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Art Design Luxury

The House of Lavender’s Blue + Attitude

The Final Show

Our magnus opus. Crescendo. An operatic high. We’ve got attitude and Attitude have got us. In a world exclusive, Lavender’s Blue the interiors (and a flash of beyond – how’s the garden?) are revealed in all their splendour in Europe’s whirl of interiors magazine, Attitude Interior Design. The Porto based publication was the perfect platform for launching our mission accomplished, a rocketing decade of shopping decorating. Closer to home, a national newspaper was keen to capture the images: The Irish Times. And the most read homes magazine on that sage and shamrock island, Ireland’s Homes Interiors + Living, celebrated Lavender’s Blue in style with a lavish spread. Phew. It’s a (very well rounded) wrap. Our writing may veer towards minimalism, occasionally. Our interiors do not. They feature some rather demanding garniture. Grab your monocle as we live up to our wallpaper. So what do the great, the good and the truly marvellous have to say?

lavender's blue courtyard zelda © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Alfred Cochrane, Artist + Architect: “Amazingly atmospheric as always. You have stood your ground and there is now a vogue again for retro country house nostalgia with a dash of Tolstoy or Turgenev where Daddy Vladimir would gladly go topless. Keep looking towards the East.”

lavender's blue courtyard © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Annabel P, Muse + Amanuensis, “Darlings, so many parties, so little time. What interiors?”

lavender's blue courtyard plaque © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Anne Davey Orr, Artist + Publisher: “I have been witness to a number of interiors which you have designed in the past.  However, none of them expressed this eclectic taste, this creative marrying of objects or these transformational powers so successfully as Lavender’s Blue itself does. In a kind of way it is a pied á terre of curiosities in which the curiosities, including you, spin off and enhance one another.”

lavender's blue courtyard sculpture © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Annabella Forbes, Actor, Art Director, Copywriter, Designer, Film Director, Ideator, Naming Consultant, Presenter, Product Innovator, Script Writer + Strategist: “It’s AMAZING! It’s fab, fab, fab!”

lavender's blue courtyard morning coffee © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Caroline Clifton Mogg, Writer: “London is a city of secret gardens, a place where plain faced streets give little away of what lies there, and where few individual facades give any clues as to the streets behind their all-embracing walls. Protected and hidden by their house the best gardens are a fusion of inside and outside… Whatever secret a garden may reveal, it will always surprise and delight those who discover it for the first time.”

lavender's blue courtyard tailor's dummy © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Dr Charlotte Blease, Cognitive Scientist + Philosopher of Medicine: “It is uncanny. You are the inheritor of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s style. I’m calling it EE – Eccentric Eclecticism.” Louise Hall Tharp, Isabella Stewart Gardner Biographer: “Mrs Gardner bought her Rembrandt with the intent of developing a real museum collection… The rooms are notable for their calculated intimacy and informality – their almost bric-a-brac juxtapositions of paintings, sculptures, drawings, pastels, letters, manuscripts, ceramics, decorative objects, and artefacts. She imitates nobody; everything she does is novel and original.”

lavender's blue courtyard ivy © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Inês Graça, Attitude Interior Design Interiors Editor: “What does one see upon entering this inner world? Broad temporal and spatial references and the thoughtful organisation of a passionate collection. Those of culture are present because of the elegance and knowledge that makes itself apparent. Singularity and extravagance define Lavender’s Blue: a hidden refuge inspired by Irish country houses named after 18th century lavender fields. A little piece of secret London that invites guests to be part of an immersive and unique experience. Fue maravilloso.”

lavender's blue courtyard statue © lavender's blue stuart blakley

John Curran, UK’s First Shigeru Ban Client: “I knew it would be interesting, but had no idea that it would be among the most engaging private interiors I have seen photographed. We pride ourselves as collectors of things we love, but you put us to shame. Having discussed John Soane at our coffee, I will somewhat shyly draw the comparison with the museum, knowing that I am not the first to do so. I have great appreciation for objects that attract the owner and that give a window into the person. Your home very much does that.”

lavender's blue outer hall © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Karla W, Heiress, “Lavender’s Blue is my absolute favourite; you have recreated a 1920s Parisian salon in present day London. The photographs are ravishing but you can only truly appreciate it in the flesh, especially by night. All the rooms are terribly, terribly smart in every sense. Every time I’m at yours I become obsessed with some fascinating detail I never noticed before. Lavender’s Blue is a rare evolutionary wonder. You’re like the sun, always coming up shining. How’s Zelda?”

