We Go Inside Claudia Schiffer’s Tudor Mansion

At her Tudor manse in England, supermodel Claudia Schiffer and her family are surrounded by historic architecture, modern art—and a few friendly ghosts
Neubauer Artists LLC
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Claudia Schiffer—member of the original supermodel club, iconic Guess? girl, magazine-cover star times a thousand, and savvy businesswoman—is well versed at navigating runways. So 15 years ago, when the Teutonic bombshell and her now husband, English film director Matthew Vaughn, turned into a half-mile-long driveway—unannounced and on a whim—to inquire whether the owners might consider selling the historic house at the end of it, Schiffer naturally won over her audience. “We basically knocked on the door and said, ‘We love this place,’ ” she recalls of the serendipitous moment. “They had no idea who we were or what we were doing there.” Months later, the couple, having closed the deal, were married there in front of 120 guests.

The 14-bedroom Tudor mansion on 530 acres now serves as the full-time residence to them and their three children, Caspar, 14, Clementine, 12, and Cosima, 7, plus a menagerie of dogs, cats, sheep, pig, and tortoise—the last a gift from Vaughn shortly after he and Schiffer met on a blind date. “We weren’t even dating yet,” she says, still charmed by the gesture. “I had told him over dinner, ‘I love tortoises and I’ve always wanted to have one.’ ” And voilà! One arrived at her doorstep in Mallorca on her birthday. It now happily resides in the stables.

It’s said that the 1574 house—built in the shape of an H in honor of King Henry VIII—owes its name to Queen Elizabeth I, who was nonplussed at being served cold ham when she stayed there and thus christened it Coldham Hall. It served as a safe haven for Catholic priests during the Elizabethan purges, and still boasts a few priest holes—cubbies below the floorboards—which today make perfect hiding places for the kids. “They used to always have magnets and strings going down to check if there was anything valuable,” says Schiffer, adding that they found nothing. The property was also a meeting point for the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and remained in the original family for some three centuries.

“We have a lot of history to live up to,” admits Schiffer. Out of respect for its rich past, the couple have adopted a slow and studied approach to decorating the house. “We’ve taken our time,” Schiffer says. “Nothing was bought quickly.”

The furniture is a mix of comfortable upholstered pieces, antiques, and family heirlooms. “Great homes sometimes lack that personal detail,” Schiffer says. “I wanted to have things in the house that are important to us because they have great memories attached,” she explains, citing an oak chest in the drawing room from her childhood home and a shield with her husband’s family arms in the great hall. “The stories these things tell are important.

“We also brought in a lot of color and pattern,” she says. The walls of nearly every guest bedroom are covered in traditional motifs—tree-of-life fabric in one room, an orchard-print wallpaper in another. One bedroom, per Schiffer’s insistence, was wrapped from floor to ceiling in Galbraith & Paul crimson lotus wallpaper to create a tentlike effect.

If the furnishings lean traditional, the art that fills the walls acts as a wonderful juxtaposition. Avid collectors, Schiffer and Vaughn have amassed an array of impressive works by such contemporary masters as Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, and Candida Höfer. Recent acquisitions are some of David Hockney’s iPad drawings of the English countryside, which Schiffer was attracted to because they “look like they could be on our grounds.” Schiffer began poking around galleries as a young model in Paris living in the Marais. While her peers were navigating the party circuit, the famously reserved good girl of the bunch was plotting her future collection. “There was this Andy Warhol exhibition at the Pompidou,” she recalls, “and I remember thinking, One day, if I have enough money, I would like to buy one of those.” A decade into her career, she purchased her first Warhol, a camouflage painting that now hangs in the study.

When their clock tower burned to the ground a few years ago, and she and Vaughn were forced to think about what they would want to rescue if the fire spread to the main house—luckily, it didn’t—they immediately turned to some of the art. In particular: Ashkan Sahihi lenticular photos of each child, an Adam Fuss photogram of Cosima when she was a baby (“Sadly, when I came to understand that he does this sort of thing, it was too late for the older children”), and a pair of Ed Ruscha paintings that say marry me and yes. Vaughn commissioned the first when he proposed to Schiffer. The second is, of course, her answer—though she assures that she did give him a verbal response in the interim.

While Coldham Hall initially served as a weekend getaway from London, the family moved there full- time several years ago. These days, after dropping the kids at school (not a single paparazzo in sight), Schiffer and Vaughn retreat to their study with a cup of tea, where they work at desks alongside each other. They often take creative meetings here. In addition to her own projects, which include Claudia Schiffer (Rizzoli), a coffee-table tome on her spectacular three-decade modeling career, coming out next month, Schiffer also acts as an executive producer on her husband’s films. The latest, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is due out this month. “It’s so quiet, we can really take our time,” she says of the idyllic arrangement.

To that end, the house couldn’t be better suited. Aside from boasting enough guest rooms to qualify as a boutique hotel, Coldham Hall is purposefully designed to be kid- and animal-proof. Much of the furniture is upholstered in sturdy, practical fabrics like corduroy and moleskin. “Shooting fabrics are made of moleskin, which means it lasts forever,” observes Schiffer. “We’re not very formal,” she adds. “The whole idea of the house is that everyone can roam. I wanted it to be rustic so you felt like you could have muddy dogs running around and kids with jam on their hands.”

On weekends, the place is almost always filled with guests and children. People come down at their leisure to eat or read the paper in the great hall. Days are filled with outdoor activities: croquet, swimming, tennis, long walks with the dogs. Dining is family style in the sense that “we always eat with the kids,” Schiffer says. “We all sit together.” She and Vaughn abandon their healthy diet on the weekends, serving hearty English classics like shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding. In the evening, the adults might watch a film in the screening room or play Hearts by the fire in the drawing room, while the children entertain themselves with Wii and snooker in the games room. It does all seem rather picture-perfect. But just when night has fallen, the fire crackling and wine flowing, Schiffer and Vaughn demonstrate their flair for the dramatic. “We start telling ghost stories,” she explains. The humor—or horror, as the case may be—is that the house is indeed haunted. “We hear creaking noises and strange things happen sometimes, like the music comes on,” she says. Have they ever tried to evict the uninvited guests? “We had a medium go around, and she told us that actually all the ghosts in the house are lovely,” she deadpans. “No one needs to be scared.” She adds with a warm smile: “We welcome all the ghosts, basically.” Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the ghosts have welcomed Schiffer and her family.

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