Monty Don in his farm in Wales
Thursday, 10 October 2013
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Our sacred spaces

From Monty Don to Felicity Kendal, six great Britons, photographed by Derry Moore, give a fascinating insight into their most precious rooms

Monty Don

His farm, Wales

‘This room is plain to the point of spartan. I like that. It is a curio, different from the rest of the house because the ceiling is much higher and it has a bulging chimney breast but no trace of a fireplace. It was built, with the back kitchen below it, as an annexe to the main house in the 18th century and does not quite fit. The two bits of house nudge up against each other awkwardly.

‘It has almost no decoration, save light. That seems to be enough. The lime-plastered walls have enough contour and shape to catch and spread the light as it crosses the window. There are a hundred kinds of very subtle beauty played like a film throughout the day.

‘I have no real desire to be anywhere else. I ask nothing more from it than what it readily gives. I hope I have enough days left to do half the things I want to do here.’




Benedict Cumberbatch in the library of The Garrick ClubBenedict Cumberbatch in the library of The Garrick Club

Benedict Cumberbatch

The library at The Garrick Club, London

‘I was still at school when I first visited The Garrick Club and my father took me to the library. In my memory it always featured as an enormous room, very grand and impressive. Visiting it now, years later, it appears quite small – which in fact it is. It still retains, though, a particular aura, which I sensed on my first visit.

‘This place is an oasis of quiet: a stone’s throw from Charing Cross Road and the theatre district on one side, and from Covent Garden on the other. It is possible to sit here in silence, surrounded by volumes full of original playbills – Edmund Kean (referred to as ‘Mr’ Kean) in Richard III or Othello. It enables one to touch, as it were, the past of the magic world of theatre.’



Felicity Kendal at the Gielgud TheatreFelicity Kendal at the Gielgud Theatre

Felicity Kendal

The Gielgud Theatre, London

‘This theatre has always been very lucky for me. As well as holding so many happy memories, it’s also where I had my first two West End hits. I was first on this stage as a green young actress in 1971 opposite Alan Badel who played Kean in the show of that name. Alan belonged to the tradition of 19th-century actors whose personalities were as large and eccentric as some of the parts they played.

‘Moving into the dressing rooms before a run is like coming home, and the stage is a perfect space to work on. It’s a beautiful, classical theatre I am proud to say that I have worked in many times with great joy.’



The Duke of Beaufort at Badminton HouseThe Duke of Beaufort at Badminton House

The Duke of Beaufort

The Hall, Badminton House, Gloucestershire

‘I first visited Badminton at the end of the Second World War, when I was about 15. I remember having tea in the housekeeper’s sitting room but have no recollection of seeing this room, the hall, on that occasion, which is not as surprising as it sounds since most of the house was barely lived in at that time. This was because Queen Mary, who had spent most of the war at Badminton, bringing a large retinue with her, had on her departure taken the retinue, including virtually all the servants, leaving my poor cousin’s wife with a rather decrepit butler to look after her and the entire house. On that occasion, Badminton seemed to me a cold and grim house. I remember that when my cousin, the 10th Duke, who had no children, said, ‘I hope you’ll make this house your home’, I was horrified and thought, ‘How awful.’

‘After his death in 1984, my wife and I moved into the big house and, although we redecorated most of it, we never touched the hall, which remains much as when it was originally designed by William Kent.’



Gilbert and George in their minimally decorated home in Fournier Street, LondonGilbert and George in their minimally decorated home in Fournier Street, London

Gilbert and George

Their home, Fournier Street, London

‘The furniture in the room is minimal and mostly 19th-century. We started to collect 19thcentury furniture in the mid 1970s because it was both available and affordable. We became fascinated by the period. In addition, it seemed to us that it was being discriminated against, just as we ourselves were at the time; anyone who mentioned the word ‘Victorian’ meant ‘Victorian rubbish’. We felt we were in the same boat and therefore felt inclined to defend it. People only collected 18th-century furniture, and antique shops wouldn’t dream of stocking a piece of post-Georgian 19th-century work.

‘We chose the pieces here carefully. We like to wait until the right piece comes along, like the two small chairs made by Rupert Bevan. ‘We also like the smell of this room: it comes from the doors which have been painted with pigment mixed with linseed oil and lead, as they would have been originally in this Queen Anne house.’



Alan Bennett's favourite room is the one he decorated himselfAlan Bennett's favourite room is the one he decorated himself

Alan Bennett

Primrose Hill, London

An English Room by Derry‘The room in which I’m standing I decorated myself some 40 years ago. The house was built in 1840, the date and the architect’s name scratched on the right of the marble fireplace. I stripped off more than a century’s accumulated paint and paper to reveal the original lime plaster. I then painted it with various waterbased stains in orange, yellow and terra cotta before finally washing them down and sealing the surface that was left.

‘I hope it looks like the wall of an Italian palazzo. The other half of the room I stained blue, but found this too cold so put yellow over it, which turned it a vivid green.

An English Room by Derry Moore, is published by Prestel, priced £29.99.


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