Sotheby's sale: private collection of Mark Birley, Annabel's nightclub founder

Items from the South Kensington home of legendary Annabel's founder Mark Birley are going up for auction at Sotheby's on March 21.
Mark Birley
© Rex Features
Mark Birley in the South Kensington home where he created an oasis of luxurious, warm country style
Mark Birley: the private collection, is at Sotheby's, 34-35 New Bond Street, W1, on March 21 (sothebys.com).
Club owner Mark Birley, who died in 2007, lived in tasteful splendour at Thurloe Lodge in South Kensington for almost three decades. His aristo-magnet hangouts included Mark's Club and Harry's Bar but he headed each night to Annabel's, his Mayfair nightclub, to keep a watchful eye on the smart clientele — and very little escaped him.

At the end of the evening he would return to his home just off Brompton Road, a serene retreat just for himself, his adored dogs and his circle of fortunate friends. Birley's style was his own, with a passion for the warm colours and rich finishes of country houses. Think monogrammed table silver and 19th-century paintings, hung frame to frame. Birley's housekeeper for 23 years, Elvira Maria, reveals that her boss was a chap who laid the table with silver cutlery, even when he dined alone.

The Old Etonian opened Annabel's in 1963. Named after his wife, Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the club was revolutionary for welcoming women and allowing men to wear outfits other than black tie. It immediately attracted a glittering collection of royalty, politicians and rock stars. Those with fond memories of the club's heyday will have an opportunity to bid on one of the dozen watercolours of its interior (estimates from £1,000) by John Ward, RA, who designed the club's menus and uniforms.

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While his career was successful, Birley's family life was less blessed. Annabel left him for the couple's friend, Sir James Goldsmith. One son, Rupert, went missing, presumed drowned, of the coast of West Africa more than 20 years ago, and Birley fell out spectacularly with the other son, Robin, whom he sacked and cut from his will. Most of his estate was left to the son of his daughter, the artist India Jane.

Despite such high drama, Birley created an interior at Thurloe Lodge that was an oasis of tranquil style. The sale catalogue includes pieces that speak of a contented, rather clubby, existence there: cigar cases, paintings of dogs and an Hermès backgammon board.

Friends comment not only on his stellar taste but on how relaxed they felt in Birley's home. "It is a great art to have a house filled with wonderful things, but make your guest feel in no way intimidated," says interior designer Nina Campbell.

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