Monday, November 14, 2011

Leeds Castle: Olympic Accommodations

Leeds Castle.
Those planning to attend the London 2012 Olympics and needing a castle on a 500 acre estate will be happy to find that Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent, is available for exclusive use for the 17 days of the games for a minimum of GBP 1 million.  The castle, dating from the ninth century and largely built in the 12th, has 40 bedrooms, comes with a butler, chauffeur and Michelin-starred chefs, and the price includes front-row hospitality seats at the Olympic stadium as well as a special flag designed to fly at the castle during the stay.  Although only about 30 miles from London, it is about a two-hour drive to the stadium; there is a heliport at the castle to make the commute easier.

Readers of The Devoted Classicist might be more familiar with the castle as the former home of Lady Olive Baillie, the iconic tastemaker of pre-World War II England.  With Stephane Boudin of the legendary decorating firm Maison Jansen, the townhouse at 45 Upper Grosvenor Street and the castle in Kent were notable for introducing the melding of French and English 18th-century styles and a re-introduction of trompe l'oeil painting.  The Hon. Olive Paget, 1899-1974, was the elder daughter of the Baron Queenborough (who made a fortune in the Canadian steel industry) and Pauline Payne Whitney (daughter of financier William Collins Whitney).  Her third and last husband was Sir Adrian Baillie, the Baronet of Polkemmet to whom she was married 1931 to 1944.  She and her second husband acquired Leeds Castle in 1926 and modernized it with the addition of electricity and 15 bathrooms in a luxurious fantasy-inspired decorating scheme by the French designer Armand-Albert Rateau.  But after the great success of the decoration of the London townhouse, Stephane Boudin was recognized as an ideal collaborator and was brought in for a more serious approach to decorating the country house in 1936.
The decoration of Lady Baillie's bedroom is one of the most famous of Boudin's interiors and one of the most copied.  The rich medium blue with distressed ivory detailing on new Louis XV style paneling is described in the book JANSEN by James Archer Abbott with a quote from David A.H. Cleggett, a historian of the castle:  "The bedroom panels were first brushed with a steel brush to bring up the grain, and then painted with about three thin coats of glaze, followed by the rubbing in of the final dry blue colour.  The panels were then waxed."
Photo of Lady Baillie's Bedroom from JANSEN by James Archer Abbott.
The half-tester bed hangings of ivory silk incorporate shell-shaped reading lights.  Meissen porcelain birds on brackets decorate the walls and pops of accent color were provided by the orange velvet upholstery of the painted pair of Louis XVI fauteuils, according to Mr. Abbott.
The Dining Room, created from several small rooms that were combined, is another room that is often copied.  The paneling was made in England to incorporate five late-18th century tapestries from the Jansen stock, and glazed in a soft Nile green and ivory.  Louis XIV style painted chairs are upholstered in white leather tooled in a damask pattern.  The large Bessarabian rug with pink flowers framed in ivory against a chocolate background was later duplicated by Boudin for the East Room of the White House.
A large Drawing Room, replacing a former breakfast room, features muted yellow damask upholstered walls with a quilted valance with detailing of tapes and tassels.  The chimneypiece was made using a design by Inigo Jones as a model.  It appears that the 18th century Russian rug chosen by Boudin is still in place.
The Library was created from a schoolroom that had been used by Lady Baillie's children, reconfigured with ivory painted paneling and bookcases highlighted with red-gilt.  The architecture was based on late-17th century designs of French Huguenot architect Daniel Marot, according to Mr. Abbott in JANSEN.

At Lady Baillie's death in 1974, the castle and its property was transfered to the Leeds Castle Foundation.  It has been open to the public as a museum and a conference center since 1976, and the money from the Olympic rental would provide funds for on-going maintenance and restoration.  All the color photos are from the Leeds Castle website which has more information about hours for visiting, event rentals, etc.

More information about the collaboration of Lady Baillie and Stephane Boudin can be found in the wonderful book by James Archer Abbott, JANSEN, published by Acanthus Press, 2006, available for purchase here.


  1. Love this! Thanks for posting.

  2. great condensed history with some photos I haven't seen before. Do you think it will rent though at such a high price so far from the festivities?

  3. Was it not so that she put it in her will that the castle was to be open to the public? Was some about it on a TV program once.

    It is a beautiful castle. The library is both elegant and cozy. Will have to click on the website now.

    Thank you for another good post.

  4. H.Y., thank you for commenting.

    A.D., it is thought that the security of the remote location will appeal to a Russian or Chinese billionaire. Or maybe a U.S. corporation. In related news, it has been announced that the Throne Room, the Tapestry Room, or the Queen Anne Room at St. James Palace can be rented for a reception during the Olympics for GBP 30,000; although it is still an official royal residence, a sovereign has not lived there since William IV.

    MLHB, Leeds Castle does operate as a bed & breakfast and a site for receptions and banquets in addition to being a museum. But this is an opportunity to rent the whole estate with special priviledges.

  5. DED, you would appreciate it and occupy the castle with great style, I am sure.

  6. DC -
    What a whirlwind week - Woodrow Wilson house (love it), Charleston (a wealth of wonderful wonders)& now Leeds Castle (did not expect those interiors at all). Where will you be next - I am waiting with bated breath!

  7. Chip, not everyone appreciates the contrast between the exterior and the interior. Perhaps it would not be allowed today, given heritage restrictions. But now these Jansen interiors are historic in their own right.

  8. Thank you for the beautiful interiors images. Love the bird's eggs colors.

  9. Unabashfully obsessed with the dinning hall & the library dahhhling! Oh so chic!


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