Denney's Influence at Rainham Hall

Anthony Denney in the Library at Rainham Hall

Discover the influence of fashion photographer and interior designer Anthony Denney on his former home, Rainham Hall.

Denney is one of Rainham Hall's most intriguing former residents, having lived here between 1964 and 1969. During his short residence at the Hall, Denney made several changes to the interiors that remain to this day. 

Denney's background

Denney was something of a renaissance man; first studying painting at the Royal College of Art, and later turning to photography, interiors, and art collecting. He attracted the interest of then British Vogue editor, Audrey Withers, with some of his published images from his military career, having served in the Royal Engineers, eventually becoming a Captain, during the Second World War. 

From 1947, Denney became one of Condé Nast’s chief photographers. His work featured in many influential titles, including House and Garden magazine and advancing to Decorations Editor for British Vogue. His work was identifiable by the careful mise-en-scène of his photographs, bringing together beautiful backdrops and interiors on which to photograph objects, from fashion to food.

" ...Anthony Denney, whose name stands among decorators like Fabergé among jewellers..."
- Hugh Johnson, Queen Magazine, 1968

His other projects included designing the interior of at least two yachts and the ‘G Plan gallery’ furniture showroom in Hanover Square, London. Denney was also a prolific collector, building up an impressive modern art collection, including works by Burri, Dubuffet, Fontana, Appel, and Imai. 

Denney at Rainham Hall

In 1964, the National Trust were seeking a new tenant for Rainham Hall, who would be able to bring in high quality furnishings and respect the historic interiors. Denney came highly recommended by his friend Robin Fedden, then Deputy Director of the Trust.

" The Trust was lucky enough to find [Denney], the one man who could restore the house in every detail, not pedantically, but passionately to its original state"
- Hugh Johnson, Queen Magazine, 1968

Upon securing the tenancy, Denney set about a programme of interior repairs, hiring butler Tadeo Smythinski to supervise the day-to-day running of the Hall and a team of specialist decorators. Over a number of years, they sympathetically restored almost every room to reflect the tastes of the early Georgian period, a style from three decades before the Hall was built in 1729. These old-fashioned interiors would often be strikingly dressed alongside the bold surrealist art Denney had collected, combining antique furniture from the eighteenth century, with modern designers from the 1960s.

Page 42, September 1958, House & Garden
Page 42, September 1958, House & Garden
Page 42, September 1958, House & Garden

Whilst Denney lived at Rainham Hall he regularly hosted dinner parties and lunches for Condé Nast colleagues, gallerists from Paris, and members of British art societies. On Wednesdays, the Hall was open by written appointment and occasionally people would visit. His beloved pet, Miss Cat, also made the move from his west London flat.

Despite enjoying his time in Rainham, following the sudden death of his butler in 1969, Denney left the Hall, unable to manage the upkeep of the property alone. Today only some of Denney’s paint schemes still remain, particularly the entrance hall’s gilding and marbled paintwork.

The Denney Edition: celebrating an icon of 20th century style

In partnership with creative company The Decorators, and a host of designers and local craftspeople, the Hall has been transformed into a ‘living magazine’ to showcase Denney’s life and work. Exhibits include objects and photographs from Denney’s personal life, with spaces representing themes of fashion, jewellery, arts, interiors, food, gardening, and travel.