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The art deco design escape

 One of the finest examples of English Art Deco architecture

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.


Entrance Hall, Eltham Palace, Vivendo

Designed by the Swedish architect, Rolf Engströmer, the entrance hall has a triangular layout with curved walls. The originals of the entry lobby furnishings were created by Engströmer and made of walnut. Those present today are replicas built on the basis of drawings preserved at the Museum of Architecture in Stockholm. The large carpet with a diameter of 6 metres, designed by Marion Dorn, is a copy of the original kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The dome made of glass blocks measures 7 metres in diameter.

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.


Staircase, Eltham Palace, Vivendo

One of the staircases descending from the upstairs bedrooms. In the foreground, the wood panelling of walnut wood that the Swedish artist Jerk Werkmäster decorated with a representation of the borders of European civilization: a Roman soldier and a Viking, along with scenes of life and to the images of the buildings of Florence, Venice and Stockholm.

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.


Bedroom, Eltham Palace, Vivendo

Virginia’s bedroom, designed by Pater Malacrida, is an unusual shape. The couple slept in separate but adjoining rooms. The installation of the lights and heating are hidden in the circular ceiling.

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.


Bathroom, Eltham Palace, Vivendo

Virginia’s bathroom was also designed by Malacrida. The vaulted ceiling, precious marbles and niche, lined golden mosaic make it one of the most magnificent rooms of the house.

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.


Eltham Palace, Vivendo

The rounded colonnade that marks the entrance is between two tall pavilions with a copper roof. On the right is what remains of the medieval building next to which the villa was built.

Images © English Heritage

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