From Sussex to Barbados: the lovely houses of Oliver Messel


This summer, you can contemplate several of legendary actress Vivien Leigh’s costumes for stage and screen that will be in the exhibit “Public Faces, Private Lives” at Nyman’s, the West Sussex home to designer Oliver Messel. The exhibit, which runs from June 1 to September 4, will incllude Leigh’s Titania costume from the 1937 stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside other collaborations between Leigh and Messel.


This presents a wonderful opportunity to visit the gorgeous Nyman’s estate, which was a country retreat for the creative Messel family. The house is living testament of the creative Messel family, from the Countess of Rosse and photographer Lord Snowdon, to London-born Oliver Messel who became one of the 20th century’s most celebrated stage designers.


But Nyman’s is not the only structure marked by the genius of Oliver Messel. The artist-turned-designer left his mark across the Atlantic and his influence still lives and breathes in structures that bear his signature in the Caribbean, specifically Barbados and Mustique.

It is precisely here that Oliver Messel first began his love affair with the tropics when he was commissioned to design Les Jolies Eux, Princes Margaret’s beach home on Mustique Island, once she married Messel’s own nephew, Lord Snowdon.

Oliver retreated to Barbados in 1959 where the scenery and warmth of the island inspired and reenergized the wary artist into a new career in building and designing homes. He was industrious and soon, it became very fashionable to have Messel add his distinctive flavor to one’s dwelling. Some of the islands’ most visually-striking homes exude his recognizable mark containing fancifulness and imaginative elements like slender Greek columns, flattened arches, coral and white interiors, lattice work and his very distinctive “Messel green” color.


These elements can still be appreciated throughout the properties like his former residence Maddox House, Fustic House, Rocina, Leamington and Cockade House, homes which have hosted generations of English royals.






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