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OPULENCE & SPLENDOUR

Luxury and the artsFrom houses to cars and from Hockney to van Dyck, a profile of the best and the worst

Larry and Leigh’s love nest

Small, unmodernised former home of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh for sale for the extraordinary figure of £7.5 million

 

Built in 1850, Durham Cottage in Christchurch Street, Chelsea is a house “hidden behind a high dusty brick wall” that was the love nest of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh between 1937 and 1956. Now, in totally unmodernised condition, the house is for sale after failing to sell at auction (despite a bid of £6,980,000).

 

A house with a history - Durham Cottage, 4 Christchurch Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 4AP
A house with a history – Durham Cottage, 4 Christchurch Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 4AP
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at Durham Cottage with their cat New Boy in 1946
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at Durham Cottage with their cat New Boy in 1946

The webpage of selling agents Russell Simpson gives little away about Durham House’s past and simply describes it as “magical”. Totalling just 2,042 square foot in size and featuring 4 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, reception room and garage, Olivier and Leigh came to live there after splitting from their respective partners whilst working together on Fire over England.

 

For the next two decades, this former coachman’s cottage was the London home of the couple and run by their small staff of a cook-housekeeper, Lady Olivier’s personal maid and a daily cleaner.

 

Of living there, Lady Olivier told The Sydney Morning Herald in 1954:

 

“It is in London and we’ve furnished it for our life here… It has a lot of drawbacks. Nobody visiting it would ever dream it could be inconvenient or that those ‘fascinating’ stairs winding around, with the landing forming a balcony in the drawing-room, could be a nuisance”.

 

“Several years ago we built on the dining-room. Before that we used to eat in the entrance hall – you can imagine the drawbacks to that”.

 

The house is described as being "magical" but "unmodernised"
The house is described as being “magical” but “unmodernised”
"The Sydney Morning Herald" featured Durham Cottage on the 25th February 1954
“The Sydney Morning Herald” featured Durham Cottage on the 25th February 1954

 

Furnishing the property was very much Lady Olivier’s department. In the same interview, she commented:

 

“I prefer muted shades in decorating – so much more restful to live with”.

 

“I have chosen no particular period in furnishing, although in the dining and drawing room it is nearly all Regency?”

 

“Do I consult Sir Laurence on furnishing? Well not exactly; I always tell him what I intend doing so that he has the opportunity of disagreeing – he never does”.

 

The cottage, the newspaper also reported, was peppered with painting by Degas, Corot, Hillier and Le Fauvre but the couple had no photographs in the house. “We can’t stand photographs of ourselves displayed in our home. We keep most of ours in albums” concluded Lady Olivier.

 

To Lady Olivier, Durham Cottage might “only [have been} a cottage” but with an asking price of £7,500,000, it’s now far from cheap one.

 

 

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Comments

1 comment on “Larry and Leigh’s love nest”

  1. I love this cottage. I’ve jogged past it countless times and try to take a peak through the gate if left ajar every time. It’s in a massive need of repair and TLC. If I were looking to buy, I’d jump at the chance to bring it back to life. It oozes charm & history.

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