Set overlooking Bournemouth’s long sandy beach, the Victorian home of Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes feels like the lovechild of Tyntesfield and the Watts Gallery Artists’ Village. The combination of stunning ocean views outside and the couples’ extraordinary collection inside make it well worth a visit.
The original family home was extended to include an art gallery space in 1919. Then you could only visit for two hours, on the first Wednesday of every month, with advance tickets. Now it’s a bit easier to get in.
And it’s absolutely worth it. Not only is the place jam-packed with the kind of odd items only the Victorians seem to have been able to collect, but the building is also fascinating. Outside the green and cream towers still stand out along the cliff edge. And inside? Hold onto your britches.
Walking around the house is a dizzyingly magical experience. Its decor is not what you’d call peaceful, but on a calm, sunny day, the sea outside helps to quell the somewhat frenetic feeling within.
Everything is art. The walls, the floors, the ceilings, the windows – everything is colourful and decorative. The red of the dining room gives way to the yellow of the morning room, followed by the expansive hall and the deep blue and gold of the upstairs landing.
The main hallway even has a fountain built into it! The double-height room is topped with a glorious stained glass roof and the landing is filled with paintings and sculptures.
The rooms leading off this area range from Annie’s pink boudoir, to a dark panelled study to the so-called Morrocan alcove and much more. And everywhere is filled with stuff. There’s even a whole room dedicated to the famous Victorian actor Henry Irving.
Back downstairs, the art galleries lead off the main hallway and are abundantly bright thanks to their tall ceilings and skylights.
The photos hopefully do a good job of showcasing this extraordinary place better than my words. There are so many things to inspire you here. Every object has a story to tell.
And as for the building itself, it would easily be right for a ghost story. But I like the idea of a historical tale about Victorian adventure and romance. Or how about a building that sits outside of time, where objects transport you to other worlds? There are endless possibilities.
What do you think about the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!