Liberace with more money? David Roche Foundation: House Museum two of three

Canopic, canine, camp with a hint of kitsch –  perhaps not obvious bedfellows (read on…) but a recent trip to Adelaide’s first privately funded museum – the David Roche Foundation House Museum ­– convinced me otherwise. That’s why I love house museums; just as characters in novels are revealed through the pages of a book, a tour round someone’s house is similarly revealing; how they inhabit and arrange their space, their choice of books, furnishings, paintings, colours and collectables gives you an insight into their personality, their preferences and passions.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the late David Roche’s house in Adelaide’s Melbourne Street is the riot of colour and richness of textures; everything seemingly gilded in some way. Spanning British Regency to French Empire and Neoclassicism, the place is packed with antiques, fine and decorative art: there’s silk, damask, bronze, silver, gold, parquetry, marble, malachite, china, porcelain, polished stone, glass, crystal and more.


David Roche was born in 1930 and started collecting antiques and valuables when he was just 17, a practice he continued until three months before his death in 2013. He came from a property owning and developing family and clearly never had to do office work to pay the bills. A photograph of him in a double-breasted suit with a red silk tie in the breast pocket suggests he was a man of refined taste – who knows perhaps he was even a bit of snob?

By all accounts he was a generous but highly private man, which makes it interesting that he bequeathed his property and wanted it to be enjoyed by the public. His 1950s Federation home is the House Museum part, and a purpose-built adjoining gallery, once kennels for his Afghan show dogs, houses more works, many of them larger items from the Roche private collection.

The place does shout camp – you only have to look inside the master bedroom – think Empire Bed and chaise longue sofa covered in leopard skin fabric, bespoke oak-garland wallpaper ordered in Britain, French silk curtains dyed to the colour of the back of a magnolia leaf, a cabinet of snuff boxes, parasol handles and Fabergé items, a George 1V mirror and a vitrine cabinet full of priceless china – Meissen, Tournai, Sevres and Worcester.  One reviewer described Roche’s collection as ‘Liberace with more money.’



But that’s not all. There’s a canopic jar on the wall, one of many references to all things Egyptian, an interest sparked by Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition in 1798.


The ancient Egyptians used these jars to store and preserve the organs of the deceased, one each for the stomach, intestines, lungs and liver in the belief that they would be needed in the afterlife (the heart as the seat of the soul was left inside the body).  The cultural and artistic influence of the Grand Tour, a mostly 18th century phenomena when young men of means would travel round Europe in search of the roots of western civilization, is also evident in the collection, many of the pieces in the neo-classical tradition – there’s plenty of furniture adorned with claw feet, winged creatures and sphinxes.


Napoleon himself makes an entry – one of the display cases in the bedroom contains a flintlock pistol that was gifted to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 by an English military commander. Other aristocratic characters featuring in the collection include Catherine the Great whose portrait by Johann Baptist Lampi hangs in the Russian Room, which is rich in malachite, gilt-edged mirrors and candelabras. Then in chinoiserie bedroom there’s a French commode from around 1820, owned by the 1st Duke of Wellington.

As with many house museums, you can’t just tip up and look round. You need to book on a timed tour. Although, here, it’s an intimate experience without any cordons or ropes sectioning off the treasures.  The tour starts with tea, coffee and biscuits and a short video among the classical statues and torsos in the Roman room then continues into the hall, its deep red walls hung with the kind of framed sporting prints you’d expect to find in an English stately home, the carpet underfoot dark green and patterned with black stars, copied from a design in the White House – it’s not all inspired by classical antiquity.


Far from it, in fact, the kitchen is surprisingly kitsch with its printed hessian walls, curtains patterned with cockerels, and the kind of clutter you might find in a car boot sale: lustreware mugs, chunky pottery, toys, mechanical money boxes, a butcher’s shop diorama – it’s more Country’s Women’s than Haute Cuisine.

Perhaps the closest we come to seeing the man behind the beautiful objects is in his den, which is modelled on an Englishman’s study with racing, hunting and canine portraits.  Roche, it turns out, was a dog lover and breeder – hence the kennels where the new gallery now stands – and a judge at Crufts and dog shows around the world.  Alongside a collection of The Kennel Club Stud Books are other canine-related books and trophies and rosettes that his dogs won in shows.


