Kenwood House: London's Finest Country House

Kenwood House: London's Finest Country House

September 15, 2016

'...a fine example of the artistic home of a gentleman of the eighteenth century...’

The Iveagh Bequest Act, 1929.

 

Kenwood House, on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath, was probably first built in the early 17th century. Between 1764 and 1779 Robert Adam transformed it into a neoclassical villa for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and the interiors include some of Adam’s finest surviving schemes. 

The house is the first complete example of the mature style of the Scottish neoclassical architect Robert Adam (1728–92). His family were the dominant architects in London in the late 18th century and he was renowned for his designs for country houses. The most important aspects of Adam’s work at Kenwood are the south elevation and the interior of the ‘Great Room’ or library.

Kenwood House, South elevation. This magnificent neoclassical facade was created by Robert Adam in the 1770's when the house was extended and given a major 'facelift', together with new fashionable interiors.

View of the south front of Kenwood, with the terrace and rising bank. from his ‘Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires’ (1774).

View of the south front of Kenwood.

Kenwood House. The entrance hall, featuring a superb selection of neoclassical furniture. Although a four-day sale in 1922 dispersed the majority of these furnishings, some of the original items have now been traced and returned to the house, such as this painted sideboard table, pedestals and wine cooler.

Kenwood House. A Country Life photograph of the entrance hall, originally published in 1913, featuring the items above.

'Designs of various pieces of furniture done for this villa' - Robert Adam’s designs for furniture at Kenwood, including the sideboard, pedestals and wine cooler that can be seen in the entrance hall today (above). The mirrors as to the central design are still present in the Library.

One of a pair of exceptional mahogany dining room urns, flanking a Robert Adam painted serving table in the neoclassical taste, designed for the house

Kenwood House: Robert Adam's ceiling in the Hall

Kenwood House: typical neoclassical door-handle detail

Despite the loss of the original contents, which were sold in 1922, several pieces of furniture designed by Robert Adam to complete his decorative schemes have been reacquired for their original locations at Kenwood, such as this painted bench, designed by Robert Adam for Kenwood House. Two of the original four benches located in the ‘Vestibule’ (today the ante-chamber) in the inventory of 1796, and described as ‘4 carv’d white painted long stools, loose seats in blue leather’ have been bought back a few years ago were rediscovered by Godson & Coles.

These historic benches are clearly visible in the Country Life photograph of Kenwood House taken in 1913 while the house was still owned by the Mansfield family.

An exceptional pair of early George III mahogany hall benches, formerly a part of a larger suite of hall furniture (at least three benches and six chairs), commissionned by the 14th Earl of Shrewsbury and adorned with the Talbots family symbols - the lion and the two Talbot hounds. The superb quality and unparalleled attention to detail makes these finest pieces of hall furniture we have ever seen easily attributable to the best cabinetmakers of the era, the likes of Chippendale or Gillow.

Magnificent pair of hall chairs (of a set of four, formerly part of a longer set), en-suite with the pair of hall benches (above).

The design of these superb chairs corresponds to a Gillows drawing, dating back to the 1780's

The Staircase at Kenwood, adorned with neoclassical palmettes and anthemions.

Kenwood House, The Library. With its neoclassical form, decorative frieze and ceiling paintings by Antonio Zucchi, The Library at Kenwood is one of Adam’s greatest interiors.

‘Section of one of the Sides of the great Room’ - Robert Adam’s original design for the library at Kenwood, 1774. The fact that he devoted the whole of the second part of his publication The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam to Kenwood indicates its value to him in the history of his work.

The magnificent Kenwood House Library ceiling, one of Adam’s most important surviving interiors, with central painting by Antonio Zucchi.

‘The Ceiling of the great Room’ - Robert Adam’s original design for the library ceiling at Kenwood, 1774.

Kenwood House, The Library. The magnificent Robert Adam ceiling.

'Section of one end of the great room at Kenwood' and the the design for the fireplace from 'The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam Esquires’, 1774.

A detail of the original Robert Adam designed fireplace at Kenwood.

The original Robert Adam designed fireplace at Kenwood.

Kenwood House, The Library. This exceptional mahogany metamorphic table in the Chinese taste opens up to form the steps, used to reach the upper shelves.

Kenwood House, The Library. The magnificent Robert Adam ceiling, mirrors and curtain cornice detail.

Kenwood House, The Library. The magnificent Robert Adam ceiling.