The man brought in to rectify the damage was David Mlinaric, the recently retired decorator who for years was the favorite of the British establishment. (He helped Lord Jacob Rothschild, Sir Evelyn’s cousin, restore Waddesdon Manor.) Mlinaric remembers first seeing the space in the early Sixties, when he was new in London and happened to have his own studio next door. The main room, with its soaring vaulted ceiling, had been subdivided into smaller spaces and done up in “pretend Georgian” style, says Mlinaric; later, Italian architect Gae Aulenti undertook a more severe, minimalist renovation. The Rothschilds’ goal was to restore Sargent’s design to its original glory while doubling the overall living space by building a modern addition on the lot next door.
As the project hit snags that caused months of delays (the original architects and contractors were eventually replaced), the Rothschilds began seriously collecting contemporary art. As with all of Lynn’s undertakings, this was not something done halfheartedly. Today, in the house’s showstopping living room—Sargent’s former painting studio—there are five Luc Tuymans paintings (two more hang in the entrance hall), plus a Cy Twombly diptych and two Barbara Hepworth sculptures.
When you’re a Rothschild and you buy seven works by the same living artist, one perk, evidently, is that the artist will agree to hang the works himself: Tuymans came from Belgium to determine where everything should go. (Mlinaric, naturally, didn’t agree with all of Tuymans’s choices, though as Lynn recalls, “I told David he had no say in this matter.”) Viola, a friend of the couple’s, adapted his own piece for the living room. Part of a series that began as the backdrop for The Tristan Project (2004), a multimedia production of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, the video is a slow-motion underwater scene depicting Isolde reuniting with her lover in death. Artwise, Lynn says, her deal with Sir Evelyn is that “we only buy what we both agree on. The 19th-century sculpture in this house is more Evelyn than me. But it’s so Evelyn, that I, you know, love it.”
For Sir Evelyn, who notes that he was brought up in some “very conventional” rooms filled with great art and objects, the house offered a rare chance to create something from scratch. “When you inherit, you’re very lucky to have a wonderful backdrop of art,” he says. “But you sometimes want to add to it, and you can’t, because it’s complete and there’s nothing you can really do except preserve it.”
Any lavishness in this house is underplayed, says Mlinaric, since the decor needed to be “very simple” so as not to swallow up the subtle forms and muted colors of Tuymans’s paintings. And what of the famed goût Rothschild, that intoxicatingly exotic style that influenced decades of interiors? “It’s here, isn’t it?” says Mlinaric, pointing to a priceless Chinese porcelain vase and a French Deco tray. “But it’s very pared down.” The home’s newer wing, which contains the kitchen and master bedroom, is even more understated, all smooth surfaces and clean lines. “We were trying to reduce all the time so the house didn’t have an enormous amount of fancy stuff in it,” Mlinaric says. His biggest purchase: a rare 14-piece set of English Regency dining chairs, originally from Longleat House in Wiltshire. “Most people who live to this standard have a good set of dining room chairs, but half of them are copies,” he says. Reproductions wouldn’t cut it for the A-listers—Clintons, Blairs, Kissingers—who tend to turn up at Lynn’s dinner parties.