Eltham Palace, was once an important royal palace playing host to kings and queens and international statesmen. It is one of the few medieval royal palaces to survive with substantial remains intact and was one of the only six palaces large enough to accommodate and feed the entire Tudor court. Initially a moated manor house, it was acquired by the future Edward II in 1305. Under Edward IV significant changes were made, most notably the addition in the 1470′s of the great hall, which still stands today. Eltham Palace was eclipsed by Greenwich and Hampton Court palaces in the 16th century and declined in the early 17th century. For 200 years after the Civil Wars it was used as a farm
In the 1930′s Stephen and Virginia Courtauld
In the 1930′s Stephen and Virginia Courtauld were looking for a semi-rural property within easy reach of central London. Eltham met their requirements and the architects Seely and Paget built a house for them adjoining the great hall, boasting an ultra-modern design and using the latest technology.Leading designers and craftsmen were employed to create a range of lavish interiors and outstanding gardens, providing the setting for their extensive collection of art and furniture, and ample space for entertaining.
The Courtauld’s left Eltham in 1933 and the site was occupied by Army educational units until 1992. English Heritage assumed management of the entire site in 1995, and in 1999 completed a major programme of repairs and restoration of the 1930′s house and gardens.
Glazed double doors lead into the entrance hall
Glazed double doors lead into the entrance hall, which is triangular in plan with curved sides. Light floods in through the concrete glass domed roof, which is 7 meters in diameter – a feature requested by Stephen Courtauld. The interior design of this space was by the Swedish architect and designer Rolf Engstromer, whose work Stephen and Virginia may have seen on a trip to Stockholm in 1928.
At the far side of the entrance hall, to the left of the French window, is a booth containing a coin-operated telephone for the use of guests making outside calls. Opposite the telephone booth is the flower room where a bamboo ladder next to the entrance leads to a trapdoor which enabled Ginie’s pet ring-tailed lemur, Mah-Jongg, to come down from his first-floor quarters during the daytime.
Ginie Courtauld’s sycamore-panelled boudoir was designed by Peter Malacrida. During the war, when the drawing room was closed up, the boudoir became the central focus point of the house, presided over by Ginie and also Congo, her parrot, whose cage was here. The sofa framed by shelves is an early example of built-in furniture. It has Italian trampunto quilted cushions with a raised design (quilting was a particular hobby in the 1930′s).
In the later 17th and early 18th centuries it was fashionable for property-owners to display maps and bird’s-eye views of their estates. The leather map above the the fireplace, depicting Eltham Palace and its surroundings, is a revival of this tradition. It combines a map with topographical views and was created in Paris by Margarita Classen-Smith, an accomplished worker of applique-leather. It incorporated a jib door linking Ginie’s boudoir with Stephen’s library.
The Library, also by Malacrida, is lined with what Country Life described as “Indian mahogany”. It accommodated Stephen’s collection of watercolours and other topographical works by 18th and 19th Century artists such as J R Cozens, Paul Sandy, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman. They included 13 Turners, which are now in the Courtauld institute (those on display are copied. They were protected by ingenious vertically sliding shutters designed by Stephen, probably inspired by a similar arrangement in Sir John Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. On the outside of the shutters was a collection of woodcuts, etchings and engravings, including works by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer and Turner.
The dining room, designed by Malacrida exemplifies the sophisticated “Moderne” style characterised by geometrical or stylized shapes rather than organic forms of the early Art Nouveau.Malacrida may have been influenced by schemes such as the dining room at the Galeries Lafayette, shown at the seminal Paris “Exposition des Arts Decoratifs” of 1925, from which the term “Art Deco” was later coined. The design relies on contrasting tones and textures for effect. The walls are lined with paper-thin bird’s-eye maple flexwood, as are the ceiling cove and picture frames. In dramatic contrast the recessed central portion of the ceiling is covered entirely in aluminium leaf on a blue background, with built-in concealed lighting to make the metal shimmer at night; around the perimeter are rose-shaped ornaments (paterae) covered in aluminium.
Stephen’s suite was designed by Seely to Stephen’s requirements. It consists of an aspen-lined bedroom, a walk-in wardrobe and a blue-and-green-tiled bathroom. On the side walls of the bedroom is a block-printed wallpaper depicting Kew Gardens made by Sandersons; the coved ceiling represents the sky linking the two landscapes. During repairs straw was found packed within the hollow corridor wall for sound insulation – a technique used at Ealing Studios where England’s first purpose-built sound stage was completed in 1931.
The Venetian suite was the second of the two guest double bedrooms. The dimensions were designed to accommodate joinery removed from Ginie Courtauld’s bedroom in Grosvenor Square. These include fragments of 1780′s Venetian panelling installed by Malacrida in the 1920′s. The entrance and cupboard doors are embellished with false book spines.