So I went on ‘Country House Week’, this is my fantasy life life made real. Whizzing around rural England to extraordinary homes, some still redolent with the family’s heritage and power others empty shells due to family hubris or the ravages of the 20th century but all powerful examples for an aspirational ‘country house’ interiors today. We went ‘under the ropes’ and ‘behind the scenes’, taking copious notes and endless photos of …
Stowe House and landscape gardens
Sometimes just had to pause outside before diving on again.
I time travelled between the the two Elizabeths, I and II, falling in love several times over, like Thelma and Louise I wanted to keep on driving.
How beautiful are the women who made these houses great and quite often scandalous, yes the one on the bottom right definitely got in trouble with Elizabeth I.
But the houses are triumphant… Francophile Boughton viewed through its original 1630’s glass windows.
So now I am back with the English county house imprinted in its multiple facets on my brain. Deer parks to state apartments, Sévres to silver plate, Reynolds to Van Dyke, tapestries to libraries, closets to garnitures*… the list is so LONG.
From grottoed charm… to fantasy Chinese dairy, and that’s just at Woburn.
Fell in love the first English interior decorator* William Kent all over again…
THOSE benches alone ….
got too grips with importance of ancestry in the country house power play…
inscribed in stone on the monumental fireplace above and layered on many a wall…
lost count of my enfilades…
Not forgetting to look up… HELLO Venus.
I sometimes felt the need to lie down.
Ring for Service?
close the door
and pause for what became that most English of exotic beverages…tea.
The country houses that survive with their collections and contents are the treasure houses of Britain’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. Aristocratic families used the country house to assert their ancestry, their place in British society and the political power base which put these houses at the heart of their landed estates. The London houses were where their fashionable lives took place so the finest pieces in their collections were traditionally in what could be called palaces in the town: whole blocks of Mayfair and Strand. The wholesale destruction of these (mainly in the 1920’s) meant that the country house received a massive injection of London ‘loot’. So want to come in my car? to what we now justly call England’s treasure houses…our nickname on tour was ‘dream team’…
What fascinates me is that these houses, this slice of history isn’t a static affair, each is an ongoing research puzzle. Curators and custodians are out with their magnifying glasses and down in their archives, piecing together new evidence and weaving together complex strands of the country house narrative into new stories and interpretations. So I just want to keep on driving because if you listen and look closely the past echoes so clearly into our present.
All photos by me.
*closets and garnitures:
Closets are the same as French ‘cabinets’, small private rooms where you could retire by yourself or a few intimates and would kept your most treasured possessions. Hey day 17th century.
Garnitures are an arrangement of 3 -5 vases made as a set. Fashionable throughout the 17th and 18th century and with collectors ever since
William Kent is the first interior decorator* …this is not my claim but John Fowler’s and who am I to argue with him.