Oliver Messel design stirs new generation

Oliver Messel design stirs new generation

Fustic House, Oliver Messel

Fustic House, the privately owned 11-acre estate on the West Coast of Barbados has revived interest in the designer Oliver Messel.

Messel (b.1904) was a charismatic theatre, opera and film designer who late in life became the architect of a number of famous Caribbean houses.

He is known as the originator of the craze for white interiors during the Art Deco period, after his white-on-white bedroom in a comic opera called “Helen!” caused a sensation across London.

In recent decades the Messel name was largely forgotten, as new stars of design and architecture came to the fore.

But this year, his romantic style and his beautiful Caribbean estates, are finding a new audience of devoted fans.

The first sign of a revival appeared in May 2010 when ELLE Décor UK, published an article describing Messel as a style icon. It featured the ‘Messel Suite’ in London’s Dorchester Hotel, which remains unchanged to this day and was the favourite hotel suite of both Elizabeth Taylor and Noel Coward.

A year later, Fustic Estate organised a lecture on the collection of 10,000 Messel designs in the archive of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, given by Anne Greig.

In September this year, the Messel name took off, following the launch of a book on the designer, edited by his nephew Thomas Messel, published by Rizzoli, under the title Oliver Messel In The Theatre of Design. The contributors are Stephen Calloway, Jeremy Musson, Sarah Woodcock, Keith Lodwick, Anthony Powell and Lord Snowdon.

While other Messel houses are more famous (such as Les Jolie’s Eaux, built in the Grenadines for Princess Margaret) Fustic Estate is said to be Messel’s favourite of several that he built on Barbados. He remodelled it from a rough 18th century plantation farm for the brother of the writer Robert Graves.

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