An Art Deco Palace at Eltham
Eltham Palace really is the most extraordinary place and quite unlike anywhere else I can think of. It's a Tudor Great Hall combined with an Art Deco Palace in an unlikely and unglamorous south London settling. In short it was somewhere I HAD to see!
The Great Hall is all that remains of the Tudor palace where Henry VIII was raised. In 1933 Steven and Virginia Courtauld (of the monied Courtauld fabrics family) took the lease on the property transforming it into a contemporary showpiece of Art Deco furniture and design. Recently restored by English Heritage the house is mesmerizing. Above you can see the main entrance and the wings (capped by two towers which that stretch off the Great Hall. The exterior doesn't prepare you for the interior style.
The domestic interiors are resolutely Art Deco in style and the house was renowned for it's modern creature comforts, including en suite bathrooms in the guest bedrooms. Virginia's bedroom and bathroom (below) included all the latest in design and technology including a bedside phone. Her golden bathroom was extraordinary and the picture below doesn't convey the luxury of the space. It reminded me very much of the bathrooms at Josephine Baker's spectacular Chateau Milandes in the Dordogne which I blogged about here.
Stephen Courtauld's bedroom was much more modest but equally distinctive with a woodland scene on one wall. As you can see his blue bathroom below was attractive and functional, but far less lavish than the classical inspired spectacle enjoyed by his wife!
The guest bedroom below looks quite spartan to our modern eyes but wouldhave been considered comfortable in its day. As you can see the electric fire meant it would have been warm which was not true at many of the weekend houses you might have been invited to.
Invitations were apparently highly sought after as the Courtaulds were well know for their lavish entertainments. The house often hosted famous visitor and rather eccentrically the Courtauld's lemur, which had been purchased at Harrods! Here are the Courtaulds in a wartime picture with guests on the lawn outside their house.
Much of the interior is made from plywood panels as you can see in the bedroom above.
This looks fairly simple but you can see the lavish inlay work combined with the plywood in the entrance hall below.
I love the two guards inlaid in wood on either side of the doorway.
The entrance hall really is a masterwork and it is far more decoratively appealing than any other part of the house. Below you can see the beautiful light which comes from both the stairwell and the doomed skylight. Apparently the furniture here is Scandinavian.
Beyond the entrance hall are a series of public entertainment spaces including a dining room and drawing room. As you can see Art Deco style runs throughout the house, with wonderful Greek key designs seen in the coved ceiling, fireplace and lacquer inlaid doors in the dining room below.The drawing room and library have a slightly more conservative "country house" feel.
While the rooms have been recently restored to the Courtauld's 1930's interiors, the house retains a rather schizophrenic feel. After all, all this Art Deco design is adhered to a Tudor structure. There are several reminders of this history, here you can see a small piece of stained glass depicting the great English ruler Elizabeth I.
It's quite jarring aesthetically to come upon the Tudor remains including the Great Hall. Although it's spectacular, there seems no stylistic bridge between this and the modern domestic architecture of the rest of the place. For me this is the strangest thing about Eltham Palace. The Courtaulds picked the site and incorporated the Tudor hall into their new home but the whole place doesn't feel connected in any way, somehow it lacks a simpatico.
Below you can see the architectural blend at Eltham with the Great Hall on the left and the new addition on the right. Although the interior domestic decoration is consistently modern, you can see the external architectural form of the new wing is quite classical. The he Courtaulds left Eltham in 1944 moving first to Scotland and then on to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) where they built another retreat La Rochelle in the beautiful Eastern Highlands. It has been turned into a hotel which I'm hoping to visit.
From the front, the two towers give the house a rather French feel. I don't know enough about the building of the house but somehow the gap between the exterior and interior of the new domestic wings suggests a change it aesthetic direction and it leaves one somewhat confused by the site as a whole.
However, for all the stylistic confusion, the garden has the serenity of a country retreat and you can sit on the lawn to enjoy it all. I highly recommend an afternoon out at Eltham for anyone with an interest in art, design or architecture, it will be unlike anything else you will see in England.