British artist Oliver Messel wasn’t just known for bringing a flare of flamboyancy and colour to the stage and silver screen, he was also a prolific mural artist and designer making waves in the interior world.
Growing tired of designing the sets and costumes for ballets, musicals and films, Messel gradually moved across into architecture and interior design with his first break through project: a suite at London’s iconic Dorchester Hotel. Quite unlike the rest of the hotel, the fantasy suite is a maze of rooms each with their own elaborate designs and identity. From a secret garden-inspired lounge, with delicate floral patterns and gilded garden nymphs to a dining room flanked by panelled murals depicting Grecian-inspired urns, filigree detailing and regally dressed men. The suite quickly became a popular choice for society’s most glamorous, including Elizabeth Taylor.
Born into a wealthy and well connected family, Messel moved in glamorous circles. Through his nephew, Antony Armstrong-Jones, Messel quickly ingratiated himself into the life of Princess Margaret, to whom Armstrong-Jones was married. Having retreated to Barbados in 1959, Messel found himself commissioned to design Les Jolies Eaux, Princess Margaret’s home on Mustique. Rattan furniture rubs shoulders with cool stone flooring whilst bold painted walls contrast with the chintzy use of fabric and sleek contemporary metal chairs. Messel incorporated conch shell motifs into alcoves and created a faux stone painterly effect on the walls in a drawing room area, creating the illusion of a grandiose exotic palace whilst maintaining a cosy residential feeling.
Messel’s glamorous work sparked interest from a plethora of wealthy figures including the Heinz Family, with whom he designed their homes Leamington House and Pavillion. However, his greatest legacy, arguably, was building and designing all the homes on Mustique, each one different and unique all bar one connecting aspect; Messel Green, a paint colour that became synonymous with the artist. As the architect Barbara Hill once said of Messel's work “he had an ability to convert quite ordinary houses into wonderlands” and the islands of Mustique and Barbados are the greatest examples of doing so.