Princess Diana’s Brother is Creating Replicas of Their Family Furniture
We chat with Earl Charles Spencer about the antique-inspired collection.
Earl Charles Spencer, Princess Diana’s baby brother and the father of royal fan-favourite Lady Kitty Spencer, is a busy man. He just became a great-uncle to Prince Louis, had a golden ticket to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding and, one week later, was at Toronto’s Kennedy Galleries to unveil a new set of furniture for the Living History collection based on antiques from Althorp Estate, where he and Diana lived as children. Here, he talks about being raised in a Downton Abbey-esque manse, and updating heirloom furniture for modern bums.
Growing up at Althorp as a young boy, were there any rules about playing on the furniture?
Yes, my grandfather was a formidable figure. He was relic of the pre-First World World era, and he cared more about the house than people. He would give very strict lectures. We basically couldn’t touch anything. It was quite scary to be honest. But when I took over as a young man, at 27, I let my children have the run of the place. Of course I didn’t let my kids play with porcelain or things that would break. But actually, for the house, I think it is better if it is enjoyed as a home.
How did you decide which pieces to include in the collection?
The manufacturer, Theodore Alexander, spent days combing through the estate, and drew up a wish list. But I think a very important point is that when you inherit a house such as this, you are inheriting the items that have survived endless generations of people saying do I want this or do I want that. It’s a constant edit that happens three times a century. So we started with the most special pieces that have survived through time.
The collection features a whimsical butterfly table. Can you tell me about its backstory?
The history of Althorp is very much filled with influential ladies. In the Victorian era, Charlotte Spencer was one of the great society beauties of her day, and championed a lot of interesting causes. One of her past times was needle work, and the table is where she kept her needles. It’s nice because it’s accessible, not grand.
Althorp Estate has a desk that once belonged to George Washington’s ancestors. Is that in the collection?
It is one of the most popular pieces. It’s carved oak, and very versatile. It can be a formal setting, or a rustic setting. Theodore Alexander reproduced it so faithfully that they even reproduced the ring of a wine stain.
In your Althorp Living History collection, you’ve included an antique bed. Is it as hard as it would have been in the 18th-century?
No, the upholstery is much better. It’s not possible to expect that people in 2018 will put up with a discomfort that people in the past thought was normal. With the collection, the lines and the beauty are the same, but the pieces are a bit bigger because we’re a bit bigger, and the upholstery is softer. You can’t expect ladies to sit on a bald stool in a hoop dress these days.