I couldn’t help wondering if the dogs ever came into the house – the thought of wagging tails dislodging a porcelain vase from the Qing Dynasty makes me shudder.

Staffordshire dog figurines in the gallery took me back to my childhood and to my mother’s house where a pair of hearth spaniels (they were typically displayed on mantelpieces in 19th century England) still sit atop a tall boy dresser in the living room.


Talking of home, the third house museum in my series will feature Mr Straw’s House in Nottinghamshire, England, where time has seemingly stood still since 1926. Stay tuned.

Barking Mad

After watching A Different Breed on ABC2 on Friday night, I felt reassured that – contrary to what some of my friends may think – I don’t spoil or pamper my dog. He eats dog food, he sleeps in his own bed, doesn’t wear clothes or bejewelled accessories, and I’m not training him to dance, ghost-hunt or skateboard.

Other dog owners think and do things quite differently as I discovered from this hugely entertaining British documentary. It really made me laugh. Talk about projecting human qualities, emotions and needs onto dogs!

One woman left her micro-managed and ultra-pampered dachshund in the care of a male couple, who had two dogs of their own. She left strict instructions that the dog was to have chicken for breakfast, scrambled eggs for lunch and bread and butter for dinner, and that meals were to be served up at specific times. Oh, the rumpus when she discovered that her dog had eaten a few grains of dog biscuit from one of the other dog’s bowls. His palate would be forever tainted.

Then there was Vinnie Jones, a clairvoyant dachsie with a sparkling diamante collar, who, his owners claimed, could sniff out ghosts. His owners took him out with seasoned spectre sleuth and dog communicator John Pope-de-Locksley. “He says he saw a disembodied head floating around,” said Locksley translating for Vinnie. And, get this, they went looking for a ghost called Scratching Fanny who is believed to reside in Cock Lane in London’s East End.

Airedale Ted belongs to a single woman called Lucy, who confessed she considers him as an ersatz boyfriend. So much so that Ted notices when she puts on a sexy nightdress and licks her legs. Oh dear… Lucy goes the extra mile and has tasted all Ted’s food (dog chocolate, she says, tastes like sugary congealed fat) and gives him acupuncture from a home kit to ease his bad leg. His health care routine also involves regular faecal analysis. Surely it’s only a matter of time before she carts him off for canine colonics?

Narrated by Sue MacGregor, a former BBC Radio 4 presenter, all these truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories were delivered in a marvellously deadpan voice with just the right measure of irony. What made it even funnier is that some of the dogs ‘spoke’ their thoughts in gruff Welsh-sounding accents. Lucy’s Ted was heard to grumble as he was dragged upstairs for his acupuncture.

Over at BBC London, radio presenters Joanne and Anna present a weekly show, Barking at the Moon with the help of their dogs Matilda, an English bulldog and Molly, a miniature Bull Terrier. Theirs are the only dogs allowed in the BBC. With a mix of doggy tunes, snoring and barking from Molly and Matilda and interviews with dog enthusiasts and chat about ‘dogabilia’, the show is a runaway success and attracts over half a million listeners every week. The documentary caught up with Joanne and Anna as they tried to teach their ‘furkids’ how to skateboard. Thanks to the peanut butter smeared on the board, Matilda did seem to be getting the hang of it.

Also featured were a mother and daughter team who run an upmarket pet boutique in Chelmsford. Here you can find bespoke leads and collars, tailored clothes and more! They cater for all kinds of pets and were recently asked to create a bandana for a giant snail.

The programme ended with footage from the ‘Heelwork to Music’ competition finals at Crufts held at the Kennel Club in Coventry. The winner was dressed as a country farmer, and he and his dog danced to the Wurzels’ 1976 rendition of The Combine Harvester. If you’ve never heard of the Wurzels or their catchy ditty click on the link below. And if you do know it, happy reminiscing!

A Different Breed was just 45 minutes long and I enjoyed every minute of it with my dog Bertie snoring gently – almost purring – beside me on my sofa. As I said, I don’t spoil my dog. Apart from sometimes letting him up on the sofa…

Toodles, Poodles!

I just heard a dog bark on that big screen thing with moving images...

I just heard a dog bark on that big screen thing with moving images…