The Palmstiernas move in
Under Envoy Herman Wrangel, from 1907 the Swedish legation rents premises at 79 Portland Place. In December 1920, his successor Erik Palmstierna writes in his diary: “I am now sitting at the fireside in Wrangel’s room. The change of scene is complete. While admittedly two inches of snow has fallen on London overnight, instead of a clear blue sky and glittering frost, a yellow fog has descended over the Sunday hush of the city.”
The renovation of the newly acquired 27 Portland Place begins in 1920. It therefore falls to the Palmstiernas to be the first occupants of the new legation building. Late on the evening of 1 August 1921, the envoy’s wife Ebba Palmstierna and the couple’s three children arrive at the house, driven in the “new car” by John Fever, the chauffer inherited from the Wrangels, who speaks in a barely intelligible cockney accent. The odour that greets them in London is described as an amalgamation of roast mutton, leather, Brussels sprouts, Virginia tobacco and coal smoke.
It is a newly renovated residence that greets them. Here in the Yellow Salon, the wall decor has been removed but the decorative ceiling stucco retains its gilding and the characteristic Adam brothers colour scheme of light green and lilac. Otherwise, the room is dominated by the cream paint on the high walls, probably part of the colour scheme chosen by Torben Grut when he visited London in March 1921.
Innovations old and new are the room’s focal points
In the early nineteenth century, the salon was provided with a shallow balcony with wrought iron railings, overlooking Portland Place. Towards the end of the century, French windows were installed in the other reception rooms. During the renovation in 1921, the window sills were raised to their original level to make space for radiators for the new central heating system. Notwithstanding the new central heating, the grand open fireplaces remain the true centrepieces of the state rooms, here in white and dark grey marble dating back to the Adam brothers.
The house’s beautiful original fireplaces are based on a design innovation by the brothers in the second half of the eighteenth century. Their neoclassical design is more elegant and restrained than their rococo predecessors. The house’s white marble fireplaces have fine carvings in low relief, with inlays of contrasting coloured marble typical of the Adam style. This model became very popular and was copied in cheaper materials, contributing to its wider spread.
The Grand Ball
Despite the grand state rooms, this is also a private home that maintains old Swedish traditions, with long evenings at home spent reading around the lamp in the Yellow Salon and listening to Beethoven’s sonatas on Sunday evenings.
That said, the room also has an important function together with the large gallery as the main venue for parties and receptions. To this end, in 1921 the Yellow Salon was furnished with rococo objects from collections in Sweden, including Nationalmuseum. A grand inaugural ball was held on 2 January 1922, to which the Palmstiernas invited prominent Swedes living in London. It was subsequently reported that the guests conversed in the ‘rococo room’ and danced in the adjacent ‘Renaissance room’ (the large gallery).
Music from a jazz band streams out of the corner house. Envoy Baron Erik Palmstierna and his wife Ebba have invited guests to attend a ball in Sweden’s new legation building at the exclusive address 27 Portland Place.
New Year 1922 is celebrated by 250 London Swedes attired in black tie and ballgowns, who for the first time are able to view the renovated state rooms en masse. The elegant original stucco designed by eighteenth-century British architects the Adam brothers has been complemented by the “the best we possess from home of Swedish taste and style,” the Stockholm newspapers subsequently reported.
In a telegram bearing New Year greetings from the party to King Gustav in Sweden, Baron Palmstierna is delighted to confirm that the evening has been a success.