| Print Story | E-Mail Story | Font Size

Earl Spencer visits Orange County to showcase furnishings inspired by his estate.

Earl Spencer visits Orange County to showcase furnishings inspired by his estate.

Earl Spencer

Earl Spencer  


any inherited British mansions and estates that have lasted centuries are magnificent to look at inside and out. But peel back the Jane Austen romance of these properties and you get to the reality of modern-day real estate: they’re a pain to maintain.

Owners need to think of creative ways to keep the walls from crumbling and the plumbing from collapsing.

Earl Spencer found the answer to the upkeep dilemma within the walls of his country home, the historic Althorp estate in Northampton, England. Althorp is best known as the final resting place of Spencer’s late sister, Princess Diana of Wales. But long before the estate came to be associated with her, it already had pedigree among connoisseurs of traditional furniture and lovers of art, according to Spencer.

That allure, along with the Earl’s fame (Americans still remember his speech at Diana’s funeral), drew hundreds to Von Hemert Interiors in Costa Mesa. There, Spencer promoted and autographed pieces from Althorp Living History, a collection of furnishings produced by Theodore Alexander based on originals found in the estate.

Proceeds from the sale of the Althorp Living History collection pay for the high cost of maintaining Althorp, Spencer said. The estate has been in the Spencer family for the past 500 years.

Spencer said his role is to exercise veto power when Theodore Alexander presents him with reproductions of items from his estate. There are more than 300 pieces in the collection, including some conversation items inspired by the second Earl Spencer, who lived in the late 18th century. There’s a charming mahogany cocktail cabinet shaped like an elegant dollhouse atop a desk and a handsome mahogany and brass campaign desk with two sets of swords arranged to form crosses between the desk’s legs.

The replicas have been remarkably faithful, Spencer said. One of his favorites, a chest that belonged to George Washington’s family, features a gash on the inside like the one in the original. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two, said Spencer, who uses the chest to store his cricket and tennis gear.

The house has protected the furniture for centuries, he said, “Now, it’s time for the furniture to take care of the house.”

Von Hemert Interiors, 1595 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-2050; 345 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-6551; vonhemertinteriors.com

See archived 'Home and Garden' stories »