When Sir Evelyn de Rothschild was going over the plans for his new London house, a renovated 19th-century artist’s studio once owned by John Singer Sargent, he decided that there were a few modern conveniences he could live without. Air-conditioning, for one, seemed unnecessary, since the British had been doing fine without it for hundreds of years. And Sir Evelyn didn’t see the need for adjustable faucets in the bathrooms. He preferred old-style taps—separate ones for hot and cold water.
But his strong-willed American wife, the former Lynn Forester, who’s been known as Lady de Rothschild since the two were married seven years ago, had very different ideas. “Can you imagine building a new house with hot and cold taps?” she says. “So that your hands burn on one and freeze on the other?”
A recent tour of the house, now completed, revealed a climate-control system in good working order and faucets that magically dispense water of variable temperature. Among the other apparent signs of Lynn’s modernizing influence: a Bill Viola video piece commissioned for the living room (it hangs directly above a Louis XVI commode); a Donald Judd on the dining room wall; a state-of-the-art screening room; and a gym, with a mirrored ceiling for Lynn’s stretching sessions.
But then there’s the Renoir sculpture in the breakfast room, and Sir Evelyn’s collection of Bugatti elephants in the traditional book-lined study. In fact, the home is a fusion of the 19th and 21st centuries (a brand-new structure now adjoins Sargent’s original one) and a fitting emblem of the Rothschilds’ merger, itself an unpredictable mélange of the New and Old Worlds. “The ultimate love nest” is how the vivacious Lynn, 53, describes the house. With her and Sir Evelyn’s children from previous marriages fully grown, she says, “We could really build this house for us.”
“I think it’s come out pretty well,” adds Sir Evelyn, tall and dapper in a dark bespoke suit. “But I don’t want to boast.”
Lynn, who still sounds like a schoolgirl with a crush when discussing her 76-year-old husband—“Isn’t he gorgeous?” she asks at one point—emphasizes that Sir Evelyn’s tastes are not as traditional as people often assume. “He’s a very forward thinker,” she says. “It’s the only reason he could have been attracted to me. I’m not exactly old-school.”
It was Sir Evelyn who first noticed the Chelsea studio when a friend of his lived in it years ago; Lynn recalls him telling her in the late Nineties, shortly after they’d met (through their mutual friend Henry Kissinger), that it was “the only house he cared about in London.” When it came up for sale shortly afterward, they saw that many of its original features—carved classical pilasters, a balcony on the main window—had been altered, hidden or removed entirely.