Chatsworth, seat of the Duke of Devonshire

The iconic view of the Chatsworth House, used in the Kiera Knightly version of Pride & Prejudice

Here’s a bit of real-life Downton Abbey for you:  The dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s personal estate and effects were auctioned off this week in London.  (Think Maggie Smith’s inimitable Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham)  Sotheby’s was surprised by the over $2,000,000 in proceeds from the sale.  But I’m not.  To own not just a reproduction of a piece from the Chatsworth estate, but something used by the Duchess herself, something personal to her – enough so that she brought it with her to the vicarage on the estate where she lived the last 10 years of her life – those items are priceless.   Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire was a remarkable, modern, energetic, and creative woman.  A pioneer and entrepreneur, Deborah is to be thanked for opening Chatsworth and all of it’s priceless contents to the world to see and reproduce – thereby saving it and the Cavendish family lifestyle for generations to come.

I’m fascinated by this dynamic woman, and just had to look through all of her auctioned items.  Here are my favorites furnishings:

Chatsworth vicarage cane chairs

Did you notice these beauties in the video? With the cheery blue-checked tablecloth. So lovely I wanted to move right in.

Chatsworth vicarage pedestal table

And how lovely they’d be around this pedestal table. I’m always a sucker for a round table . . .

Chatsworth vicarage sofa

Okay, so this sofa does look dated. No one does the big floral chintz or ruffled skirt anymore. And yet this deep, down, comfy sofa is so quintessentially English it makes me smile. And want to curl up in it with a good book and a cup of tea.

Chatsworth vicarage secretary

English case pieces, such as this beautiful secretary, have such clean lines and excellent workmanship. I’d put this in my study in a heartbeat! It was a real bargain at auction, too!

Chatsworth vicarage desk

I love this desk. And what made me particularly happy was the fact that I JUST acquired one very similar (reproduction, though) and am having it painted by Tuscany Designs. I just can’t wait to see it. And now that I know it is so like one the fabulous Duchess of Devonshire had, I’m even happier!


Duchess of Devonshire desk chair

Such pretty lines that it invites you to sit down and write a while. And you would look so elegant in it.

Chatsworth vicarage window seats

Firstly, who wouldn’t love to have windows wide enough to accommodate these benches as window seats? And of course the caned seats and French lines don’t hurt a thing.

Love the patina of the wood, the deep red interior, and all the books it could hold.

Love the patina of the wood, the deep red interior, and all the books it could hold.

Chatsworth vicarage walking sticks

I love that the Duchess housed her walking sticks (every respectable Englishman has a sturdy walking stick) in a terra cotta pipe. It’s perfect, really.

I'm not a fan of the 'hall tree', as in my home it becomes a hulking mass of coats, scarves, and hats. But I can imagine it at the Duchess' home with her tweed jacket and jaunty hat. I do love the curves of this piece.

I’m not a fan of the ‘hall tree’, as in my home it becomes a hulking mass of coats, scarves, and hats. But I can imagine it at the Duchess’ home with her tweed jacket and jaunty hat. I do love the curves of this piece.

And now let’s go to the garden:

Chartsworth vicarage garden seats

These are the elegant garden seats you see around the clipped tree in the images of the duchess’ vicarage garden.

Chatsworth vicarage garden pigs

I think I need these lead pigs to root through my garden.

Chatsworth orchid

Such a perfectly simple depiction of a Chatsworth orchid

The Duchess’ home must have been filled with artwork, as the auction contained many pieces.  I was particularly drawn to the farm scenes, of which there plenty:

Duchess of Devonshire oil paintings

No home is complete without artwork. And these are my favorites of the oils the Duchess has collected. Her collection of artwork is extensive and eclectic. Another trait I admire in her.

Duchess of Devonshire animal paintings

What a charming collection of farm images.


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Plus there were decorative items which I found charming:

Duchess of Devonshire elephants

I just like these.

Duchess of Devonshire silver

Just pretty things. The Duchess clearly liked the sea. These pretty items and the striking seashell mirror in her dining room show it.

Duchess of Devonshire silver

Just adorable.

And then some of her more personal items which spoke to me:

Duchess of Devonshire snake broach

I’m not a huge fan of pins and broaches, but there are two in the Duchess’ collection that stood out as exceptional design and workmanship. This ‘infinity snake’ is one of them.

Duchess of Devonshire bangle

Such a sleek, modern bangle. Love the graphics and the black-enamel-on-gold design.

Duchess of Devonshire spider broach

This ruby-eyed spider is the other pin I found so beautiful.

Duchess of Devonshire watch

To me this watch speaks volumes. I want to believe it’s the one she wore. Simple, clean, no-nonsense. But perhaps it was her husband’s, and this busy, no-nonsense woman kept this sentimental reminder of him on her vanity, where she could see it each day. Either way, I like it.

All in all, I would have loved to just attend the auction, even if I didn’t come away with a thing.  To see all of these items – the physical remnants of a life well lived – would have been enough.

Thanks for reading,