Situated in a quiet area only half an hour by train from central London, Eltham Palace is the perfect design escape from the city. The Palace is actually a villa, and one of the finest examples of English Art Deco architecture. It is built on the remains of one of the most famous royal palaces of the Middle Ages, at the time big enough to accommodate the entire Tudor court.
In the thirties Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, whose wealth came from the production of rayon (synthetic silk), bought the property in ruins, entrusting the task of designing a new home to architects John Seely and Paul Paget. The new building was designed by incorporating the remains of the previous construction; an original, architectural blend of medieval and Art Deco was created in the Great Hall.
The cosmopolitan and eccentric couple – one of their pets was a lemur bought from Harrods, which had its own living quarters – worked alongside the architects, designers and craftsmen to create the luxurious interiors of the house. The Swede Rolf Engströmer designed the theatrical entrance dominated by a circular dome in glass block, which acts as a pivot to the two wings of the house and a hub for the living areas, the master bedrooms and the quarters for the servants.
The decorator Peter Malacrida (an extravagant Italian Marquis and close friend of the couple), worked on much of the interior, including the drawing room, the dining room and some of the bedrooms. Each was designed according to their respective styles – the more linear Sweden and the more eclectic Italian – and the result is a unexpected succession of interiors, consistent with the unique style of the house. The luxury was extended to the technology available at that time – with central heating, the diffusion of music and synchronised clocks in the rooms and – amazingly for the time – a centralised vacuum cleaning system in the basement.
The Courtaulds left Eltham in 1944 to move to Africa and the house was later occupied by the educational department of the British Army until 1992. Nowadays the property is open most of the year with its magnificent gardens and is curated by English Heritage. The house was also the set of several film productions in the past and a recently an advertisement for a famous perfume, where the main character, the actor James Franco, is haunting the spectacular interiors.
Images © English Heritage