Discover the D’Oyly Carte Family’s Art Deco Estate in Devon
Think of this article as an invitation to take a trip back in time to an altogether more glamorous age. While the simple, unadorned exterior of Coleton Fishacre House has all the hallmarks of the late-Victorian Arts & Crafts movement, this South Devon country estate’s stunning interior pays tribute to the most decadent of decades: the Roaring Twenties.
Coleton Fishacre nestles in a coastal valley close to the village of Kingswear, just across the River Dart from beautiful Dartmouth. The attractive property was built in the mid-1920s by one of the period’s power couples, the London hotel magnate Rupert D’Oyly Carte and his aristocratic wife, Lady Dorothy, the younger daughter of the second Earl of Cranbrook.
A Charming Country Retreat for the Owner of The Savoy
The D’Oyly Carte business empire was impressive and diverse: Rupert was not only the proprietor of Britain’s first luxury hotel, The Savoy, and other lavish venues such as Claridge’s, but also ran the popular D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Richard, who’d financed The Savoy’s construction during the 1880s with profits from his productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas. (Among Coleton Fishacre’s treasures are busts of the famous Victorian dramatist and composer duo.)
As an elegant manor surrounded by lush green land and sea views, Coleton Fishacre offered Rupert and Lady Dorothy a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Business commitments kept Rupert in London on weekdays; by summer 1929, for example, he was masterminding an ambitious plan to transform the Savoy Theatre in less than six months before staging Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers there. However, he stayed at Coleton Fishacre at weekends, no doubt eager to unwind in the countryside. His wife loved the Devon estate so much that she made it her main residence.
Getting Away From It All in the Great Outdoors
Despite his strong connection to the capital, Rupert enjoyed the great outdoors, as did intrepid Lady Dorothy. That made Coleton Fishacre ideal for them both. The elite couple liked gardening, fishing, swimming at nearby Pudcombe Cove and sailing. In fact, they discovered the area that became the site of their bespoke estate while out on their yacht.
They subsequently sailed to Cornwall looking for inspiration for Coleton Fishacre’s 24-acre gardens, which were home to exotic plants Lady Dorothy discovered on her trips abroad. Guests were just as likely to find themselves helping with the weeding as sipping cocktails!
Stunning Rooms for Entertaining Guests in Style
The spacious house is the work of the prominent architect Oswald Milne, who also designed interiors for Claridge’s. The sophisticated Art Deco rooms at Coleton Fishacre, complete with beautiful East Asian furnishings and Lalique wall lights, are perfectly suited to stylish, relaxed entertaining. As the National Trust (which has looked after the estate since 1982) emphasises in its handbook, the house ‘has a light, joyful atmosphere’.
Three rooms merit particularly close attention:
- The library is chic without a hint of stuffiness. You can imagine the D’Oyly Cartes writing letters at the desk in the morning as sunlight streamed through the bay window and, later, sinking into the armchairs and reading leather-bound books.
- The sitting room also features comfortable furniture from the twenties, plus a stylish cocktail cabinet for parties. However, a photo of the couple’s son, Michael, who died aged only 21 in 1932, points to the fact that not every day at the house was carefree.
- The saloon is the most impressive room of all – it’s distinguished by circular steps at the entrance, a Blüthner grand piano and Art Deco ornaments on every surface.
Celebrating the Jazz Age at Coleton Fishacre
Coleton Fishacre is now an award-winning tourist attraction. It’s currently closed (for obvious reasons), but normally welcomes visitors between February and December. There the National Trust invites you to imagine that you’re ‘living the high life in the Jazz Age, just as the D’Oyly Cartes did’, with the help of vintage music, parties and live theatre.
Become a Lord or Lady of the Manor with Elite Titles
Although you can’t move into the D’Oyly Carte family’s Devon manor (more’s the pity!), you can become a Lord or Lady of the Manor, thereby aligning yourself with the social elite.
All you need is our Lord of the Manor package – it includes a legal change of title to Lord and/or Lady, as well as a small land parcel near the River Dart (your ‘manor’) for you to name as you wish.
Decorative manorial titles are an easy, affordable way to enhance your lifestyle and have a little fun too!