Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Creative Pilgrimage: Charleston House

Visit the art-filled farmhouse of the iconic Bloomsbury Group, England's OG bohemians

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Deep in the heart of the Sussex countryside lies a time capsule of creative genius called Charleston House, home and living canvas to the Bloomsbury Group, who moved there in 1916 to live a life devoted to beauty, art, friendship and emancipated pleasures. These painters, intellectuals, avant-garde thinkers and rule breakers (Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, etc) were as famous for their radical views as they were for their uninhibited appreciation of life — as the saying goes, "They painted in circles and loved in triangles." In other words, they were the OG English bohemians.

Charleston House
Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

In the past decade, Charleston House has achieved an Instagram-propelled cult status—with Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf's sister, as the high priestess of the group. Patti Smith once did a residency at Charleston (“I found it like home.”), leading her to shoot a series of black-and-white polaroids of the house. Annie Lebovitz photographed it for her book Pilgrimages. Endless artists and designers cite it as a font of inspiration—including the superstar ceramist Ginny Sims, who recently partnered with Charleston, exhibiting her work as part of a dinner series at the farmhouse.

Charleston House
Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

And yet, all the attention doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. There’s an ephemeral world of creative genius inside these walls that no amount of photographs (including our own) can possibly reproduce.

Charleston House
Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Prepare yourself for what the Trust calls a “living, breathing work of art.” Every surface of the house is a canvas, covered with soft reveries of people and animals, geometric designs, abstract shapes and floral patterns—walls, wallpapers, doors, mantels, furniture, lamps and shades, ceramics, even the top of the dining room table is covered with a repeating bulbous pattern of blue, yellow and pink. Loose and experimental, the style feels soulful and resoundingly fresh, even by today’s standards.

Charleston House
Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

In every corner stands a stack of books, portrait paintings of dear friends, a painted lamp topped with a crooked fabric shade. Sketches, photos are pinned to the mantel and paint tubes and brushes still stand at the ready, as if they all just stepped out for a quick moment.

Charleston House
Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Vanessa lived here with her children and partner, Duncan Grant, who was also a painter, and for a time (at the same time), Clive Bell, her ex-husband and father of her children. One of the regulars, Roger Fry convinced Vanessa and Duncan to help him with the fabulous but short-lived Omega Workshops, a line of patterned fabrics, furniture, and wallpaper designed to infuse more modernity into the decorative arts of their staid Victorian times. Duncan Grant’s Clouds and Grapes fabrics strike a whimsical, British cross between Alexander Girard and Josef Frank patterns.

Charleston House
Charleston House (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

The gardens are equally magical. Housed in a renovated barn next door, the cafe serves soup, salad and pasta if your visit falls over lunch.

For the rest of this post (including our trip to Monks House and our favorite 3-day itinerary), and more exclusive travel content with a focus on design and craft, explore In Hand.

In Hand·Yahoo Creator

Written by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti and Meghan McEwen, IN HAND is part travelogue and part travel ethos — exploring the intersection of design, craft and travel; celebrating people, places and objects.

Subscribe
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertisement