Victorian Decor Inspiration from Agatha Christie, Part 1

Ever read an Agatha Christie novel and wonder where she got her ideas? While her stories appeared in her head of their own accord, she drew her settings from the world around her. An avid traveller and passionate homeowner, Christie built her intricate plots into real-world places she knew and loved, from her childhood home in Devon to the houses she shared with her husband Max near his Middle-Eastern archeological digs. Today, by visiting her preserved homes or reading Hilary Macaskill’s Agatha Christie at Home, we can glean Victorian decor inspiration from the places that inspired her.

victorian home

From the 1930s onwards, the proceeds of Agatha’s 80 best-selling novels enabled her to own no fewer than two houses at a time–some of which have been preserved. Here’s one of her many homes–Winterbrook House in Oxfordshire, the Victorian Queen Anne where Agatha and her husband Max lived periodically after Max became an Oxford don in 1962 (Photo: Jean-Bernard Naudin).

Torquay: The Victorians’ English Riviera

Agatha Christie was born in Devon in 1890 during the region’s heyday. When seaside tourism boomed in the mid-1800s, Devon’s picturesque seaside communities gained a reputation as one of Britain’s most desirable destinations. Soon, the 22-mile Torquay coastline was hailed as “The English Riviera,” and lavish hotels, pavilions, and villas were built in the trendiest Victorian styles, but with a distinctly Continental flair. In the photograph below, you can see how the buildings’ facades were treated in an elaborate fashion reminiscent of a fairground.

Agatha (center) and friends in their roller-skating outfits at Princess Pier in Torquay, circa 1910

Agatha (center) and friends in their roller-skating outfits at Princess Pier in Torquay, circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of Mathew Prichard).

Torquay’s most elaborate building was The Imperial Hotel, constructed in 1866 and honored as Britain’s first five-star hotel beyond London (below). The hotel has been carefully preserved, from its facades’ original white turrets to its entrance halls white Corinthian columns and luxurious millwork.

The entrance to the Imperial Hotel, built in in Torquay in 1866

The entrance to the Imperial Hotel, built in in Torquay in 1866 (Photo courtesy of the English Riviera Tourist Board).

Ashfield: A Childhood Home to Remember

Agatha’s Anglo-American family, however, dwelt in more ordinary circumstances. Ashfield, the mews cottage where Agatha was born and raised, sat amidst of tree-filled garden on the edge of Torquay, in an older community that predated the tourist boom. The home’s Victorian decor was filled with her mother and grandmother’s cherished collections, gathered throughout the 19th century.

No matter how far Agatha roamed, her beloved Ashfield continued to provide her with home decor inspiration. “How well I know every detail there,” Agatha wrote later in life. “The frayed red curtain leading to the kitchen, the sunflower brass fender in the hall gate, the Turkey carpet on the stairs, the big, shabby schoolroom with its dark blue and gold embossed wallpaper.”

Tea-things in one of Agatha’s homes (Photo courtesy of the National Trust).

Agatha finally moved from Ashfield for good in 1938, and today the house survives only in her writings, its location marked only by a small blue plaque near a bus stop. Some of Agatha’s grandmother’s and mother’s collections survive, however, as she brought her favorite Victorian porcelain with her when she moved to Greenway, the home she would come to love next. Find out how you can glean Victorian decor inspiration from Greenway when this look inside Agatha Christie at Home continues here.

 

“Agatha Christie at Home” by Hillary Macaskill (Frances Lincoln Limited, 2009).

 

To buy these types of products visit: http://www.plaidparasol.com/textiles/curtains-drapes

By Elaine K. Phillips

 

Photography has been previously published in Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill (Frances Lincoln Limited, 2009) and is used by permission.

 

 

 

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