As we say goodbye to the Olympics in London (and well done old chaps!), and pursuant to my modestly athletic post last week on Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London, here is more on its spectacular Green Room, a fabulous room if ever there was. When Hollywood decorator Billy Haines re-modeled Winfield under the auspices of Ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Lee ca. 1969, the Green Room was considered his most significant transformation. At the risk of gushing, I have to say I was transformed by it myself when His Grace and I earlier this summer visited HG’s old Chicago friend and current ambassador to the Court of St. James, Louis Susman and his wife Marjorie.
The first thing that knocks you out is the the wallpaper, and then it takes a minute for the other exquisite details to register — like the window pelmets and gilding, the trim on the curtains, the beautiful rug Haines designed, the fact that the Annenbergs did all this on their dime and then endowed it… But back to the wallpaper. It is hand-painted, 18th-century Chinese, with birds and butterflies frolicking among flowering almond and cherry trees, viburnums and peonies. The paper’s history is a little cloudy, but for sure it came from a house in Ireland called Townley Hall built in 1794 and considered a masterpiece of architect Francis Johnson. Chinoiserie was all the rage then. Still is in some parts.
The Townley Hall website says: “In 1950 this wallpaper was carefully removed, sent to Hong Kong for restoration, and now graces the Green Room of the American embassy [sic] in Regents Park, London.” (Note that Winfield is the residence, not the embassy. The US Embassy is in Grosvenor Square) The beautiful and meticulously researched Winfield House, by Maria Tuttle and Marcus Binney says, “After purchase by Ambassador and Mrs. Annenberg the wallpaper was shipped to New York for cleaning and then to Hong Kong for retouching.” It doesn’t say when the paper was removed. Maybe the Annenbergs bought it years earlier to save for a rainy day, decoratively speaking.
Oh! And look who’s here now… First Lady Michelle Obama in the Reception Hall horsing around with some young’uns. To see another photo of Mrs. Obama all dressed up and with Prince Charles, Camilla, and Ambassador and Mrs. Susman, click on my earlier post on Winfield House.
I also ran across a wonderful post about Billy Haines and his work in designer Marcia Zia-Priven’s Studio Luxe, though she does not mention his work at Winfield House. It is reportedly considered his last major project.
All photos from the book Winfield House, except the last of Mrs. Obama et. al., by White House photographer Sonya Herbert. More photos of Mrs. Obama’s visit to Winfield House can be seen on the White House official website here.