A National Trust pamphlet describes Coleton Fishacre as ‘the spirit of the Jazz Age on a Devon cliff.’ Light, airy and spacious with fabulous gardens that lead down to Pudcombe Cove, the house was built in 1923-6 for Rupert D’Oyly Carte and his wife Lady Dorothy. He was the son of impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte who promoted the Gilbert and Sullivan operas and built a business empire that included the Savoy and Claridges.
Visiting Coleton Fishacre was a highlight of my recent trip to Devon. If a list of FAQs exists, the top query must be, ‘When can I move in?’
I am not usually enraptured by slate and mortar but this house is an exception. I might forgo the convenience of local buses, railway station, public libraries and all the usual urban amenities if offered a tenancy here.
Architecturally, Coleton Fishacre has the simplicity of the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1890s. Decoratively and in its furnishings, it is Art Deco, though the term had not been coined when the house was built.
Bedrooms evoke the 1930s, with Heals limed oak furniture, gorgeous fabrics, and silk pyjamas and nightdresses lain out on the beds. Shelves above the washbasins hold smelling salts, sal volatile, violet oil and oil of eucalyptus, creating the impression of occupancy and beautiful people having just slipped out for a splash in the tidal bathing pool.
An elegant dining room opens onto the loggia where the family and their friends ate out in the summertime. There’s library, sitting room, commendably fine accommodation for servants and a saloon with grand piano, which a visitor had been given permission to play.
Usually, “hands-on” rooms and corners in visitor attractions are reserved for children, to keep them from being bored. Here, there’s a bedroom where one can rummage through drawers, find soft, unlined kid gloves, try on hats, coats and shoes, and mine a wardrobe of exquisite hand-stitched garments.
Even in the rain, or perhaps especially in the rain, the gardens, on which Lady Dorothy lavished time and care, have a magical quality, with rushing waterfalls, streams and exotic plants and flowers collected from all over the world. If my request for a tenancy falls on deaf ears, I’ll settle for a tent in the garden.