Those who have followed the debates around the Stephen Poliakoff’s recent TV series Dancing on the Edge and its sometimes convoluted (or seemingly convoluted) plot may appreciate the interiors at Fenton House, in Hampstead, north London. Fenton House was used as a location for Dancing on the Edge, and features as the house of the wealthy, charming and determinedly superficial Arthur Donaldson.
Although Fenton House was built around 1686, its neo-Georgian interiors reflect its ownership from 1936 by Katherine, Lady Binning, who left it to the National Trust on her death in 1952. She had been married to the heir of the Earl of Haddington, and Fenton House was furnished with Haddington family heirlooms as well as with the collections she had inherited from her mother, Milicent Salting, and the latter’s brother-in-law, George Salting.
As some of the furnishings were returned to the various Haddington houses after 1952, certain rooms at Fenton House were left somewhat bare. In 1973 the National Trust invited the decorator John Fowler to help refurbish the house and give it a mellow, lived-in atmosphere. Fowler aficionados will recognise the subtle multi-tone painted woodwork in several rooms, the varied upholstery fabrics and the sophisticated curtain treatments.
So there is a strong element of fiction in the presentation of Fenton House, giving an added poignancy to its use as a sumptuous film set. But as Poliakoff’s work demonstrates, if fiction is successful it acquires a certain kind of truth.