What an interesting afternoon I had yesterday!

The ASID Chapter of Atlanta invited 40 members to join Lord Charles Spencer (the late Princess Diana’s younger brother) for tea and conversation about Theodore Alexander’s Althorp Living History furniture collection at Matthews Furniture, here in Atlanta.

A little over ten years ago, Earl Spencer threw open the doors of Althorp, his family’s 16th century estate, to the furniture manufacturer, Theodore Alexander and allowed them to take over 10,000 photographs of furniture and accessories collected by 19 generations of Spencers.  From these photographs, Theodore Alexander was able to narrow down several thousand pieces of furniture to a mere 300.

What makes this line so special is it’s attention to detail.  Over 50% of the line’s pieces are direct replicas of furniture or accessories currently found in the circa 1508 Althorp estate.  The other 50% have been modernized to be more comfortable for today’s standards of living.

Marlborough Dining Room at Althrop – featuring the Seddon Chair
(otherwise known as the “Squiggle Chair” by family members)
designed in 1800 by George Seddon

Charles Spencer, after being introduced to the intimate group, spoke very graciously and knowledgeably about pieces from the line.  He would point out specific details from each piece and explain its history or importance.  I was exceedingly impressed by his breadth of knowledge regarding each piece.  So, when he ended his presentation, he graciously said that he would be more than happy to answer any questions while we took our tea.  I took this as my cue to quickly go over and monopolize him before the rest of the crowd did.

I was very curious to know how he knew so much about the history of the more important furniture and accessory pieces. Did he have to investigate the history of each piece?  Although he is an historian by trade, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has an interest in the history of each piece of furniture.  He said that growing up he had an interest in the art and portraits at Althorp, as they all “told a story”.   However, he did not know much about the “stories” of the furniture.  Happily, his great uncle (also an avid historian) had collected the stories and details about the more iconic pieces and had written it all down in a notebook.  And some of these stories he passed along to us.

The Washington Blanket Chest

One such notable piece in the collection was an oak chest owned by a poor relation of George Washington’s, who lived on the estate.  This blanket chest, which currently houses the Earl’s tennis clothes, is so perfectly replicated that the finish includes a wine glass stain on the lid!

They’ve even replicated the note written by the village priest in 1877 authenticating that this chest was once owned by the Washington family before they emigrated to America

The Theodore Alexander pieces are so well crafted that no one will know the difference.  The Earl confirmed this by saying that he purchased a dozen of the Wootton Hall chairs for the Entrance Hall (as the originals are very delicate) and when the estate is open to the public, many want to sit on them.  The newer versions are much sturdier!

Wootton Chair by Theodore Alexander

Wootton Hall at Althorp

Although Lord Spencer did not mention it, he has a new book out called Killers of the King.  It’s “an investigation into the grisly fates of those who ordered the execution of Charles 1st.”  Because I’m an anglophile at heart, I felt I needed to read this juicy and riveting story and ended up purchasing a book and having him sign it!   I can’t wait to start reading!