MICHAEL INCHBALD, EXAMPLARY DECORATIVE AESTHETE, & CHRISTIE’S ‘LEGACY OF DESIGN’





“I believe the more you design for the future, the more you should know about the past. You’ve got to have a feeling for the great heritage of civilisation.”

– Michael Inchbald –


Last December, more or less at the same time he started his collaboration with Sotheby’s on his article for the exhibition and sale this winter of Felix Marcilhac’s Art Deco masterpieces, A-Gent of Style was preparing another collaboration with another leading auction house for yet another unique sale and exhibition of a single man’s superb, private collection.

The World of Interiors spoiled us, decoration devotees, not just once with their January 2014 issue featuring Marcilhac’s museum-quality home but twice with yet another exclusive glimpse and insight, for the last time, into the home of the first-rank, decorative aesthete, Michael Inchbald. Similarly to Marcilhac,
this exhibition and sale, this time under the aegis of Christie’s, represent the unique and last opportunity to see the contents of one unique house and the ultimate legacy of an erudite decorator, before its dissipation after the sale to disparate owners.



The Michael Inchbald: A Legacy of Design sale will take place in London on
22 January 2014 at 10.30am and will provide discerning collectors a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire exemplary works of art and pieces of furniture from the personal world of the legendary English designer who died earlier last year at the age of 92. This auction will comprise approximately 250 lots composed of important objects, most of which from Stanley House in Chelsea where Michael Inchbald lived in for decades (at present, the now emptied house still belongs to the family), regrouping an impressive array of interests comprising antiquities, clocks, furniture, Old Master paintings, sculpture and silver but also fine arms & armour, books, chinese porcelain, Old Master & British drawings and watercolours to
19th C furniture, European porcelain and travel science & natural history.
With estimates ranging from £500 to £150,000, this sale is expected to realise in the region of £1.2 million.







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The exhibition that complements the sale is currently showing at Christie’s London, King Street in St James’s, until Tuesday evening with all the items on display up for grabs. A-Gent of Style was privileged  to be given a private tour by the curator as soon as the exhibition opened a few days ago and was dazzled by the way the exhibition had been curated into three strikingly beautiful areas, each highlighting the multifarious wonders of Inchbald’s eclectic collection. For instance, as they walk up into the room from the main staircase, the visitors will be greeted by the dramatic view of a two-thousand-year-old Roman marble togatus resting on a pedestal, leading in to the main room where Inchbald’s Regence ormolu-mounted bureau and paraphernalia preside, surrounded by an expansive display of furniture and objets d’art. The second room on the right-hand side regroups the partially reconstructed dining room and blue sitting room (this time sheathed in a Lanvin bag kind of blue) with its imposing painting Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon.
The last room is the amalgam of the remainder of the contents from the mini-palazzo’s sitting rooms, living rooms and study featuring a whole wall recreated to look like the rusticated cork wall Inchbald had designed for himself.

You can view Christies’ full catalogue of the sale online here.



A-Gent of Style must shamefully confess he had only come across the name
Michael Inchbald in decoration books and wasn’t very much au fait with his career nor his aesthetics. Like for many people, the name ‘Inchbald’ is primarily associated with and best-known these days, in London I guess, for the renowned
Inchbald School of Design bearing the family name. Inchbald married his wife Jacqueline – now Duncan – in 1955, and in 1960, she started offering courses in all aspects of design, decoration and art history which became the first school of interior design in Europe at the time and which has grown into the school we know today (now based at Eaton Gate, Belgravia). Ironically, Michael Inchbald never taught at the school and was apparently rather equivocal about its success.
“Our house in Milner Street was featured in House and Garden and L’Oeil in 1960 and the work photographed was indeed revelatory”, explains Mrs Duncan.
“In that same year, I started the School in the old Drawing Room on the ground floor and Michael converted the Dining Room into a large studio of office. Our apartment on the first floor showcased Michael’s brilliant selectivity and faultless taste”.
Mrs Duncan has since remained Principal of the Inchbald School.

 

Michael Inchbald was a multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed designer at the forefront of Interior Design whose most prominent projects were the Bank of America, the headquarters of Plessey and a series of outstanding interiors in luxury hotels such as the Ballroom of the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge and the River Room and American Bar at the Savoy. He revitalised Dunhill’s Jermyn Street store but also the QE2’s first-class saloon, the Queen’s Room, where he characteristically designed everything from ashtrays to carpet to chairs for the room, as well as designing interiors for liners like Carpathia, Franconia and the Windsor Castle, which earned him the title of ‘The Most Successful Marine Interior Ever Conceived’. In 1972, Inchbald was commissioned to refurbish the headquarters of the Crown Estate Commissioners at 13-15 Carlton House Terrace. Michael Inchbald‟s private clients included the Duke of St Albans, the ducs de Liancourt and de la Rochefoucauld,
the Earls of Perth, Dartmouth and St Aldwyn, the 13th Duke of St Albans,
the 6th Marquess of Bristol and many other owners of stately homes as well as contemporary celebrities such as the film director John Schlesinger, the author Alistair Horne and the banker Henry Tiarks.




