Early in my collecting days I ran into a problem that actually inspired one of my favorite structures in the KSB Miniatures Collection. I was contemplating what my second commission would be and as I analyzed the furnishings I had so lovingly accumulated, I realized I had branched into two distinctive furniture styles: American Traditional and European. The dilemma was how to combine the items without having to build two separate structures. Luckily for me, Dan McNeil, who owned The Lawbre Company at the time, had a solution.
I had so enjoyed working with him on my first house, Westbury Hall, so when he proposed Chessington Plaza, an architecturally detailed five-story building which included two separate apartments, two terraces, and room on the ground floor for shops, I was ecstatic with the possibilities. Dan was wonderful to work with and as we discussed my vision for the 21-room house and the items I had already collected, I could see the delightful space coming together right then and there before my eyes.
On the American side, we designed an attic apartment with a roof garden for a budding artist (in my mind, my daughter, Carey). There would be a bedroom and sitting area, kitchen, dining room, living room, music room, foyer and bathroom. On the European side, there would be a gentleman’s refuge with pool table, a roof garden, master suite, living room with music area, dining room, office and first-floor kitchen.
You really have to see Chessington to understand how it flows. The entire structure is 30″ wide, 28″ deep and 60″high. There is a central entryway with staircase leading up to the two apartment entrances on the second floor. Dan created 25 limited editions of this structure, each with variations and customizations per the buyer.
While I didn’t realize it at the time, it became clear to me that I had collected items that were highly similar to furnishings my mother had purchased in full size over the years, so the American side of Chessington really incorporates many aspects of my youth. I also decided to go with my mother’s decorating palette. I fell in love with the mural by Ann Brownbridge because it reflected the blues and greens my mom loved so much. The urns on the mantle in that room were done by Harry Smith and greatly add to the color scheme and elegant feel of the room. Carol Moore of Designing Ways made all the draperies for Chessington.
You also see a lot of music-related items on each side of Chessington. I think I was trying to re-create the ambiance of my childhood home which included music almost every night after dinner. Mom on the piano and Dad on the organ, or vice versa. One would just start playing a song and the other would join in whether it was pop, classical or choral. They played it all. Our music area was in a separate alcove off the main living area and Chessington’s design made it ideal for the space to be incorporated in both apartments.
Some of the earliest items I collected are still displayed in Chessington. One of the first pieces I purchased from Le Chateau Interiors was the Regency love seat in the European sitting room. Many of the pieces were created by English artisans which I bought at the now closed Singing Tree shop in London: Ann Shepley, Dennis Jenvey, David Booth, Patrick Puttock, David Edwards, Jim Irish, Tarbena and other unnamed English artisans are just a few, as well as American artisans Nicole Walton-Marble, Scott Hughes, Ruth “Dodie” Nalven, Harry Smith, Michael Walton and Pete Acquisto.
The ground level of Chessington was meant to house shops, but Dan and I chose to also put a kitchen on this level for the European side. It ended up being one of my favorite rooms in the entire collection. It reminds me of an updated version of the kitchen in Downton Abbey. I love all the copper pots by Charles and Frances Steak. The storefront on this side is an antique shop called Lady Jane’s Antiques and Estate Jewelry. Linda Young came up with the name based on her miniatures business Lady Jane’s.
I was undecided as to what business I would put on the bottom floor of the American side, but when I came across miniature linoleum which replicated the flooring in my dad’s physician office growing up, I knew exactly what it would become—his office. And it was so much fun to re-create!
Writing this blog has been an emotional trip down memory lane for many reasons. In revisiting Chessington, I remember the excitement of putting together my first houses. In examining the furnishings, I remember spending time with many of the artisans. Sadly, some like Dan and Dodie have passed on. I hope they are looking down and seeing the joy their work still brings me and the many others who visit the KSB Miniatures Collection—a tribute to all fine art miniaturists past, present and future.