guest post london the oliviers

Inside the Oliviers’ Love Nest

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Lena Backström, a long-time fan of the Oliviers from Sweden. Over the years I’ve gotten to know Lena fairly well. When this site first launched she kindly contributed scans from her private collection to the Photo Gallery – many of which I had never seen before. It was a real treat. Since then, we’ve met in person a couple of times, catching up over lunch and swapping stories whenever she’s in London for a visit.

Recently, Lena did some extended research into Durham Cottage, the Oliviers’ love nest in Christchurch Street, Chelsea, west London. Laurence Olivier bought the house (the former coach cottage belonging to the larger Durham House next door) as a London base for he and Vivien Leigh. Using quotes from biographies and excerpts and rare photos from vintage Swedish magazines, Lena was able to plot out what the house looked like when the Oliviers lived there from 1937-1956.

Below is Durham Cottage as we’ve never seen it, but there are some lingering questions: where, exactly, was Laurence Olivier’s study? When did they decide to have separate bedrooms (or were there always two)? Can you help us with the answers?

Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Oliviers Durham Cottage Chelsea

Thanks for the job well done, Lena!

If you’ve got a unique idea for a guest post and would like to contribute to the content at, please get in touch.


Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (12)

  1. Loved seeing these photos ofvDurham Cottage. I live on the same street only yards away. Durham cottage looks very sad. Been empty for about four years. Falling into rack and ruin. The new owners want to pull it down and rebuild with a new underground floor.
    They are awaiting planning permission from the Kensington and Chelsea council.

    1. Hi Ted,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree, it’s looking very derelict these days. I guess tearing it down and rebuilding would be more practical at this point, given its current state, but it’s still kind of sad to know that the original house won’t be there anymore, especially given its history. It was a little gem.

    2. Hi Ted,
      I am also a local resident and have been concerned about the state of this property for a while. It’s been empty as long as I’ve lived here (five years). I have been in touch with the Empty Homes Officer at the Council a few times over the last couple of years but they don’t seem to have had much luck getting the current owners to do anything about it.
      I actually had no idea about the house’s history until today, I’ve just been concerned about such a beautiful building being left empty, particularly with the current housing shortage.
      Would you be interested in meeting up to discuss a way we might put some pressure on the Council from local residents to do something about this?

  2. Thank you for this Kendra.
    It was a lovely house to start their married life and I can imagine Vivien excitedly arranging the decor in her creative and artistic way

    1. I can also picture her decorating and Larry sitting there smoking his pipe and reading the paper and agreeing to whatever she suggests, haha.

  3. I couldn’t agree more, Kendra! If Vivien was happy, that’s all that mattered to Larry. Happy wife, happy life, ha! ha! Really enjoyed seeing this, but so sad about the state of Durham Cottage. It’s a shame no one wants to restore it.

  4. I couldn’t agree more Kendra! So long as Vivien was happy, that was ok with Larry. Happy wife, happy life! I totally loved this, thanks for sharing. So sad about Durham cottage though.

  5. Thanks for posting Kendra. I love seeing how the house was laid out based on the pictures. I can’t believe the Kensington and Chelsea council would agree to the demolition of this site. How sad. I always believed London cherished its history. I first saw the property in 1993 from the street, but was awestruck by it.

  6. such sad news to hear of the possibility of this being knocked down 🙁 , the previous owner was a good friend of mine , and i had the pleasure of staying in durham cottage on many occasions from 1985 through to about the mid 2000’s .. i miss staying there as it was such a thrill. It was such a beautiful home …. many fond memories of the house and her owner…

  7. Is there no way to preserve this treasure? After all, it’s an historic house. Olivier and Leigh were among the greatest stars Hollywood ever produced, and both were theatre royalty in England. It’s a shame when people who have the money to buy such historic places only do so to tear them down – and the rest of the world is powerless to do anything about it. Once destroyed, such places can never be brought back again – and the world is a lesser place because of it. Olivier and Leigh fought gallently to save the St. James Theatre from destruction. Can we not fight gallently on their behalf to save Durham Cottage now? I only wish I had the money to buy it.

  8. I have also seen this cottage it is so beautiful would be so sad to pull it down they should not do this ,it was once history and could remain that way, what year did the Olivier’s leave Durham cottage ! and how long have the previous
    owners lived here plus how long has it been left to decline so so sad.

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