Commemorating your country house

Owners of historic country houses often say they feel that they’re in communion with the past, and many have such an emotional investment in their property that they want to commemorate the time they spend as its custodian.

The tradition of capturing the interiors of country houses in watercolours dates back to at least the 18th century, and the advent of photography sparked a fashion for country-house pictures-the studio of Bedford Lemere & Co did brisk business taking photos of country houses from the 1870s onwards. Portraits remain popular to this day, but the opportunities to immortalise your home have widened enormously since then.

One of the quickest and most affordable ways to create a memento of your country house is to put it on a rubber stamp. Illustrator Holly-Anne Rolfe of Holly’s Houses first created a stamp of a house a few years ago as a gift for her father, and has been capturing houses in rubber ever since. ‘I’ve always loved drawing buildings and, after I had some other illustrations of mine made into stamps, I thought I’d see how a drawing of my house worked,’ she says. ‘It seemed a good idea for a product and timely, too, drawing on a revival of all things craft and handmade.’

If you’d rather have a more formal portrait of your house, Miss Rolfe and a number of other artists offer country-house sketches, drawings and watercolours. Liam Wales, who painted the watercolours for Country Life’s England’s Favourite House competition, (April 6) has been making country-house portraits since 1992. ‘Architectural drawing is my first love,’ he says, ‘but I started drawing people’s houses in London, then worked my way up.’ Mr Wales now produces illustrations for English Heritage guidebooks, as well as private commissions.

For those who prefer the richness of oil paintings, James Hart Dyke is the man to call. An official artist to The Prince of Wales, whom he has accompanied on foreign royal tours, Mr Hart Dyke usually starts a commission by ‘reconnoitering’ the house and its environs, after which he maps out a rough size and price for the painting. Once this is agreed, Mr Hart Dyke works partly on site and partly in his studio.

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Like watercolours and oil paintings, photographic portraits of country houses also have more than a century of tradition behind them. Indeed, the Country Life Picture Library holds some 100,000 black-and-white photographs of important houses, as well as a selection of more recent, colour ones. Those who prefer the bolder colours of today’s photography can turn to architectural photographers Paul Barker and Will Pryce, who both undertake private commissions. ‘I’ve shot a variety of houses for private clients, some in London, others all over England and elsewhere around the world,’ says Mr Pryce, who photographs anything from Victorian houses in Hackney to world-famous country houses.

For architectural-history buffs, little beats the thrill of having the history of their house published. According to architectural historian Jeremy Musson, country-house histories became popular in the early 20th century, when the development of photography and printing techniques made it possible to produce books with relative ease.

Mr Musson has worked on a number of privately commissioned books, and says that the finished product ‘can detail the impact that the current owners have had on the house-the renovations they have made, for example’. It’s important to remember that you’re publishing a top-quality, limited edition volume, and that the cost of producing a fully illustrated country-house history resembles ‘what you would pay for a bespoke piece of furniture or a specially commissioned chimneypiece’. Draughtsman Ben Taggart also produces country-house histories-but with a difference.

His background is in architectural model-making, and he often had to make drawings of the houses he worked on, because the original plans were unavailable. Two years ago, he decided to bring all his interests together in a new business called Archistory, which produces highly detailed architectural drawings of houses, together with a written history. Mr Taggart takes care of measuring and drawing a house, and his colleague Paul Murray researches and writes its history.

‘If detail is scarce, Paul will use local archives and census information to produce a detailed story. Once drafted, the history is always sent to the client for approval before it’s incorporated into the drawing.’

For owners who would rather be at the bleeding edge of technology, a novel way to celebrate a country house is to make a 3D print of it. Shapeways helps you to find a 3D designer, who can produce a tri-dimensional drawing of your house. The company will then print it on a range of materials, including glass, stainless steel and sandstone. Tri-dimensional prints are certainly a long way from the world of Bedford Lemere & Co, but if their current popularity is anything to go by, they could well become the most common way to celebrate a country house in the 21st century.