lavender's blue outer hall view © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Mary Martin, Fashion Designer: “LOVE it! You’re a genius! You should do interior design! It’s exactly the taste I have! Your rooms remind me of the inside of Cardiff Castle which I used to visit as a child.”

lavender's blue drawing room view © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Mary Weaver, Houses Editor Living Etc, “Your home is so charming and original.”

lavender's blue drawing room © lavender's blue stuart blakley

lavender's blue drawing room piano © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Maud Rabin, Parisian Translator, “Your home is so stylish! Très très chic!”

lavender's blue drawing room window © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Michael S Howard, Managing Director Rasa Hospitality, “Your home is AMAZING! How fabulous is that?”

lavender's blue drawing room table © lavender's blue stuart blakley

PJ Gibbons, Editor Social + Personal, “Your house looks beautiful.”

lavender's blue drawing room urn © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Régis Camus, World’s Top Chef de Cave, “C’est magnifique!”

lavender's blue drawing room clerestory © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Dame Rosalind Savill OBE, Former Director The Wallace Collection + Sèvres World Expert, “I just LOVE it! It’s so smart. It’s so exquisite.”

lavender's blue drawing room watch © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Sandra Jonas, Former Model + Landscape Designer Georgia: “You are gorgeous!!! Zelda is so beautiful.”

lavender's blue inner hall © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Samantha Laurie, Editor Wandsworth Magazine, “What a beautiful home you have created! Are you an interior designer?”

lavender's blue inner hall cabinet © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Sheila Molloy, Châtelaine Gaultier Lodge + Castle ffrench, “Your place looks fantastic, full of the things I love. Is the cat alive or dead? My kitchen in Gaultier when it was upstairs was painted a very similar colour blue called Lobaelia pre Farrow and Balls days, Dulux I think. I saw it in the kitchen at Emo Court when Cholmeley Harrison had it about 1978!!!”

lavender's blue bathroom © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Sara Larkham, Editor Ireland’s Homes Interiors + Living: “Your home is spectacular! It’s stunningly unique and transports guests back in time… a truly unique home in London filled with character and charm.”

lavender's blue kitchen © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Simon O’Hara, Châtelain Coopershill House, “Very interesting interiors.”

lavender's blue kitchen china © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Tamar Madmoni Reich, New York Philanthropist + Holistic Health Coach, “Your home is beautiful!”

lavender's blue kitchen sink © lavender's blue stuart blakley

William Thuiller, Art Dealer + Collector: “It’s quite lovely. I love the layered textures, colours, patterns and atmosphere… sort of Leighton House meets Soane Museum, if that’s not patronising! It’s completely alien to my usual taste, in that I would never have bought any individual item, but it works superbly as an ensemble against that rich blue on the walls.”

lavender's blue master bedroom © lavender's blue stuart blakley

Categories
Architecture Country Houses Hotels Luxury People

Tyrella House + Tyrella Beach Newcastle Down

Demands of the Temple of The Sun at Baalbec | Let the Heavens Open 

Tyrella House Sham Fort © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It was always going to be a raucous affair: dinner with Westbourne and Lavender’s Blue intern Annabel P at Il Pirata in Shepherd Market. Boom. Torrential rain merely exhilarated bacchanalian spirits while devouring tapas alfresco. So did an octopusfest of salpicón de marisco and pulpo a la gallega. Shepherd Market is round the block from the Queen’s birthplace in Mayfair. Like Her Maj, it’s close to the madding crowd yet discretely detached. Capital royal discretion continued when the divine Princess Alexandra popped by Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt. Oh, yes. Of course it’s rude to namedrop but the Westminster Property Association lunch with Lord Adonis at the Grosvenor House Hotel was rather fun too. Next, town and country came together in the bumptious dining room of the Garrick Club, recently spruced up by Christopher Vane Percy, over supper with the great Irish philanthropists Martin and Carmel Naughton. Finally, acoustic levels are a little lower dining like lords (bands of ermine at the ready) inside Tyrella House which hugs the south coast of County Down. After the turbulent intensity of autumnal London living and Spanish travelling, a late blossoming of Ulster quietude ensues. Long table à deux please. Calling it the Sandringham of Northern Ireland may stretch the royal metaphor a trifle far. Plus it’s much prettier.

