A classic 1930s bathroom with exotic charm and an unexpected touch of bling

The bathroom at Upton House in Warwickshire was featured in Country Life back in 1936.

‘Crossing the Edge Hills from east to west is rather like crossing the Cotswolds, and when the road abruptly plunges over the crest down Sunrising Hill you have the same sensation of the world opening at your feet that you get at Birdlip or above Broadway,’ wrote Country Life’s correspondent Arthur Oswald in September 1936 following a visit to Upton House.

‘From Upton the immense panorama is hidden by the crown of the ridge; but less than a mile away stands the “castle” which Sanderson Miller built to mark the spot where Charles I planted his standard, and from the summit of the tower you are said to be able to see into twelve English and Welsh counties.’

In such a home — which was mostly built in the reign of William and Mary, but extensively remodelled in 1927-28 by Percy Richard Morley Horder — you’d expect (and indeed, demand) a fine interior. And that is definitely the case in a home full of grand staircases, ornate ceilings and beautiful details throughout.

The bathroom, however, is even more extraordinary, as captured beautifully in this wonderful photograph by A.E. Henson from the Country Life Picture Library which positively drips with Silent Movie-era charm. You’d almost expect Rudolph Valentino to jump out from behind one of the columns.

Yet all is not quite what it seems; in truth the cool, clean look of this image is a product of the black-and-white photography of the time, rather than a realistic portrayal of the bathroom as it actually appeared back then. Hard as it might be to believe, those pillars were decorated floor-to ceiling in red lacquer.

If that news makes you shrug and think nothing of a touch of colour, now consider that the vaulted ceiling and the walls were covered in silverfoil intended to set off the red columns and the black marble bath. Mr Oswald refers to it wryly as as an ‘amusing’ room, adding that it’s reached via a bedroom decorated with Chinese lacquered furniture – no doubt in such a context this quirky example of pre-war ‘bling’ would have been less jarring.

What does this tell us about modern interiors? Simple. Never be afraid of a touch of whimsy here and there, for your house is yours and yours alone.

In 1936, Upton House was the seat of Viscount Bearsted; today, it’s owned and run by the National Trust.