Villa Borsani

For anyone else who’s yearning for travel again, and who usually hops on planes or trains for the May bank holidays there’s some visual escapism coming up on the blog this month. First up, the Villa Borsani in Milan, an 1940s Art Deco heaven that reminds me of the equally delicious Villa Necchi, also in Milan and from about the same time period.

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Casa Loma

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Casa Loma is one of those classic late 19th century magnate homes, where men who’d made a fortune in steel, railways, electricity or investing travelled to Europe and decided to build their own castle.

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Sometimes a vast modern house (like this one in Portland), sometimes a replica chateau, they were filled with art and antiques brought back to North America and a display of cultured taste as much as wealth.

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Casa Loma is a fake Scottish castle, with another miniature castle across the road acting as the stables and garage.

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Back at the main house, the “baronial hall” complete with miniature crossbows, replica Stone of Scone and, er, Wurlitzer organ, is flanked by a dining room that looks like it should have sailed with the Titanic and a vast library complete with Elizabethan-style plaster ceiling.

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The library itself leads to a dining room that regularly seated 100, with a nook that could hold a small orchestra – literally – to entertain the diners, and a conservatory that Wes Anderson would die for.

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Upstairs, Sir Henry and Lady Pellatt’s suites held 50 of the city of Toronto’s then 200 telephones, drawing rooms where the turret corner alone held several cabinets, a piano, a three piece suite and chandelier, and many an imitation Adams interior.

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There was even the optimistically-titled Windsor suite in case the king and queen of England came to visit (they didn’t), with its bed taken from a Venetian palazzo.

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The sheer scale of wealth needed to fund this was staggering, and Sir Henry Pellatt had monies coming in through his privatised electricity dam on Niagara Falls and his 30 year contract to provide all the lighting in early 1900s Toronto.

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In the end, taxes and changes in government did for the Pellatts much as for their post WW1 European counterparts, but the newly restored Casa Loma lives on as a glimpse of a byegone era. For anyone who’s a fan of Carney’s House Party too, it’s exactly how I imagine Sam’s parents house of only it had a lake.

University of Toronto

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Toronto university seems to have a house or collegiate structure and this, combined with the architecture and the names of the houses (Wycliffe, Emanuel) gives it a distinctly Oxbridge flavour. We even saw students playing quidditch as we walked through Hart House one day.

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The break out moment is the coolly soaring chapel of Trinity College, which recalls both Gothic cathedrals and the Grundvigtskirk (still one of my favourite places).

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Completely quiet the day we visited it, you can easily imagine it filled for Christmas carols or an Easter service, the priest and servers processing down the nave.

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The most touching part though was the side chapel, dedicated to our Lady and St Hilda, a place for quiet reflection only mirrored by the soldiers’ tour next door that was poignantly started on Armistice Day 1919.

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All photos Feb 2020.