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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.