Tales from the City- A lost art deco table at Eltham Palace

I love art deco. It was just my luck that I was able to go to Eltham Palace the very day the Art Deco Fair was on. Eltham Palace is a modernist’s heaven mixed with ancient History. Hidden away in the suburbs of South East London, the two worlds blend perfectly. I wish I could share with you views of  the interiors, but due to copyright, no indoor photography was allowed. So my camera lens was covered and needless to say, I was gutted. I had to be content with a few shots of the stunning grounds as there are endless spots to sit and just enjoy being alive.

Eltham Palace was originally a moated manor house with vast parklands.  Edward II passed it on to his Queen Isabella, Edward III, Henry IV and Henry VIII spent most of their childhood in the Palace.  So it survived the years in it’s medieval splendour until the era that I am interested in, that is the 1930’s,  when a house, ultra modern for its day was built adjoining the great hall by the über wealthy couple Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. They took credit for restoring the Great Hall and as a memento, created a carving of their pet lemur, Mah- Jong on one of the roof bosses.  They were the Hollywood Glamour couple, she with a snake tattoo above one ankle, and he, silent, preferring to never use two words when one could do. They were avid gardeners and the grounds speak for themselves. One could easily spend hours walking about the grounds, but I had to get over the bridge and into the palace itself! The house and the art deco fair were calling me.

The walk across the Moat Bridge revealed the perfect place to come and just have a picnic with a flask of tea and enjoy the sunshine.

Once past the magnificent carved entryway, I had to force myself to slow down and just take in the beauty of the room. The main entry way was flooded with light from the glazed dome. Black bean veneer hugged the circular walls of the entry hall.  Stunning. Simply stunning. The walls are not a proper circle, but an equilateral triangle with curved walls, fooling the eye in to seeing elegant curves. How utterly modern it was for the 1930’s, with built in speakers in all rooms,  concealed ceilings, under floor heating,  a central vacum system and as much furniture built in to allow the glory of the wood panelling in the rooms to glisten in polished sunlight.

The dinning room, pure art deco, is lined in bird’s eye maple, and the ceilings, recessed with aluminium leaf.  I only use that to wrap up last night’s dinner, but the ceilings were stunning! Virginia’s curved bedroom glowed with inlaid maple walls and onyx.  The bathroom marble and gold mosaics. Glam… Glam… glam..no sweatshirts allowed in this house!

Room after room took my breath away and of course there was something Ted would have loved. They owned a pet lemur purchased at Harrods, Mah Jong, called Jongy for short. Jongy had his own room with a private hatch so he could come downstairs as he wanted. Not wanting Jongy to suffer from homesickness, they had a mural of the Madagascan jungle painted in his little private room. Guests beware, he owned the house! He often was the culprit of a vicious bite or two, if he didn’t like you, and apparently, he had quite a list of those he did not fancy.

Some of my favourite films were shot here, Bright Young Things, I Capture the Castle, Brideshead Revisited, and I can well understand why.  The Palace is just the stuff the movies are made of. The grounds and the Palace are now in the care of English Heritage.  The wisteria climbing the columns was heady with scent! I could just picture Virginia with a martini in hand, Jongy climbing up and down the wisteria covered columns, entertaining her on a summer’s evening.

As I wandered through the hall filled with stalls of art deco treasures for sale,  I spied a beautiful coffee table made from various Maple woods. It was small and round, and gorgeous. The legs were also curved and not a single nail was to be found. It was a little masterpiece.  It was dear and I had to seriously think about it. Did a round small coffee table fit the bill? Would it work in my old Victorian? Didn’t I really want to get a longer table perhaps. My gosh what would happen if someone spilled tea on it? Am I that posh? The woodwork was breathtaking, the colour of the wood, the workmanship… I was drooling. By the time I asked these questions, it was snapped up. Don’t you always feel gutted when that happens, even if you’ve already changed your mind?  That was my table!  Never mind, I did manage to pick up a little prize,  an exquisite art deco vase. Problem is, will it remind me of the lost table, or with time will that little agony pass?

Being that Eltham Palace is one of the finest examples of outstanding Art Deco architecture and design, it often hosts the Art Deco Fair. So perhaps on an other day I will find the perfect coffee table.  It was time to leave with the vase safely tucked under my arm and make a quick stop to have a 99p cone, and dream of the elegant life with Jongy, silk dresses, martini’s and heady scented wisteria.

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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4 Responses to Tales from the City- A lost art deco table at Eltham Palace

  1. mmgilbert says:

    Thank you for this.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    Grass so green! Trees so green! Sky so blue! Those images are amazing. That second one blew me away. Oh, how I’d love to tour that place.

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