Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole's flamboyant Gothic Revival castle on the Thames, had been quietly decaying for decades when, finally, at the end of last year, a £4.9 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant was confirmed and the lease passed to the Strawberry Hill Trust. It can now begin to restore the outlandish architectural gem, and the first stage of the renovation is a big clear-out. Stand by to purchase furnishings from an inspiring London landmark at remarkably modest prices.
Walpole himself treated the building to a monumental makeover between 1742 and 1792, turning it into a Gothic theme park in which to entertain his friends, adding a crenellated roofline outside and, inside, spectacular vaulting, stained-glass windows, painted copies of Medieval tombs and a stairwell based on a flight of steps at Rouen Cathedral in France.
After the essayist died in 1797, Strawberry Hill passed to his niece, who found the house too expensive to keep up; it was then taken over by the granddaughter of Walpole's brother, Frances, Countess Waldegrave.
There was a spectacular sale of contents in 1842. The catalogue, written up by an auctioneer known as the "King of Puffery", described Walpole's collection of curiosities in detail, including "the bridge of a fiddle on which Nero played while Rome was burning" and "a pimple from Oliver Cromwell's nose". Frances then restored and adapted the house for opulent parties, adding a ballroom and a breakfast room draped with rich fabrics, based on a Bedouin tent.
Though the 21st century sale can't stretch to anything as exotic, it does have a few furnishings owned by Lady Waldegrave. A pair of Victorian banquette giltwood sofas, circa 1850 and commissioned for the crimson drawing room, with her cypher on the top rail, have an estimate of £5,000 to £8,000; a huge oak dining table with 11 additional leaves, circa 1850 and with her armorial crest, is expected to fetch £4,000 to £6,000; and a set of 23 French walnut dining chairs, later upholstered with cream vinyl seats, £2,000 to £3,000.
Most of the pieces come from the era after Strawberry Hill was purchased by the Catholic Education Council in 1923 and used by St Mary's College. A satinwood sofa is estimated at £600 to £900. A large open bookcase in figured walnut is valued at £800 to £1,200. There are numerous furnishings in Gothic style: mahogany easy chairs, each with a matching sidechair, promise to be a bargain at £200 to £400. Library armchairs with distressed leather upholstery are valued at £1,000 to £1,500 a pair. Top tip for investment is some of the paintings by little-known Modern British artists. John Copnall's Sunflowers (1955) is estimated at £300 to £500.
The Property of St Mary's University College, Removed from Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, sale is on 17 February, 85 Old Brompton Road, SW7 (020 7839 9060; www.christies.com). For more information on the house, visit www.friendsofstrawberryhill.org.
Pantheon of potters
The best-known names in the world of ceramics have contributed creations to a charity auction to raise funds to complete the restoration of a historic pottery in St Ives, Cornwall. Established in 1920 by Bernard Leach, father of the studio pottery tradition, the building reopens to the public in March with an exhibition of Leach's life and work.
Works by more than 100 potters, including Gordon Baldwin and Kate Malone, are "priced to sell", with estimates starting from £60. Jack Doherty's deep bowl (£200 to £250) is an elegant porcelain vessel cut with horizontal bands, enlivened with mottled brown and green glazes.
The Edmund de Waal lidded jar is a sober little column of white porcelain with celadon glaze Jack Doherty porcelain bowl £250), Bernard Leach pottery (£600 to £900). The prettiest contribution is Tim Gee's Blue Mountains bowl (£100 to £150), a Japanese-inspired vessel with its exterior textured with mountain motifs and its interior slicked with transparent pale-blue glaze..
Auction in aid of the Leach Pottery Restoration Project is on 26 February at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, W1 (020 7393 3900; www.bonhams.com). For more on the restoration, visit www.theleachpotterystives.co.uk.
A bit of FORM
This most intriguing fair returns to Olympia, with everything from mid-century furnishings, sculpture and ceramics to video art.
The innovative art and design fair scores high on dynamism and fizzes with ideas: an Airstream trailer has been hired (one of those beautiful space-age American caravans) to spread the word this year and will be trundling around town as a mobile taster; a FORM wallpaper will be available to buy, the design sourced from the venerable Cole & Son archives.
If vintage is what you crave, the most stylish of London's dealers will be there: Caira Mandaglio, who specialises in French and Italian lighting, cabinets and armchairs of the Thirties to the Sixties, brings a pair of Fifties chairs by French designer Pierre Guariche (£3,250). Van der Meersch & Weston, another 20th century design specialist, will be displaying some outstanding Forties Keith Murray vases.
Gary de Sparham, of De Parma, contributes his usual glamorous Italian pieces (Thirties to Seventies) by designers from Ico Parisi to Fornasetti. A 1954 Gio Ponti walnut chest from the Hotel Royale in Naples is priced at £20,000.
FORM runs from 28 February to 2 March at Olympia Exhibition Halls, Hammersmith Road, W14 (0871 231 0820; www.form-london.com).
Buy now, profit later
Twelve leading contemporary designer-makers feature in an exhibition of top-end pieces by Britain's finest cabinetmakers and silversmiths. Appropriately called Antiques for the Future III, work for sale includes Flow, by John Makepeace, a combined chest and writing slide in ripple ash, holly and cedar of Lebanon for £106,000. While Georgy Mkrtichian carves exquisite limewood leaf-and-foliage panels whose quality harks back to Grinling Gibbons; English Woodlands costs £3,000.
Antiques for the Future III is on 5-27 February at Norman Adams, 8-10 Hans Road, SW3. Monday to Friday 10am to 5.30pm (020 7589 5266; www.normanadams.com).