Friday, July 12, 2013

Peter Coats at Albany


I wasn't familiar with Peter Coats until I recently saw a 1960s-era photo of his charming English country cottage. A little digging around on the internet turned up that he was once Gardening Editor of House & Garden (the British edition), an author of numerous gardening books plus two autobiographies, a garden designer, and a one-time paramour of Chips Channon. All of those roles combined make for one interesting character in the annals of design and gardening.

When I recently featured Coats's Essex country house drawing room on my blog, Luke Honey, antiquarian and blogger (see more about Luke in the post below), mentioned that Coats's set at Albany in London was once featured in an old House & Garden book by Robert Harling. I took a stab and purchased a copy of House & Garden Book of Interiors (by, yes, Harling and published in 1962), and sure enough, there were photos of Coats's city flat.

For those of you who are intrigued by Albany and its dwellers, you might be interested to know that Coats inhabited A1, which had once been the flat of Mr. William Stone. (The late Stone at one time owned almost half of Albany, if you can imagine.) Coats's set spanned three floors, with the hall, drawing room, study, and bath on the ground floor, the master bedroom and bathroom above that, and a dining room, kitchen, guest bedroom, and bathroom in the basement. All that said, though, the set was not terribly large. Only the drawing room was spacious.

From what I've read on the internet, Coats died in 1990 at age 80. Though it seems his achievements are little known here in the States (that's an assumption on my part), his legacy lives on in the books he penned, including Flowers in History, The Gardens of Buckingham Palace, and his two autobiographies, Of Generals and Gardens and Of Kings and Cabbages.  They might well be worth looking into. 




In the ground floor hall, both the walls and carpet were green, while the blue curtains were trimmed in yellow and black saddler's braid. The gilt wood chandelier was once located in William Pitt's study at Chatham House.





The largest room in the home, the drawing room was once part of Lord Melbourne's library. (It was Lord Melbourne who built Melbourne House, which, when it was later converted to flats, became known as Albany.)





The study, also on the ground floor, was more contemporary-looking in appearance. The walls, by the way, were raspberry red.






The basement floor dining room had an arched ceiling, a vestige of the room's former use as a cellarage. Coats had the walls and ceiling painted in faux marbre.




Coats hired artist Martin Newell to paint a trompe l'oeil classical doorway on the wall outside of the dining room window.

16 comments:

  1. If I didn't already know--vaguely--and even if you hadn't mentioned the connection between Peter Coats and that elegant & amoral opportunist Chips Channon, I would still have figured out that something was up between those two, because the carved figures in the photo of Caot's dining room used to stand at the far end of the corridor that led to the Channon's shock-&-awe dining room. Quite a change of scene.

    And the near-collision of deep, saturated colors in Coats' hall/library makes me think of George Stacey & Rose Cumming. Not together, of course. At any rate, this edition of the H&G book isn't in my own collection but, obviously, it needs to be. Thanks for the alert.

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    1. Mr. Grand, I love that you made the Channon connection because of the figures. I knew I had seen those figures somewhere before, but couldn't remember where. Aren't you clever!

      I think you need this book. You of all people would really enjoy it.

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  2. Simply Grand aka Magnaverde aka Bart Swindal has beaten me to the chase!
    The moment I saw those carved exotic figures, No. 5 Belgrave Square sprang to mind,
    where Chips Channon had engaged Boudin to work his wonders. It's fascinating too,
    the way we can reference Peter Coats and Chips Channon as having a special friendship,
    without raising a single eyebrow. This wasn't always the case. In fact Peter Coats was
    none too pleased to find himself described in James Lees Milnes's published diaries as Chips's
    companion.
    But don't let me ramble on here. This post was a charming surprise. Now I'm off to
    locate that elusive Robert Harling book.

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    1. Mr. Worthington, You and Bart have eagle eyes. I hope you find a copy of this Harling H&G book. It's fascinating, and the homes which are featured are absolutely charming. A bygone era in design.

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  3. Pax Britannica10:24 AM

    An unexpurgated edition of the complete Channon diaries is in preparation (everyone in them now being safely dead), so we may learn more... The mirrored table and some panelling from the Belgrave Square dining room was sold recently in London - it all looked rather gimcrack and tawdry in the daylight, alas, though it inevitably went for way over the estimate.

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    1. I think there are many of us eagerly anticipating the unexpurgated edition so that we can, as you say, learn more. I always thought the Channon dining room looked so elegant in black and white photos. Once I saw a color photo, however, I realized it was more showy than elegant.

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    2. And Generals/Gardens and the later Kings/Cabbages are highly recommended. Coats was an inveterate raconteur, and had a fascinating life: ADC to Field Marshall Lord Wavell when he was Viceroy of India during most of the War. I have friends who knew him at The Albany.

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    3. Pax, I have Of Generals and Gardens on order from the U.K. It should arrive any day now, and I am very anxious to read it. What a fascinating character.

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  4. I found this whilst poking around the internet:

    http://theesotericcuriosa.blogspot.com/2010/07/honorary-esoteric-sir-henry-chips.html

    (The 9th photo down features the carved figures being discussed in the comments above.)

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    1. Maven- That's a very interesting blog post!

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  5. I love that the residents of the Albany call themselves Albanians!

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  6. Anonymous4:15 PM

    The fact that Coats's cottage was just down the road in Essex from Channon's splendid-Hicks decorated-Kelvedon Hall, where Chips lived with his Guinness heiress wife and family, was all ways a bit of clue. Even now nobody lives in Essex without a damn good reason... I live next door in Herts.

    Btw,Pax Brit. its all ways just Albany, no 'the', check with your friends there!

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    1. It may indeed be 'Albany' without any prefix--yet wasn't it Algernon Moncrieff who read out John Worthing's address
      as 'B-4, The Albany' ??
      Meaning that even Oscar Wilde got it wrong.

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    2. I don't think there should be anything mysterious about calling it Albany. My understanding was that it was just short for Albany House- so calling it The Albany wouldn't make sense. And, incidentally, I see that Tom Driberg's former house (Bradwell Lodge) in Essex is up for sale- and at a relatively affordable price. A splendid neo-classical pile, close to a nuclear power station and very isolated on a strange peninsular. There's an observatory on top- very handy for signalling to Soviet subs, and Dennis Wheatley-esque escapades.

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  7. Victoria3:09 AM

    Doodling around this weekend I found a September 1982 issue of The Tatler showing 5 residents of Albany including Coats in his dining room. It was once part of Lord Byron's set.

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  8. The drawing room is very spacious and beautiful art works.

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