Designing into the Elizabethan Country House

Many Artichoke projects tend to focus on Georgian and Victorian period country houses, with the occasional sojourn to the later Edwardian or to earlier Jacobean and Elizabethan periods. It is fascinating to see how styles of architecture and interior detailing  evolve through the English country house.  Our entire post Norman history is deeply illustrated through our architecture.

One architectural style we find particularly beguiling is the Elizabethan country house.  Our first major country house project, over 20 years ago, was Parnham House in Dorset, one of Britain’s finest examples of Elizabethan English country house architecture.  We were commissioned by the owners to design various rooms including both kitchens, his private dressing room and a minstrell’s gallery, all also made in our own workshops in Somerset.  With great sadness the house was horrendously damaged by fire in 2018 and it is now on the market.

Country house with gravel driveway
Parnham House, built during the reign of Elizabeth I and reconfigured by John Nash in the 19th century.

 

Elizabethan Country House Architecture

The Elizabethan period (1560-1600) was a period of design transition in architecture.  England’s understanding of the Italian Renaissance was just coming to the fore, spurned on by Henry VIII’s numerous contacts with Italy before breaking with Rome.  When Elizabeth took up her reign, the country’s economy started to improve following years of recklessness from Henry.  A focus back to farming put larger sums of money into wider groups of people, and a domestic building boom began.  Many smaller houses were built and many larger manors were created, often through remodelling of earlier Tudor or Medieval homes.

An early introduction to, and naive understanding of Italian Renaissance architecture was fused with England’s already well established Gothic architecture with a little Dutch influence thrown in for good measure.  This opulent mixture was brilliantly interpreted by England’s extraordinary craftsmen who elevated this new hybrid style to stunning levels of romantic architectural detailing.

breamore house
Breamore House in Hampshire

 

Houses were typically symmetrical with long galleries and formal gardens, often laid out in an ‘E’ pattern. The medieval hall was replaced in importance by the long gallery which became the focus for family life alongside other living areas off the gallery.  Key decorative characteristics included large mullioned windows with square heads and ornamental strap work (both internal and external), a detail originating in Italy via Islamic ornament.  Extensive use of rich timber rectangular oak panelling was also prevalent, often made even richer with used of carved strap work ornament.   Combined with ornate plaster work ceilings and carved overmantels, the affect was striking and powerful.

Creating a Design Backstory

This kaleidoscope of detail presents a challenge to joinery designers like Artichoke.   You cannot compete with this sort of detail, and domesticity as we know it today simply didn’t exist.

For Parnham House we created a strategy, giving the furniture we designed the backstory of an Edwardian interior facelift.  The kitchen design took on detail from the medieval and Tudor periods, albeit with a Edwardian twist.  This approach was heavily influenced by Edwin Lutyens who took a similar approach with many of his buildings which are often Edwardian takes of medieval architecture.

The backstory is a great way to contextualise and harmonise design in an imposing period building, particularly a pre Georgian one when domestic rooms didn’t exist.  A backstory gives design a single direction and stops design creep, ensuring the end result is sympathetic, elegant and above all for an Elizabethan house, deferent.

 

To discuss your project with Artichoke, email us at newprojects@artichoke.co.uk