Sir Julien Cahn (1882-1944), the millionaire owner of the Nottingham Furnishing Company, lived from 1928 until his death at Stanford Hall, near Loughborough, which he transformed to suit his distinctive lifestyle – part English country house, part Hollywood.
He employed Queen Mary’s decorator, White, Allom Ltd, to install pastiche historical interiors and modern Art Deco schemes including at least four bathrooms (Sir Julien’s in black and white, Lady Cahn’s in blue and white, a guest bathroom in tortoiseshell and another – which survives – in salmon pink marble). He built an indoor badminton court with trellis-work, trompe l’oeil privet and a birdcage in the corner.
Apart from hunting and philanthropy Sir Julien had two major hobbies, cricket and magic, in neither of which – according to contemporary accounts – he particularly excelled, but both of which he took extremely seriously.
To provide a venue for charity performances, Sir Julien commissioned a sumptuous 352-seat private theatre with a Wurlitzer organ bought second-hand from the Madeleine Theatre in Paris. Above the auditorium Sir Julien provided a wing of bedrooms for the visiting cricket stars who took part in the Sir Julien Cahn Cricket XI.
Below the auditorium is the most extraordinary feature of all – a capacious gas-proof air-raid shelter easily capable of accommodating the entire household, with decontamination facilities and an escape-tunnel extending thirty-six feet beyond the building line in case the entire building collapsed above.
The Cahns left their mark in the grounds too. There was an open-air swimming-pool, which eventually cost £60,000, nearly as much as the theatre, and for his fifty-fifth birthday Lady Cahn bought her husband some sea-lions (their names were Charlie, Aqua, Freda and Ivy) and a suitable pool was duly constructed.
After Sir Julien’s death in 1944 Stanford Hall became the Co-operative College until 2001.