If you’ve ever yearned for the glamour of
1930s Art Deco, then look no further than Eltham Palace: the south east London home
of Virginia and Stephen Courtauld, which they transformed into an iconic luxury in entertainment
in the 1930s. Eltham has a long history stretching back to the 13th-century and has been home
to kings and queens of England, including Henry VIII. But Virginia and Stephen turned
it into a glorious backdrop for their lavish and decadent Art Deco parties. Now, you too
can be a VIP guest at Eltham. You’ll be welcomed as if you were a friend of Stephen
and Virginia’s and invited to one of their glamorous weekend parties. Curator Lester
Oram opens the doors for a private tour of the newly refurbished palace.
Arriving at Eltham over the medieval moat bridge, you get a real sense of the site’s
historical importance. More than this, you experience the excitement felt by those attending
one of the Courtauld’s many lavish parties. Arriving at the entrance hall, the true decadence
of the building reveals itself. Here you’ll find the very essence of luxurious living.
Used as a backdrop for feature films such as Brideshead Revisited, the interior simply
oozed glamour. Strikingly modern for its time, the palace’s bold patterns and geometric
shapes make it a masterpiece of interior design. Elsewhere in the palace, eccentric designer
Peter Malacrida created some of the property’s most striking design features. The dining
room truly embodies the Art Deco style. Entering Virginia’s private bedroom quarters, you
get a real sense of her lavish taste. The curved inlay maple walls exude glamour. The
visit to her bathroom is like entering an ancient temple. Stephen, a businessman and
veteran of the First World War was by contrast a far more reserved character. It was said
that he went through entire meals without even speaking to anybody. He did however boldly
pursue his own interests. He funded expeditions to the Arctic and even climbed Mont Blanc.
A visit to Stephen’s library reveals a man with a passion for reading and collecting
art. The walls are lined with books, often about far flung places in the world and decorated
with reproduction Turners and Italian earthenware. Running around the house in the Courtauld’s
day was an array of pets: a great dane, an afghan hound and even a pet lemur; Mah-Jongg.
Bought by Stephen from Harrods as a wedding gift for Virginia, Mah-Jongg, had free reign
of the building. In keeping with access to the rest of the palace, Mah-Jongg, even had
his own luxurious living quarters, featuring a mural of his native Madagascan jungle. The
Great Hall, dating back to the 1470s, connects the palace with its medieval history. By the
time Turner painted it in 1790, it had fallen into disrepair and was filled with hay bales.
But the Courtaulds renovated it, maintaining some continuity with the building’s past.
In April, several newly renovated areas of Eltham will be open to the public, including
a luxury bomb shelter, billiard room and a walk-in wardrobe. In addition, you can enjoy
freshly replanted gardens, as well as a café, shop and visitor centre. Showing the full
extent of the Courtaulds’ widespread explorations is the map room, where their secretary would
plan their exotic holidays. In the map room, English Heritage conservators have carefully
and patiently uncovered and conserved a number of wall maps which we reveal for the first
time in decades. This has been an incredibly exciting project
to work on and I really hope you are able to come to Eltham and enjoy the new rooms
we have been able to open up.