The Utterly Magnificent Houghton Hall

The Utterly Magnificent Houghton Hall

August 18, 2018

We have been lucky to visit Houghton Hall, the residence of the Marquess and Marchioness of Cholomondeley in Norfolk. It is widely regarded as the finest Palladian house in England, and deservedly so. Clearly designed and built by perfectionists for a perfectionist, this house was a treat to our eyes in every little detail, of which it has a lot. The architectural quality of its interiors is second to none, and the state of preservation is phenomenal. See for yourself - here we have picked a few of our favourite features of this magnificent house.

This wonderfully elegant palatial mansion was built by two best British Palladian architects of the time, Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, between 1722 and 1735, for the country's first de-facto Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, while its splendid interiors were designed by William Kent - Britain's first interior designer.

According to an ancient custom, the piano nobile, or the suite of great rooms, is entered via the grand hall - The Stone Hall. Halls were designed to bridge the outdoor and indoor spaces and prepare a visitor to the splendour of the interiors which followed.

Nothing is random in William Kent's interior architecture: furniture is designed and made for a specific function and specific space in the house, also to complement architectural features of a room. These massive, superbly carved consoles may seem a tiny bit over the top in other circumstances, but in the Stone Hall at Houghton, richly decorated with carving and plasterwork, they are just what is needed to match the strong architectural character of the space.

The Laocoön Group, depicting the Trojan priest and his sons being strangled by snakes, is a bronze cast of the original, which was rediscovered in 1506, and bought by Sir Robert’s son in Paris. 

A magnificent architectural door pediment at the Stone Hall at Houghton

Superb detail of a carved mahogany console, one of a pair, at the Stone Hall at Houghton

Nothing is random in William Kent's interior architecture: furniture is designed and made for a specific function and specific space in the house, also to complement architectural features of a room. This wonderfully architectural suite of hall settees was intended for these specific spots in the Stone Hall, and is still in place: you just cannot improve this kind of perfection.

The Great Staircase at Houghton Hall, inspired by a Roman cortile. The walls are lined with canvases painted in grisaille by William Kent. The two main images are of Meleager and Atalanta in trompe l’oeil frames and surrounded by trophies emblematic of hunting. The centrepiece, which stands on a model of a Doric temple, is a bronze copy of the Borghese Gladiator made by Le Sueur after the original was unearthed in 1611. It was given to Sir Robert Walpole by the 8th Earl of Pembroke.

The Great Staircase carved in solid Cuban mahogany, sumptuously carved with classical ornaments

The elaborately gilded Saloon, with its crimson caffoy wallcoverings, was once densely hung with paintings until they were sold to Catherine the Great of Russia. Today, her portrait hangs over the chimney piece, a gift to the 3rd Earl at the time of the purchase.

Architectural door surrounds with elaborate carved detailing, picked in gold, are made of solid mahogany, too. This extravagance would have been eye-wateringly expensive, but, luckily, Sir Robert Walpole was in the position to lower import duties on mahogany by the time the house was built, so we owe to Houghton the popularity of mahogany furniture.

Interiors, including ceilings, were designed by William Kent

William Kent is regarded by many as the first 'interior architect', who applied the same architectural principles to both exterior and exterior design, to include furniture and soft furnishings. This created a splendid effect of visual integrity and decorative harmony to all spaces designed by him.

Superb early rococo giltwood wall sconces

Architectural door surrounds with elaborate carved detailing, picked in gold, are made of solid mahogany, too.

A giltwood torchere designed by William Kent. William Kent is regarded by many as the first 'interior architect', who applied the same architectural principles to both exterior and exterior design, to include furniture and soft furnishings.

Architectural door surrounds with elaborate carved detailing, picked in gold, are made of solid mahogany, too.

William Kent is regarded by many as the first 'interior architect', who applied the same architectural principles to both exterior and exterior design, to include furniture and soft furnishings. This created a splendid effect of visual integrity and decorative harmony to all spaces designed by him.

William Kent is regarded by many as the first 'interior architect', who applied the same architectural principles to both exterior and exterior design, to include furniture and soft furnishings. This created a splendid effect of visual integrity and decorative harmony to all spaces designed by him.

The State Bedroom, with the famous Shell bed, was hung with green velvet, then the most expensive material, with silver gilt embroidery and fringing. Venus’s shell on the headboard is echoed in the ceiling, tapestries and fireplace.

 The Embroidered Bedchamber: all tapestries and upholstery at Houghton House are amazingly well preserved 

The White Drawing-Room at Houghton Hall

 Original silk velvet upholstery on an early 18th century wing armchair

The Cabinet at Houghton Hall, lined with wonderfully well-preserved 18th century Chinese-export hand-painted wallpaper. The rococo giltwood mirrors are absolutely superb.

The magnificent mantlepiece and a reflection of the ceiling at The Cabinet at Houghton Hall 

A superb Chinoiserie wall hanging cupboard with a japanned card table underneath at The Cabinet at Houghton Hall 

Unfortunately, we missed a great many of the superb example of art and furniture because of exhibition of one Damien Hirst, absolute nonsense which we found totally inappropriate, however, this will make us come back soon to complete our study!