Coleton Fishacre's glorious setting drew the D'Oyly Cartes here © Tony Cobley

Coleton Fishacre's glorious setting drew the D'Oyly Cartes here

The art of country living

In the 1920s Rupert and Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte were sailing along the South Devon coast. Looking for a country retreat, they were inspired to make this beautiful valley running down to the sea the site for an elegant home. Here they could entertain in style and indulge their passion for the outdoors.

The D'Oyly Cartes

The D'Oyly Cartes relaxing at Coleton Fishacre

The D'Oyly Cartes relaxing at Coleton Fishacre

Rupert was the son of Richard D'Oyly Carte, the impresario behind the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. He developed the business empire he inherited, including the Savoy Hotel and Claridges in London.

The D'Oyly Carte family lived at Coleton Fishacre until 1949, when Rupert's daughter Bridget sold it to Rowland Smith, owner of the Palace Hotel in Torquay.

Upstairs downstairs

The D'Oyly Cartes were able to afford a substantial staff at Coleton Fishacre - butler, housekeeper, housemaid and cook. The kitchen was the working heart of the house, and the servant's hall was a space to relax.

Art Deco

 Fans of Art Deco pieces will find beautiful examples to admire here

Fans of Art Deco pieces will find beautiful examples to admire here

In contrast to the Arts and Crafts exterior of the house, the interior of the house is dramatically 20th-century Art Deco in design. Simplicity, quality and finish is key throughout. The D'Oyly Cartes aspired to a minimalist design, with the lack of adornment particularly apparent in the corridors. The pale rooms with accents of strong colour are typical of the 1920s.

Arts and Crafts

  • The building began in 1923 to the design of Oswald Milne
  • Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement's belief in simple design and high standards of craftmanship, the house grew out of the landscape
  • The movement believed that the house and garden should be designed as one integrated whole, the garden as an extension of the house
  • Plants were used to soften the formal lines of the architectural structures
  • Hard and soft landscaping were combined and plants became ‘flesh’ around the ‘bones’ of the garden

The Saloon

The Saloon is the epitome of 1920s elegance © Country Life

The architect Oswald Milne dealt with awkward changes in the levels of the site, using stage-like curving steps down into the Saloon to create an impressive entrance to an elegant room.

Thirties floors

The Saloon with carpet designed by Marion Dorn © Dennis Gilbert

In the photo from 1930 you can see a large French-style carpet. Later on in the 30s this was replaced with a carpet, runner and pair of rugs created for the room by Marion Dorn.

Marion Dorn

The Saloon is the epitome of 1920s elegance © National Trust

Marion Dorn was the leading freelance textile designer of the inter-War period. She favoured large scale patterns for her carpets, using simple colours and weave textures.

Lady Dorothy's bedroom

The bedroom was featured in Country Life in 1930 © Country Life

We used images of the bedroom from Country Life from 1930 to recreate the layout of the room. Only two pieces of furniture remain from the D'Oyly Carte's time, the rest is recreated.

Material masterpiece

This bedroom was recreated to match images from Country Life © Country Life

The recreation of the curtains and cushions is a triumph of research. The original printing block was traced to the archives of the Lyons textile firm Bianchini Ferier in France.

Starting from scratch

This photo was taken in 1925, not long after the house was finished

Unlike many houses, when Coleton Fishacre came to the National Trust it was basically an empty shell, with only the Marion Dorn carpet in the Saloon and the Dining Room furniture remaining.