Glamour at Leighton House
I saw it immediately prior to its closure: shabby, with intrusive modern wiring and pipes, it reminded me of an unloved Victorian aunt – a presence, undoubtedly, but dowdy.
Now, after a 1.6 million pounds restoration, Leighton House is utterly transformed. You step into an exotic middle-eastern harem which has somehow merged with a Victorian artist’s studio. The famous Arab hall has beautiful medieval blue and white tiles, brought back by various friends – including the explorer Sir Richard Burton (with whom, I suspect, most of us would fancy a night). It has a black marble pool in the centre. Leighton’s guests regularly fell into it whilst admiring the tiles.
The newly gold-leafed ceiling glows. The gold mosaic frieze with peacock decoration, designed by Walter Crane, somehow fits perfectly with the Arab tiles, and that, too, glimmers. Even the old shabby stuffed peacock at the turn of the stairs has had a make-over and its jewel-like plumage shines. (How do you dry-clean a peacock?)
The drawing-room wallpaper (pink and gold) has been restored and the floorboards round the central carpet are painted turquoise. The magnificent pink, turquoise and white glass chandelier sparkles. My favourite piece here is the marble fireplace which is directly under the window, which has mirror shutters. Leighton knew just how to give his house that touch of the unexpected.
It’s all far too classy to be bling but it is still, nevertheless, jaw-dropping. And now is the time to see it whilst it is still pristine and dust and cobwebs have not dulled the splendid colours. It is also immensely cheering and inspiring.
http://www.leightonhouse.co.uk/ Pictures courtesy of Leighton House Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.