Tessa Kennedy lives down amongst trees and flowers on the Bayswater edge of Hyde Park; on a broiling blue July day it seemed more like the South of France with mimosa yellow awnings over the windows, white iron table and chairs set up on the terrace. On the corner of a great white classical block of houses, it’s a garden flat — no agent’s euphemism — knocked together from two; in the centre are a pair of tiny courtyards Tessa is changing into conservatories so that flowers can flower all year round: her sons can also wheel their bicycles straight out of doors to play. They are Cassian, Damian and Cary Elwes., 11, 10 and 7, and there’s Dylan, the baby, 7 months old.
Inside, a dramatic maze of rooms opens off the central chocolate-varnished corridor; everywhere carpets, tapestries, tartan and Indian silks make endless patterns. The old wine cellars have turned into great scarlet felt lined storage cupboards like the ones she designed for the Donald Davies shop, no dust can creep in. The drawing-room converts to a cinema built when Stanley Donen lived there; Tessa has hardly changed this at all. The projection room has mighty machines like the Marble Arch Odeon, she has registered herself as Kennedy Previews and has a projectionist hired full time—to show films to friends after dinner once or twice a week, or a couple of James Bond epics for the boys: “They love it of course and get absolutely boss-eyed.” Her fascination with gadgetry extends to video tapes, high-powered headphones for the stereo, intercom and a splendid American push-button dial telephone you can ring in on but not out. With the push-button stuff are clumps of fresh flowers, dog roses, daisies, piles of cushions in antique fabrics or in the flame stitch tapestry she sews on plane journeys, her collection of walnut shell sewing boxes, photograph, paintings—including a quartet of Louis XIV’s wife and mistresses—and carpet in a different colour but the same pattern as the one she designed for Burke’s restaurant. Burke’s is one of her decorating jobs she likes the best—along with Sir George and Lady Weidenfeld’s house and the flat she made for John Barry in an office block overlooking the Thames: “We installed such powerful sound that it moves right across the river and people coming out of the Tate look quite dazed.” Now she is working on a couple of country houses, one is for John Aspinall, and offices for Polydor records, and several new ideas, like a sauna in a storage cupboard, to build into this family and garden flat.
Yes, that’s little Cary Elwes at the tender age of seven. And of course it goes without saying that I would kill for those Theas…
Photographed by Norman Parkinson.
Scanned from Vogue, September 1970.