Saturday, 14 October 2017

Dorset Deco: Portland House

The National Trust has a variety of properties that it doesn't, as a rule, open to the public, but lets out for holidays. One of these, I read lately in Dorset Life, is Portland House on the edge of Weymouth, designed and intended as a Jazz Age playboy's plaything. Gerard Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington, and who, coincidentally, also designed the church I used to worship at) was the architect, and his client Geoffrey Bushby, who came from a wealthy family from Wormley in Hertfordshire. Mr Bushby dreamt of looking out on the lights of Portland Harbour from a Spanish-styled terrace while champagne glasses chinked in the room behind and jazz drifted out into the night. It never happened: he died on Christmas Eve 1935, on the brink of moving in. His mother and sister came to sell the place and fell for it: Dorothy Bushby stayed there until her death in 1983, whereon the NT decided to refit it in accordance with its date. You can read more here.

I realised that Portland House would be open for a day during my holiday and on Friday popped along to see it. 'You found us all right,' said the lady on the door. Locating the house in fact presented no difficulty in view of the hundred or so people queuing outside the gate. Many of the voices I heard had definite Dorset accents and were presumably taking the chance to look around the house they'd passed but had never had the opportunity to look inside. It was all a bit busy to take in any atmosphere, and most of the fittings are very obviously modern rather than period - a bit like one of those house-makeover shows where somebody from Croydon says 'Oh, I love Art Deco, me', and puts a load of mirrors up the stairs - but the fabric of the house is Deco enough and if you look carefully there are some delightful details. The blue bath looks like an ocean liner and even the overflow outlet cover has a sunburst.

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