Step Inside the Dreamy Provence Farmhouse of King Charles’s Decorator

robert kime la gonette dining table
Robert Kime's Antiques Are Coming to AuctionBarney Hindle
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Anglophiles, collectors and design enthusiasts take note: The personal collection of the late Robert Kime—decorator to King Charles and quite possibly the world’s most important collector of antiquities, art, and antiques—is coming to auction with Dreweatt’s in a live sale October 4-6 at its Donnington Priory salerooms.

The sale, Robert Kime: The Personal Collection, comes just over a year after Kime’s passing in August 2022 and presents his personal assemblage of art and antiques collected during a lifetime of travels throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East. It will comprise over 900 lots, ranging in value from £30 to over £100,000, from his homes: Warwick Square, his London flat, and La Gonette in France, a Provencal farmhouse Kime restored with his wife, Helen, and architect Mary-Lou Arscott.

robert kime la gonette dining table

Kime achieved worldwide acclaim for decorating Highgrove House in Gloucestershire and Clarence House in London for King Charles back when he was Prince of Wales. He went on to decorate for the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Daphne Guinness, and Tory Burch, all the while selling antiques and his own fabric line inspired by historic textiles he acquired around the world, but Kime is best remembered for his insatiable collecting and passion for and deep knowledge of objects.

“He had amazing taste and a knowledge base and vocabulary that was second to none,” says Joe Robinson, head of house sales and private collections at Dreweatts. Against the backdrop of his rigorous historical studies and well-traveled eye, Kime’s collecting was equally guided by instinct and affinity, particularly when it came to collecting for himself. “When you see ‘supplied by Robert Kime,’ there is an understanding that there is an inherent quality to the item…but that somewhat misses the point,” says Robinson. “He collected things that meant something to him. He was able to spot the emotional value in objects.”

robert kime la gonette garden
An early 20th-century rattan chair under an iron pergola at La Gonette Barney Hindle

Kime got his start as an antiques dealer while studying history at Oxford after leaving secondary school early to study language in France and Italy and work on archaeological digs in Greece and Masada, Israel. According to Robert Kime by Alastair Langlands, the 2015 monograph detailing 12 of Kime’s decorating projects, a financial crisis at home prompted him to sell furniture his mother had inherited from his grandmother. He then began dealing antiques to pay for his college tuition.

Antiques dealing lead to decorating, particularly when clients visited his own homes, which were assembled over time and exuded a spirit of comfort and continuity. As King Charles wrote in the forward to Langlands’ book: “[Kime’s] prodigious knowledge of both history and art invests all his projects with a timeless elegance and originality that are simultaneously comfortable and reassuring.” Adds Langlands: “To Robert, it is essential that a house or room should convey a sense of safety and a feeling of permanence….It is also of importance to him that they resonate with the past, with real or imagined memories….By being associated with the past and the present, his rooms become timeless.”

robert kime la gonette pool
The pool at La Gonette was constructed inside a roofless barn. The hammam is constructed of pink granite and local cream stone. Barney Hindle

For Kime, it was the continuity of living with a collection that provided the safety and comfort he craved, perhaps owing to his childhood during which he moved frequently. “His aim was always to create an illusion of permanence with interiors that, without resorting to pastiche, look as if they had grown organically over several generations,” writes Langlands. When he decorated, “he wasn’t just creating interiors,” adds Robinson. “He was creating a home, with a collection of things that made his clients feel comfortable and safe.”

In its revisiting of his own homes, the Dreweatts sale presents an intimate look at how Kime lived with the objects he valued most—particularly at La Gonette, a place to which Kime and his family retreated from 1999, when they discovered it with American antiques dealer and designer Michael Trapp, until the end of his life in 2022. “There was a restlessness about him, always wanting the next project” notes Robinson. “La Gonette was the one place that stayed. It was a haven, and he felt most secluded and safest there.”

robert kime la gonette exterior
Robert and Helen Kime worked with architect Mary-Lou Arscott to create a home inside the shell of a Provencal farmhouse they purchased in 1999.Barney Hindle

Kime's interiors are characterized by a sense that they were not designed at all but merely assembled to reflect the story their owners. The hand of the designer, or decorator as Kime preferred, is nearly invisible and there's effortless atmosphere that was, of course, anything but effortless to create. Nowhere is that more true than at La Gonette.

robert kime la gonette sitting room

Although the 18th-century Provencal farmhouse appears as though it has always been as it is today, the Kimes had to entirely reconstruct the interiors within the gutted shell working with local craftspeople to install elements they purchased in the area. All of the interior architecture—the beams, the mantles—were brought in by Kime and Arscott. Even the floors had to be remade, with those on the ground floor comprising varied antique tiles. "He understood the journey of the building, and he brought that journey into the building itself by knitting it together with its surroundings," says Robinson.

robert kime la gonette entrance hall

La Gonette was furnished with many of the antique carpets and textiles Kime collected during his travels and formed the basis for his own fabric line. "There was no instant gratification to his decoration. These are hard-traveled interiors," says Robinson. "There is often a cultural contradiction in the places where he bought these textiles, but his magic is in creating the conversation between them and in the harmonizing of them."

robert kime la gonette flower room
Anatolian Tulu rugs, c. 1920, lend a shot of color to the flower room at La Gonette.Barney Hindle

The Provencal farmhouse also exemplifies Kime's approach to color, which was informed by a deep understanding and appreciation of place and environment. "He would have noticed the light from the very beginning, and that informed his tactile approach to the colors he chose," says Robinson. Even down to the objects he arranged on table surfaces, shelves, and mantles, one senses how nature and landscape influence his interiors.

In addition to showcasing his antiques, the Dreweatts sale will also feature Kime's extraordinary collection of fine art, much of which reflects his lifelong passion for travel to places like Egypt and Greece. "He loved learning about other cultures, particularly Classical cultures as they still inform so much of design today," says Robinson.

robert kime la gonette primary bedroom
In the primary bedroom at La Gonette, a set of eight leather half-bound volumes of Monasticon Anglicanum by Sir William Dugdale, published in 1830, sit inside a 10th-century mahogany bookcase. Barney Hindle

But Kime also collected modern and even contemporary art, which he displayed throughout La Gonette. "His works by French painter Pierre Humbert have an ethereal look, very atmospheric, and are there to work with the wall but also the objects around them,"says Robinson. Kime was also close with English artist William Crozier, who he invited to paint at La Gonette.

robert kime la gonette little sitting room
In the little sitting room at La Gonette, Pierre Humbert’s Col des Sires hangs above the mantel. A George II painted pine side table sits under William Crozier’s Flowers and Vase painting and next to an 18th-century Persian carpet.Barney Hindle

The sale, which is expected to garner over £1.5 million in its entirety, represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring home a piece of Kime's unique aesthetic.

“What we have now is the distilled of the distilled. These are the artifacts that he could never bear to let go of,” says Will Fisher, of the lots presented at auction with Dreweatts.

With his wife Charlotte Freemantle, Fisher founded Jamb, the English antiques and reproductions firm recently recognized by VERANDA as one eight British design studios every design lover should know, and was a great friend of Kime’s. “Each of these objects holds an intimate message, possibly known only to him. They gave him his sense of self and to part with them during his lifetime would have been to vanish.”

To view lots and register to bid, visit Dreweatts.

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