Lord Frederic Leighton was an artist and sculptor who became the president of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1878. He is often associated with the Aesthetic Movement which describes a revolt against the ugliness of Victorian Britain during which artists took inspiration from the beauty of the world, blending design from several cultures. His house in Holland Park, designed in 1864 by architect George Aitchison, is a perfect example.
When I entered the Staircase Hall I was overwhelmed by the peacock blue tiles which lined every wall from floor to ceiling; I knew in that instant that it was my favourite colour. The mottled indigo, navy, emerald and turquoise came alive under the reflective ceramic and the gold mosaic accents. But this was just a taste of things to come. The highlight of the house is the domed Arab Hall which was built as an extension to the original building to house Leighton’s collection of Islamic tiles. I can’t recall anywhere else in London that had such a calming effect on me. The hall is a true oasis. In this room, the striking blue is relaxed with cream and coral and the mosaic floors are softened with Persian rugs. The sound of a small trickling fountain echoes around the room and is almost melodic and absolutely meditative.
After dragging myself away form the Arab Hall, I perused the upstairs studio in which Leighton would paint. The room is presented as it would have been in his day with large commissions hanging on the wall and several easels dotted around. A mezzanine platform enabled Leighton to reach the tops of his paintings. Below this platform is a small wooden dressing room in which the models would undress and wait to be called.
Outside the studio at the top of the stairs is a banquette constructed from a wooden lattice known as a Mashrabiya, imported from Egypt, and lined with silk cushions. Through the lattice, colour and gold from the Arab Hall below peep through and reflect on the gilded gold ceiling. I sat in that Mashrabiya and begged my brain to devise a way to recreate it in my modest flat in Camden!
12 Holland Park Road, W14 8LZ