Crumble is notoriously unruly. As Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie’s UK, kicks back on one of the many sofas – in one of the many drawing rooms – at Burghley House, she refuses to sit anywhere but his lap. The upstairs stately rooms of this enormous Elizabethan mansion in Lincolnshire may be open to the public but downstairs, behind a door marked with a small “private” sign, Rock’s family has made this imposing residence into a home. “I’ve never felt intimidated by this place,” says Rock, stroking Crumble’s ears.
Framed photos, half-completed puzzles and a Lego version of Kylo Ren’s ship from Star Wars make for endearing signals of a family routine lived in these extravagantly furnished rooms. This is, after all, a house where the directions to the loo are “down the corridor, all the way to the Doge’s Palace’s chairs and left”.
The Mayfair location of Christie’s offices has forced Rock into getting a flat in central London for school-nights but the 10 weekends a year he manages to spend here are when he feels most at peace. The fact that the house’s thick stone walls often block phone signal may have something to do with it. “It’s an oasis,” he says. “There is a surreal element to it because it’s like stepping back into the past.”
Many of the paintings, sculptures and commodes surrounding Rock were amassed by his wife Miranda’s ancestors during their 17th and 18th-century Grand Tour but his own soft spot for collecting has contributed to cramming the halls. From stuffed puffer fish to a suit of armour (a birthday gift), he has left his mark on the place. “I’m a maximalist, can you tell?” he says, laughing. “I love objects. There is a narrative and a romance around them.”
His own compulsion to gather artwork was inspired by countless trips in the back of his father’s Volvo from one antiques shop to another. Straight from a degree in history of art at the University of Bristol, landing a job at Christie’s was an opportunity to handle treasures on a daily basis.
Twenty-five years after starting as a receptionist, Rock was appointed chairman. But that wide-eyed fascination has never disappeared – and nor has a conviction that art should be bought to be looked at and used. “This idea of collecting to just put things away in long-term storage, that’s not my thing,” he says. “I’m probably going against the grain of many museum curators but I believe that works of art are there to be loved and respected. And I think that one shouldn’t be scared of them.”
Born in London
Graduates with history of art degree from University of Bristol and starts working at Christie’s
Appointed head of private collections and country house sales at Christie’s
Moves into Burghley House, his wife Miranda’s family home
Appointed chairman at Christie’s
1,600 lots of the Rockefeller collection go on sale as part of a Christie’s auction in New York