The Gorgeous Georgians
As we announce the winners of the Georgian Group Awards, Eleanor Doughty explores the lasting allure of this period architecture
The appeal of Georgian architecture is enduring. From grand country piles with perfectly proportioned rooms to temples imitating the style of Ancient Rome, the depth and breadth of the period we call “Georgian” – 1714-1830 – is forever throwing up new challenges.
The nation’s great attachment to Georgian architecture comes from the sense of history it imbues, says Crispin Holborow, head of country at Savills. “One of the attractions is that it provides this wonderful jump in time. Other ages don’t have the link to the classical buildings, which means that it becomes something more than a love of a style of architecture. There’s a feeling that we’re part of a journey that started in ancient Rome. That is quite evocative.”
Of course, this comes with a price tag: data from Savills shows a 20 per cent premium on Georgian properties in London on a pound per sq ft basis.
This year, the winners of the Georgian Group’s prestigious awards, which were announced on Thursday at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and are sponsored by Savills, offer a real spread of architectural merits. With seven awards in total, the judges had more to assess than simply the classic Georgian houses that might spring to mind when one imagines the 18th century.
Crichel House, which was deemed to have the best restoration of a Georgian interior, ticks all the boxes. It is a Grade I listed Classical revival house in Dorset, with an entrance by country house architect Thomas Hopper and interiors by neoclassical architect James Wyatt. Crichel was bought by American businessman Richard L Chilton in 2013. Chilton and his wife had spent 10 years looking for just the right English country house, and fell in love with Crichel at once. Now, after a five-month project, Chilton’s restoration of Wyatt’s suite of State Rooms is complete. “It’s an incredible house with a rich history, and I’m proud that we were able to restore it,” he says. Working with architect Peregrine Bryant and master paint historian Patrick Baty, Chilton, using photographs taken for Country Life in 1925, was able to accurately replace
‘An owner has to be ready to live in the house the way it was’
ceiling mouldings and cornice friezes, install new scagliola columns and rehang silk wall panels. “Every house goes through life cycles and iterations, and we were able to put back Wyatt’s original scheme,” Chilton explains.
The “stupendous” house is a worthy winner, says John Goodall, Country
Life’s architectural editor and one of the judges. “They’ve recreated Wyatt’s rooms with no holds barred.”
Chilton takes an enlightened view of his country house. “I’m a big believer that when you take on and live in a house like this, the owner shouldn’t impose their will. They have to be ready to live in the house the way it was.” Although he lives in New York, where his wife Maureen is the chairman of the board of the New York Botanical Garden, he feels passionately about Crichel. “Crichel is our home,” he says. “We’re four years into a seven- or eight-year restoration project. We intend to spend more time there and live in it.”
While Chilton’s project may be just the right house for a home, some of the other Georgian Group’s winners this year serve other purposes.
Classical architect Craig Hamilton has spent three years building a Roman Catholic chapel on the Culham Court estate in Henley-on-Thames, the Oxfordshire home of Swiss financier Urs Schwarzenbach, which won the best new-build award. Constructed out of stone both inside and out, with a crypt as detailed as the ground floor, the building is quite extraordinary. The exterior combines knapped and square flint with Portland limestone, creating a grey and white pattern; inside the crypt, this is repeated using Portland stone and grey limestone from Ballinsaloe in Ireland. On the ground-floor interior, Hamilton has created a structural stone vault, with Portland and black Kilkenny stone walls.
The project won for its incredible detail. Everything down to the candles, door handles and priestly vestments have been made to measure. What is particularly appealing, Savills’ Holborow says, is that the chapel is open to the public monthly for worship. “That’s the most special thing of all – it’s a building that people can come and use.”
Not all chapels of Georgian inspiration are made equal. At Compton Verney, the estate in Warwickshire that is home to the art gallery of the same name, director Prof Steven Parissien has been hard at work restoring another chapel. This one – a plain, 17th-century Church of England low church – was built by Capability Brown, and has fittingly won the Georgian Group’s Brown Tercentenary Award. It is one of only a handful that can be attributed to Brown’s hand, but suffered disuse after the Verney family sold the estate in 1921. In 2012, after some serious restoration work involving the safeguarding of the windows and repairs to the roof, ceiling and bell tower, the chapel was reopened to the public and is now used as an events space.
Brown also had influence on the Gothic Tower on the Wimpole estate in Cambridgeshire, now run by the National Trust – the winner of this year’s award for the restoration of a structure in the landscape. Unlike Crichel House, a solid Georgian property with four pillars across its front, the tower was built to resemble a picturesque medieval ruin. But there are ruins, and then there are ruins, as Wendy Monkhouse, the National Trust curator for the east of England, puts it. She remembers her first visit. “It was covered in barbed wire with keep-out notices, and blocks of masonry were falling off.” Thanks to an injection of £750,000 from Natural England, Monkhouse and her team have been able to put this curious building back together. It was designed by the Gothic revival architect Sanderson Miller in 1749, but built later, having been amended under Brown’s supervision. In the early 19th century, it was converted into a gamekeeper’s lodge, housing a family of six.
Monkhouse’s challenges were largely to patch up the stonework, some of which was delaminating, and she describes the finished job as “an honest repair – if you get up close you can see what’s new and what’s old”. Now the tower is finished, it stands triumphantly on its hillock. “The most rewarding thing has been seeing people walking up there with their dogs at the weekend,” Monkhouse says. “People have suddenly got somewhere to go on the estate.”
‘It was covered in barbed wire with keep-out notices’
WIMPOLE GOTHIC TOWER RESTORED LANDSCAPE STRUCTURE
Amen to that: Prof Steven Parissien, below, is the director of Compton Verney house, cover, where he has overseen the restoration of the chapel COMBERMERE ABBEY RESTORED COUNTRY HOUSE
CRICHEL HOUSE RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN INTERIOR
COMPTON VERNEY CHAPEL THE BROWN TERCENTENARY AWARD Honest job: Wimpole Gothic Tower, main image, was amended under supervision by Capability Brown
NON-CONFORMIST CHAPEL RESTORATION IN THE PUBLIC REALM
CHAPEL AT CULHAM COURT NEW BUILDING