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Leeds Castle News26 February 2021

Behind the Scenes Conservation at “the loveliest Castle in the world”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, significant conservation work has been happening behind closed doors at Leeds Castle!

Anyone who has explored the magnificent state rooms of the 900-year old Castle will have been captivated by the glamour and luxury of the interior design. The Leeds Castle Foundation, the charity which manages this magnificent treasure house, is currently investing in its long-term vision to restore and reinstate the last private owner’s stunning early 20th-century interiors for the public to continue to enjoy.

Last year, after twelve months of comprehensive research, work began on a large-scale conservation project in the private suite of Lady Baillie (1899–1974), comprising the master bedroom and dressing room. The unique bathroom, which has walls lined with Russian onyx, was conserved previously in anticipation of the current scheme of restoration.

Lady Baillie’s ‘blue bedroom’, as it is known, is now considered to be one of the rarest and finest surviving examples of a Stéphane Boudin (1888-1967) interior scheme from the 1930s, anywhere in the world. Other examples of his work can be found at the White House in Washington DC, and at the Paris apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but Leeds Castle is the only location where the public can see the stunning designs up close and personal.

Boudin was described as “the greatest designer in the world”, creating stunning 20th-century interiors which drew inspiration from preceding centuries and different countries. He met Lady Baillie in 1933 and their client-designer relationship spanned more than three decades, ending when he died in 1967.
The blue bedroom was the first of several important commissions Boudin undertook at Leeds Castle and the 1930s interiors visitors see today are crucial to understanding this great designer’s creativity and artistic practices.

Lady Baillie and Boudin began working on Leeds Castle in 1935 and together they created her dream of a Castle which would become a playground for the rich and famous, entertaining the likes of the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson, Noel Coward and Ian Fleming.
The blue bedroom, which has remained largely untouched for the last 80 years, had in more recent years begun to show visible signs of light and other environmental damage. The 18th-century style wood panelling and the parquet floors, as well as items of furniture and textiles from Lady Baillie’s collection, all required urgent attention from conservation specialists to prevent any further decline in condition.

Over the past year, Covid-safe work to sympathetically restore and conserve both the bedroom and the adjoining dressing room has continued behind the closed doors of the Castle.

Incoming CEO, Helen Bonser-Wilton said:

“The costs of caring for this internationally significant heritage site amount to almost £5m each year, which is usually covered by ticket and commercial sales. However, like all heritage sites, COVID has had a terrible impact on the Castle’s finances and visitor capacities continue to be limited to ensure a safe visit. We would encourage as many people as possible to support us through visiting, staying and booking experiences at the Castle so that we can continue to care for and share these precious and unique assets with the public”.

Leeds Castle Deputy Curator, Catherine Pell said:

“This ambitious restoration project has involved carrying out paint analysis to determine original paint colours and techniques, conserving pieces of furniture integral to the overall decorative scheme and removing later obtrusive fixtures. The specialist conservation of the interiors and collections means they will be preserved for future generations. As a consequence of these preventive conservation measures, they will enjoy a longevity they wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

As the Leeds Castle Charitable Foundation is an independent charity that receives no public funding to cover its conservation costs, projects such as this rely heavily on visitors and hospitality income. It is vital that work can continue to care for the significant interiors and collections of Leeds Castle for future generations to enjoy.

The Foundation is looking forward to unveiling the magnificent Lady Baillie blue bedroom and dressing room to visitors very soon.