s unusual for me as I tend not to make cakes that look like something else – which I guess is my USP. Mostly I apply pattern to a cake rather than trying to turn it into something else a la Jane Asher.”


“The main task for the Grace & Thorn cake was to cut out all the leaves in icing and leave them to dry on cardboard tubes to make them curve. Then the edges were painted with a pink pearlescent edible paint. The putting together was fairly straightforward, though the leaves need little balls of icing underneath to support them in the correct angle. The finishing touch was to glue on silver balls at the end of each leaf.”


To commission a bespoke 12″ cake, £350 or to take part in a decorating course contact

Cressida Bell cake design book cover
Cressida Bell’s Cake Design book cover

The Bloomsbury Group at Charleston Farmhouse and garden

The Bloomsbury group’s Charleston Farmhouse and garden in Sussex is one I could revisit many times and never tire of. I wonder how many people like me have come away inspired to paint every surface in sight and wished for the natural planting and mixed borders of the garden?!

Showy gardens in bloom

The great thing about June is that if you missed out on getting a ticket for The Chelsea Flower Show, there is always the even bigger garden show extravaganzas to look forward to which are The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show   5 – 10 July 2016 or RHS Tatton Park, 20 – 24 July 2016. Hoorah!

Failing that, you could choose to lose yourself in a virtual ‘Secret Garden’:

‘Secret gardens’ near you

Or there is the quietly wonderful organisation who organise the opening of private gardens to the public. This is the National Garden Scheme, where members such as your neighbours, the local manor house, a private urban roof top garden, rectory or university open their garden gates to the public for a couple of hours on a designated day for charity (signposted with yellow boards). These are to my mind the genuine ‘secret gardens’ where you get to see some really inspiring private spaces.

If you go on to the National Garden Scheme website and type in your postcode you should be able to find a garden near you. Additionally, most garden hosts serve afternoon tea with home made cake. I can’t think of the more perfect way to spend a summer’s afternoon than with cup of tea in one hand, and cake in the other mooching amongst the peony beds of a ‘Secret Garden’. All proceeds from (minimal) entrance fees and cakes go towards nursing and caring charities. Fabulous.

Charis White, interior stylist
Charis White – interior stylist/blogger


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Charis x


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