One man’s folly is another man’s fort. It’s something of a Tardis, a Marino Casino for the South Downs. The Summer House is really a compact three storey villa disguised as a gothic folly. A delightful conceit. The garden front in particular, when viewed from afar, is dressed up as a toy fort. Only the side elevations display the full extent of the building: the attic hidden behind the quatrefoil punctured parapet and the lower ground floor concealed behind the grass mound.
There are two entrances on the façade. One is up a triumphal flight of steps; the other is through a grotto arched under the steps. Where’s a hermit when you need one? Indeed, a hermit was found for an especially authentic party a while back. From a distance, at least with an unhealthy dose of Impressionistic myopia, the flint walls appear to be made of pebbles and shells.
The Summer House sits in the centre of a landscaped park. Just as carvings aren’t carvings unless they’re Grinling Gibbons and carpets aren’t carpets unless they’re Aubusson, so parkland isn’t parkland unless it’s Capability Brown. Fortunately not only did young Lancelot design this park (and lake) but he might even have had a hand in the house itself.
It was built in the late 18th century as a bath house for the Norman Irish 11th Earl of Clanricarde. Running beneath the building is a canal, a tributary of the River Meon, which originally fed the windowless lower ground floor bathing pool. The octagonal pool room is now, with great aptness, a bathroom. The octagonal Chinese wallpapered dining room above benefits from a canted bay window. Stalking light, drawing with light, the dining room overlooks a 200 metre long terrace which overlooks That Park which overlooks the Meon Valley which overlooks Old Winchester Hill. This weekend it’s Narnia.
The internal arrangement lends more than a certain sense of country house grandeur. Meals are carried on trays up a double height staircase hall (with a little detour via the drawing room) connecting the lower ground floor kitchen to the dining room. The enfilade of piano nobile reception rooms separates the lower ground floor master bedroom from the top floor guest rooms. Positive negative space.
The Bath House | The Dower House | The Gardener’s House | The Summer House. A perennial eyecatcher. It’s not summer this weekend but rather very late winter: spring solstice. Snowfall has brought monochromatic elegance, a binary gamut. White noise, white mischief, white magic. Perfect for capturing indecisive moments, framing representations. Everything is more defined, more sculptural: a temporary white phantasmagoria. “I hope you enjoy working in the art world,” beamed Julia Korner, Fine Art Consultant and Agent, Maritime Specialist and Lecturer at the BADA vernissage a few days previously. One man’s folly is another man’s forte.