Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, January 24, 2016

News on the Duchess of Devonshire, Pierre Frey and Belmont House


One of the most anticipated auctions this year is Sotheby's forthcoming auction of the personal items of one of this century's most remarkable women, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. It seems strange to think she's gone, after such a long and extraordinary life as one of the legendary Mitford sisters, and even stranger to think that her beloved things are now being auctioned. But she was so adored by the public, and if some of the contents of her final home The Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate can be sold to raise money for estate of Chatsworth, why not?

I always regret not meeting her before she passed away. A contact at Heywood Hill bookshop in Mayfair (which the Devonshires bought in recent years, in order to save it) kindly said he would make arrangements for me to visit (it was for a forthcoming book on gardens, one of the Duchess' passions), but in the end she wasn't well enough. A friend of mine in the US dated Elvis for the briefest of periods (she was very young at the time!) and I had some great stories about Elvis to tell her (another of her obsessions). But it was not to be. I probably would have been too shy to converse much anyway. She really was one of the most interesting, most inspirational businesswomen of our time.

The Financial Times (FT) has recently published a wonderful piece about the sale here. And Sotheby's has another, smaller, article about 'Debo' (as she was called) on its website here, as well as a glimpse at a few of the pieces going to auction here.   The sale includes exquisite jewels (some gifted to her by her husband and his parents), a rare copy of Brideshead Revisited personally inscribed by her friend Evelyn Waugh, plus fine and decorative art, and (something I'd love to view) the contents of Duchess of Devonshire’s library.

Here are a few pre-sale photos and pieces from the auction, from Sotheby's website:

The collection mixes high-end and low. There are many personal photos, including the one above of the Mitford family, priced at a reserve of only a few hundred pounds. But there are is the Duchess' jewellery, including a Chanel camellia (£400) and a pair of aquamarine-and-diamond clips (£2,000), and a book of John F Kennedy portraits (£1,500 -- £2,000) signed by the former US president with the sign-off 'L.O', a reference to the sisters’ habit of calling him 'Loved One'. (JFK was a close friend of the family.)

More details of the sale, including the pieces in the photos above, on Sotheby's website.

The auction is at Sotheby's London, March 2, 2016, with pre-sale viewing from February 27 -- March 1.


One of the most popular places to stay in England isn't a hotel but a small, relatively unknown Landmark Trust property known simply as 'Belmont House'. It's an exquisite, pale pink, 18th-century, Grade II-listed villa in Dorset that was once owned by businesswoman Eleanor Coade and more recently the author, John Fowles, whose books include The French Lieutenant's Woman. 

The Landmark Trust has spent several years carefully restoring the house, including the Victorian observatory tower, with hatch and revolving roof, and the garden leading down to the beach, and has opened it up for short stays. However, it's proved so popular that the earliest available booking is now mid-2017. (NB: It's incredibly inexpensive; the villa sleeps 
8, and 4 nights is £640, or just £20 per person, per night.)

For those who would love to see it but can't wait until 2017, there is a rare Open Day on the weekend of Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 February 2016 , from 10am to 4pm each day. No booking is required.

More details on Belmont can be found here. It looks beautiful.


The first major exhibition of French textile house Maison Pierre Frey since 1935 opens at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris this month. The show features many of the famous fabrics produced by Pierre Frey as well as the stages and techniques involved in creating and producing a textile, from the sketch to the finished product. It's set to be a fascinating show about fabrics, but it also covers wallpapers, and how they're conceived, created and produced.

 Knowing Pierre Frey, there is certain to be awealth of patterns, colours and information on display.

Musée des Arts décoratifs from 21 January until 12 June 2016. 

More details can be found  here.

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