Diary of a Curious House Guest

I have just been to see a marvellous Jacobean house in Kent, built in brick in the early 17th century, it has an unusual polygonal ground plan, perhaps deliberately reflecting the form of the ancient keep nearby. The thing I admire about the restoration here is not just the repair work itself, but the whole approach to furnishing the house by its new owners. A central theme of the furnishing has been the tracking down of porcelain, paintings which have belonged to the house in the past, as well as the way that different items of furniture have been used to reflect the different periods and flavours of the house (altered in the 18th century and in the 1850s, it was restored to a Jacobean character, part of the manor house revival that I explored in my book The English Manor House(1999).

All this brought together with well-chosen carpets and textiles, Arabic and other (for more on this house see forthcoming issues July 6 and 13). I arrived in the rain, and as the day progressed the sun came out and we walked up above the house and looked down on it, the phrase, ‘like a jewelled casket’, came to mind, a phrase Lady Ottoline Morrell used to describe her own beloved Garsington.

* * * * * * *

An object with a known history has an inspirational value beyond the story of its own material qualities and its creation. It brings with it into your possession, a succession of stories, of places and people that add a layer of interest beyond the immediate. At the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair, I saw many beautiful and tempting paintings and pieces of furniture, which may well end up contributing to this kind of intelligent creation of a collection suitable to a house of scale and history.

I find myself looking at these things trying to picture the house that they were made for. It was the new collectors evening sponsored by Country Life, and thronged with a new generation of people understandably enthusiastic about the elegance of the past. Nonetheless, a goodly number found their way to another small ballroom to watch England v Sweden-two well crafted goals by England, and two lucky shots by Sweden.

The move from the intimate grandeur of the Fair, the silver jewellery, gilt frames and polished brown furniture, thronged with smart girls and young men in dark suits (some in morning suits after a day at Ascot) to a darkened room full of the same people, but with more of the atmosphere of a racecourse, was somehow rather evocative of the style and fun one imagines to have been life in 18th century London.

Jeremy Musson is architectural editor of Country Life and presenter of the Curious House Gueston BBC 2. To listen to Jeremy talking about his visit to Holkham Hall download the file here