Wednesday, 24 July 2013

In Memoriam - Hambleden Manor

When I started this blog I listed some of my favourite rooms that over the years I had found in books and magazines etc. in order to devote special posts on them. Some of these are historical views, others are photos of interiors created in the 20th century. The room I am writing about today was on the list as a room that still existed, but sadly this post has turned out to be an obituary. Not that it changes the beauty of the room, which I only know from a photograph anyway, but it so happens that all the contents of the house were sold at auction last week, which means everything has gone and with this not only a most beautiful room has completely disappeared, also another interior created by John Fowler. And that is a sad thing. Here is the room (scanned from pages 48 and 49 of Chester Jones' Colefax and Fowler and instantly recognized by many of you I'm sure).

It is the drawing room at Hambleden Manor, which reads as one of those timeless English houses in a particularly dreamy village which is often used for filming. It is that beautiful. The house, estate and indeed most of the village has long been the property of the Smith family, who started a newspaper shop business, which is now well known on every High Street in the UK as WH Smith. So the Smiths became very rich, purchased themselves a gorgeous place to live and were even ennobled as Viscount Hambleden. They have owned the estate since the 1870s, but in 2003 large parts of it were put on the market by the 5th Viscount, including 44 houses in the village, but not including the Manor itself. Here his mother remained; on her own since her divorce from his father, the Viscount nr 4. Read more about this business HERE .
I have no idea what happened to the estate or its sale other than internet gossip, but it seems that last year the 4th Viscount died and that this has prompted the sale of Hambleden Manor.

It was for this 4th Viscount and his first wife, the sophisticated Contessa Maria Carmela Attolico di Adelfia, that John Fowler worked on the house in 1955. Here she is in her drawing room, by all account a formidable lady of great culture and style.

Chester Jones recounts how she wanted a yellow drawing room but John Fowler chose a darker shade than she liked, convincing her that it would fade over time into the perfect colour. And from the photographs it does indeed look like the most gorgeous apricot yellow. It was probably put on in several layers and required the lovely layered depth that John Fowler is famous for.
I am not particularly fond of yellow, but this colour I could live with very happily. I particularly love the grey detailing in the ceiling cornice and the picking out of the plaster band of decoration on the ceiling itself. The same grey picks out vertical lines down the corners of the room, which is a very smart detail indeed.  

The furnishings are an interesting mix of English calm and symmetry and some Italian exuberance, and I'm sure Lady Hambleden herself brought a great deal of style to the house a swell.
The colour scheme was inspired by the carpet (as it often is in these traditional  'Colefax' interiors); a large Aubusson, famous for its beautifully faded pinks, greens and yellows.
The carpet is the main decorative fabric element in the room; all the other fabrics are plains or weaves, without pattern, except for the cushions which seem mostly embroidered and the large sofa and two chairs, which are covered in damask silk. The scheme is really beautifully simple: a pink, a green and an ecru taken from the carpet, all appearing throughout the room as plain chairs, sofas and table covers. The somewhat sharp velvet on the central seat and the sofas in the windows is a wonderful touch and stops the room from going too soupy.
And then there is that gorgeous colour on the wall and small bits of black scattered throughout the very symmetrical end wall.

The room sums up the ideal vision of English interiors: grace and luxury, colouring and light, but above all comfort. There isn't a chair in this room that you wouldn't want to go and sit in, and that comfort must surely be largely thanks to Lady Hambleden herself, because this photo was taken several  decades after John Fowler helped her with the house.

It is all a reminder that these houses are merely (other peoples') collections of furniture and fabrics that may have been beautifully put together by a master, and maintained and improved by a person of great taste, but may ultimately just as easily be dispersed and lost for ever. Every table, chair and picture will now become part of somebody else's house, though I doubt if many of them will find their new home in a room as beautiful as this one.

The sale was at Christie's, South Kensington on 10th July 2013 - go to :  Sale 8999 (for as long as it's on the Christie's website). There was lots of furniture including curtains from other rooms.

Portrait lady Hambleden:  Francesco Arena - from an ITALIAN WEBSITE