But Inchbald’s most famous project, “his calling-card: his home, design laboratory and showroom” according to the Sunday Times’ obituaries, was Stanley House,
the aforementioned large mid-Victorian Italianate villa in Milner Street, Chelsea, with doors and windows remade to “Georgian” proportions and columned portico lined in mirror glass, he inherited from his uncle in 1956, and where he had spent most of his childhood, then one of the grandest private homes in London. It is there that Inchbald set up his design business in the lower floors and stylishly updated the living quarters to combine, as Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, notes “his interest in contemporary design and new materials, with a fearless sense of colour and a taste for theatrical display.” Executed between 1957 and 1959, the interiors of Stanley House cemented his reputation as young designer who could seamlessly fuse the neoclassical with the modern.





Upon turning the pages of the spread in the World of Interiors that revealed to the world the grand and elegant living quarters of Stanley House – which hadn’t been featured in a long time – it immediately dawned on A-Gent of Style that his ignorance was rather pitiful and that he had missed out much over the years for not knowing the extent of Inchbald’s talent. Inchbald was clearly a gifted decorator with oodles of taste and style and with a passion for collecting many objets d’art from various cultures, civilisations and corners of the globe (Egyptology, Antiquities, Renaissance, Orientalism amongst others are all represented in his amassment), which made him somehow a modern Sir John Soane who might have been too on a European Grand Tour.



It was fascinating to also discover that Inchbald wasn’t averse to new technologies, materials or even gimmicks and that he was a daring, inventive man. For instance, the geometric marble floor in the entrance hall at Stanley House was in fact linoleum. He upholstered the walls of the entrance hall with a silver-foil wallpaper and the ones in his study with cork. He built what is believed to be the first modern solarium in any London house. He also seemed to have a knack for cutting out squares out of the back of lampshades to let the light out against the walls. Inchbald was clearly adept at staging rooms like theatre sets and using trickery and illusion as the now iconic black obelisks and (plaster) deer head with (real) antlers, lion’s mask mounts and ad infinitum mirrored walls in the porch (similar to the ones  Orson Welles used in his 1947 film noir masterpiece The Lady Of Shanghai) can attest.




Inchbald seemed to have a penchant for tents (he was a contemporary of
Renzo Mongiardino, which A-Gent of Style featured here a few months ago, so perhaps this theme was en vogue in the 1950s and 1960s and one influenced the other; or was it simply a question of great minds thinking alike?). He designed canopied palanquins (draped in rich burgundy velvet) for the doors in the entrance hall and a sweeping pointed arch at the entrance of the blue sitting room.
Inchbald wasn’t either afraid of colours (always a good sign of a talented decorator, in A-Gent‘s view): the exterior of Stanley House was painted a flamboyant Neapolitan yellow (which presumably stood out from the rest of chi-chi Chelsea) and the sitting room in a striking Wedgwood blue. What also struck me was how masculine Inchbald’s aesthetics were. Despite the floral, Chinoiserie wallpaper in the kitchen, he didn’t seem to embrace the typically feminine look of chintzy, Colefax & Fowler, English country house interiors that was all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps due to the fact that Inchbald lived mostly on his own until his death since divorcing his second wife in 1970. 


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According to Tim Knox, “Michael Inchbald is a rare character. Among vociferous and self-opinionated designers he is diffident, among interior decorators he is a true connoisseur of beautiful things; a man of taste, not of fashion”.

Last February, the architectural and design world lost a talented and original exponents. Since there isn’t to this day a monograph on Michael Inchbald, there is relatively  little evidence of his work throughout his career, compared to his contemporaries and alleged rivals, John Fowler and David Hicks who gained international notoriety. But let us hope this oversight gets rectified one day soon.
In the meanwhile, we can still flick through the catalogue specifically put together by Christie’s for the sale to delight us.

 



A special thanks to Christie’s and especially Amelia Walker, the sale specialist,
for their help and support.

– Photos by Christie’s, The World of Interiors and A-Gent of Style




One comment


  • A charming and well deserved tribute to one of the great interior designer of the post WW2 era.

    I was so lucky to work with him JAD

    April 5, 2015

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