Timing, as they say, is everything. Though this Design Diary entry on a new furniture collection by the current Earl Spencer could have been written in October of last year, we believe there’s a reason it isn’t being composed until this week. We’ve become obsessed with a hat, and not just any hat, but a cocked hat with a general’s plume atop it. This gallant bicorne was worn by Peter Bowles, the actor who embodied the once dashing/obviously frazzled Duke of Wellington in last Sunday’s episode of Victoria on PBS.
Furniture Inspired by Many an Earl Spencer
The soldier Wellington was making a name for himself at about the same time an Earl Spencer was gaining his fame as a sailor, commanding the Royal Navy at a treacherous time when upstarts were inflaming revolutions to threaten a number of Europe’s monarchies. Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer, became a vice admiral and fought in some of the period’s same notorious wars that had gained the Duke lasting renown.
“My family had a strong tradition in the Royal Navy,” Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, told us after we’d toured the new pieces in the Althorp Living History Collection at Theodore Alexander during High Point Market. “My great, great, great grandfather was in charge of the navy during the wars with Napoleon.”
The conversation arose because we had spotted the Elegance and Utility dressing table (above) paired with the Althorp Heyer accent chair. When we mentioned that the table was inspired by the campaign furniture of the same era, he said, “We still use some of our ancestors’ campaign trunks for storing the shells and cartridges we use when hunting.”
Pointing to an antique in the foyer, he went on to say, “This trunk, which belonged to George Washington’s family, was left on our estate when they moved to America.” He raised the lid to reveal a note inside that had cemented its pedigree, written on July 16, 1877.
Like the Washington chest that was inspired by the antique, the other new pieces in the collection were based upon furnishings within the rooms of the stately house that has been the ancestral home to many an Earl Spencer for 19 generations. “The furnishings capture the extraordinary ancestry of 500 years of our traditions,” Lord Spencer explained. “Each piece brings to life generations of memories and embodies centuries of Britain’s most treasured craftsmanship.”
The Althorp Living History Collection
Given the family’s noble status, it’s no surprise the furniture has a decidedly formal feel. A theme ran through our favorites—unable to edit out the writers within, we found ourselves drawn to pieces like the Shakespeare buffet, which sits against the red wall in the dining room vignette above. The Lady Lavinia Cabinet below would suit us perfectly for those mornings when we’re editing our work, though the regal feel of the piece might bring on bouts of exaggerated ego so best tread carefully there, we thought to ourselves.
We would definitely be comfortable at the Grand Staircase Fall Front Desk & Bureaux, below, seated in the Coronet side chair.
This is the moment we realized we had been watching too much Masterpiece Theatre, proven by the fact we could almost imagine ourselves perched upon the Ad Victoriam arm chair at the King William Bedroom Bureau Cabinet shown below, writing our daily letters in longhand!
These flights of fancy were brought on by the feeling of authenticity within the rooms. Each design had a story in the original, references Earl Spencer shared as he guided us through the spaces. In the end, the collected whole served as a nod to a grand history to which we’ve become addicted, thanks in no small part to PBS. Gliding through a past that was graciously lived had provided us with a much-needed respite to the insanity of Market.
After the tour of the collection, Earl Spencer hosted a dinner and silent auction to raise funds for Whole Child International. He and Countess Spencer, the organization’s founder, were special guests during the fête. Lady Spencer founded Whole Child International in 2004 with the aim of giving every child the opportunity to be properly cared for and loved. Knowing the ticket costs for the dinner went to such a good cause, the energy of the evening took on a richness that had been mirrored in the luxurious home décor.
Because the professional silhouettes of the products show the remarkable details than our photos can, we’re featuring a few silhouettes of the new releases below:
This ebonized serpentine sideboard has a breakfront top with a pierced fretwork gallery about two fretwork trellis doors. The elaborate Chinoiserie cabinet has a painted cartouche handle.
This ebonized mahogany and parcel gilt Chinoiserie side cabinet had a rectangular molded edge top with protruding rounded corners.
This fine ebonized and hand-painted settee has gilt details. The twin back has an overscroll toprail with gilt leaf decoration.
The most over-the-top piece among the new collection is this upholstered armchair with an upholstered back crowned by a guilloche carved arched toprail and sides above an acanthus baton arm with Lion carved terminals on bellflower and lapette cabriole uprights.
The lion’s head detail on the chair above is an example of the thought put into the designs that represent so many treasured antiques, which will live on into the future.