'Repro' replaces the Regency

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The Independent Online
THE OWNER of a 14th century castle was so upset at having to sell some of the family furniture to pay capital gains tax and repair bills, he replaced them with reproduction pieces.

But this was not any old 'repro' furniture. Lord Courtenay, of Powderham Castle, near Exeter, had four Regency chairs and two sofas faithfully copied by a master cabinet-maker. It cost a tenth of the price of the originals, which he sold for about pounds 350,000 at Christie's last December.

The 200-year-old music room, though not generally used by the family ('not cosy enough to have the telly in there', Lord Courtenay said), seemed empty without them. But they are back now, complete with silk and gold leaf, and arm-rests carved as dolphins, the family crest.

Whether any of the 30,000 people who annually visit Powderham - best-known for its furnishings and interiors - can tell the reproduction furniture from the real thing is not the point.

George Longpre, who also reproduced the furniture for the Queen's House in Greenwich, has not attempted to pass off his pieces as originals; he did not drill in some fake woodworm holes or recreate the chipped gilding and missing rosettes of the originals.

Over the centuries, most of the castle's interior was created by local craftsmen: Lord Courtenay, who finds the gilding looks better than it has for a long time, was keen to continue the tradition. 'I'm very happy that it can still be done,' he said. Lord Courtenay is not planning any further sales, though a few pieces have been sold in the past.

However, it seems unlikely that the third Viscount Courtenay, who commissioned the originals in 1790, would mind too much. According to the present Lord Courtenay, his ancestor was a well-known Regency rake, who had his mind on other things - including his friend William Beckford of Fonthill, in Wiltshire. It was, he said, the kind of friendship 'you didn't mention in those days'.

And there are advantages to having reproduction furniture.

As Lord Courtenay put it: 'They're better for sitting on. You don't feel you're likely to do them any harm.' And, in 200 years, they too will be antiques.

(Photograph omitted)