The house Polly Devlin lives in, in Bedford Park in Chiswick, was designed by Norman Shaw in the 1880s in the Queen Anne style. This estate described by Sir John Betjeman as the most significant suburb built in the 19th century, was an idealistic venture with a church, parish hall, club, stores, pub and a school of art. WB Yeats and Camille Pissarro lived here amongst many other artists, actors and writers. The house is large and rambling, idiosyncratic and full of light, with things one doesn’t expect in a London house, like washrooms and sculleries, a drying room and cellars and a huge studio and a lodge in the garden. It was a hotel and then an oligarch’s residence, at which time all the original features were removed including floorboards, fireplaces and plasterwork. When Devlin acquired it a number of years ago, she found when she walked into some rooms, lights switched on unexpectedly and music blared out alarmingly. She spent a year and a half restoring the house, including removing embedded Swarovski crystals form the walls and hidden speakers in the ceilings. She grows vegetables all year round in the kitchen garden and there is a plant house for orchids and her favourite geraniums.
The house is filled with paintings and objects but it is not cluttered. As Devlin says: “Cluttered is not mindful of the space around objects. There isn’t an object in my house that I don’t love and treasure, and I know the background of every one.” Whether it’s from 17th-century France or 21st-century Massachusetts or from the smallest village in Ireland, everything has its memories and history and that is its attraction for her rather than any intrinsic value. “There’s not a thing in my house that hasn’t its story attached. Each thing encapsulates a time in my life – the happy place where I bought it or found it – so there is nostalgia and memory in there too.” Handling each object, she says, is holding her history in her hand.
The 1950s Danish sofa is by Hans Wegner. Devlin commissioned the two stools after a pair she saw in Ham House. The large ceramic lights are by John Stefanides. Devlin has collected blue and white china over many years: the big tulip holders and obelisks are by artist Simon Pettet. She mixes the blue and white china with Staffordshire dogs so the effect is not too serious.
The needlepoint ottoman was made by Garnett’s grandmother over a period of 20 years – she started when she was 73. The big sofa is by John Stefanides. The glass objects on the chimney shelf were made by Serge Roche in the 1930s. The flower painting is by Vanessa Bell. The grandfather clock is from Normandy, from about 1890. Some of the cushions were embroidered by Devlin and the sculpture on the bookshelf is by Eilis O’Connell.
The 1850s papier-maché chairs are by Jennens and Bettridge; their covers are suzanis from Uzbekistan. The 1930s shell bureau is from Cap Ferrat. The marble bust of Clytie on a barley sugar column was bought at a house sale in Co Wicklow and the mysterious painting is one of a pair found rolled up in a house in northern France and painted in the 1920s. Devlin made the ceramic model of an Elizabethan house she lived in for many years.
Devlin copied the kitchen table from one in Monet’s kitchen at Giverny. The tole chandelier is Irish and the ceramic figure is by Cleo Mussie.
On the desk, there is a painting by Martin Mooney and an inkwell given to Devlin by Diana Vreeland. The big painting is by Terence Flanagan, the one below it by Melita Denaro. The chair is Danish, from the 1950s.
In a guest room, an English four-poster in maple, watercolours by E Wharton and Sine Mac Kinnon, a 19th-century rag rug and a Persian rug. The wooden rabbit is from Vietnam.
Beside Devlins’s very high bed there is an Indian stool. The wooden Gustavian bench at the end of the bed is by Colefax and Fowler. The large painting of an angel visiting three girls by Anthea Craigmyle is flanked by paintings by Tessa Newcomb and Irish artist Una Watters. The needlepoint bedhead depicts Devlin’s former home in Sussex. Above it hangs an 18th-century Chinese watercolour. The nursery rugs are from Garnett’s childhood home.
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