Tyrella House Grounds © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Surprisingly Tyrella House isn’t covered by Burke or Brett. Lavender’s Blue gladly fill the gap, plug the hole, step ointo the breach. Surprising, that is, considering it’s a roomy building of historical, architectural and social significance, twice as deep as it’s wide, lumber rooms uncounted, holding court amidst low lying greenery. First glimpse (through a verdurous vista) from the sweeping driveway past the hillside sham fort (every entrance should have one) is of a squarish main block five bays side on, four bays frontal. A neoclassical beauty; architecture’s acme: Augustus’s vision and Maecenas’s taste and Dostoevsky’s nuances set in stone. The house’s character changes when viewed from the garden. The far side, which will be moonlit later, is elongated by a long lower less imposing wing. This arrangement has adapted well to Tyrella’s 21st century modus operandi. The main block is open to paying guests under the gilded parasol of The Hidden Ireland while the owner, David Corbett, lives to the rear. Another of the group’s seaside properties, almost dipping its toes in the water of Woodstown Bay, is the supremely suave Gaultier Lodge, where the owners live most of the year below the guest rooms in a lower ground floor. “Houses in The Hidden Ireland,” explains David, “must be owner occupied.”

Tyrella House Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Princess Diana famously quipped “three’s a crowd” but clearly squires of 18th century Ulster disagreed. Tripartite windows were all the rage. Their legacy is a series of glazed triptychs framing views of the countryside. And draughts – ménage à froid. The entrance front of Tyrella has pearly twin sets. Fellow Mournes mansion Ballywillwill House likewise has four. Clady House Dunadry has five; Glenganagh House Ballyholme, six; Drumnabreeze House and Grace Hall Magheralin neighbours, eight; Craigmore House Aghagallon, 10; Crevenagh House Omagh, numberless. Tyrella’s windows are even more special, stretching head to toe, and like Montalto’s, skirt the driveway. Standing in the regal dining room is like “Hardwick Hall more windows than wall”. Soon, silverware will sparkle in the candlelight. Pictures and conversations will merge. Sitting in the princely drawing room is like being immersed in Elizabeth Bowen’s description of her home, “The few large living rooms at Bowen’s Court are, thus, a curious paradox – a great part of their walls being window glass, they are charged with the light, smell and colour of the prevailing weather; at the same time they are very indoors, urbane, hypnotic, not easily left.” Lying on the queen size bed as the internal pale transitory colours of the hour fade, dreams past and future are present. Outside, framed by the curved sashes of the half oriel window, across silent lawns, the tamed headland lies submerged in shadow, the ridge of the Mournes melting into silver drifts of cloud alight with gold, lilac, mauve and pink lining.

Tyrella House Entrance View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The original architect isn’t known but whoever he was, the outcome is a meeting of métier and form, augmented and mellowed through the ages. According to illustrious architect John O’Connell, “This is a very accomplished Georgian box, as they used to say.” Architectural aficionado Nick Sheaff reckons it is “an incredibly elegant country house, and in some ways it reminds me of James Gandon’s Abbeville”. Better known as Charlie Haughey’s old gaf. Charles Plante, the celebrated director of Charles Plante Fine Arts, says, “I love the front dripping with ivy and the chic Regency bow window.” Three arched openings – a window on either side of the entrance door, are framed by a slim Doric portico celebrating the triglyph’s verticality, the architrave’s horizontality and the proportional totality of the order. Not dissimilar really to the central arrangement of Clandeboye’s garden front. “It’s Tuscan Doric,” confirms Country Life contributor Dr Roderick O’Donnell. “Tuscan is rural, countrified, perfectly correct for this type of house. The window proportions are dictated by the portico. That’s particularly attractive.” A stained glass window of the Craig family crest in the study is a leftover from previous owners. Notable family members included the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Sir James “Not an Inch” Craig (1st Viscount Craigavon) and his architect and yacht designer brother Vincent who combined both his skills at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club Ballyholme. The 3rd and last Viscount, Janric Craig, born in 1944, sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. A retired accountant, he has a handy flat on Little Smith Street, Westminster.

Tyrella House Garden View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Vincent clearly employed his skills closer to home as well. At home. Tyrella features his signature idiosyncratic fenestration. No fewer than four oeils de boeuf grace the garden front. Charles Plante reckons, “The garden front is charming. The bull’s eye window in the gable is really special.” Most extraordinary of all, amidst the blaze of Arts and Crafts stained glass, is the first floor upper casement window which projects at an acute angle to appear permanently ajar. Zany stuff. “Vincent more than likely introduced the ceiling beams and light fitting to the hall,” suggests David. “And he designed the hall fireplace. It’s very Malone Roadsy!” This airy space is painted a deep ochre which Charles Plante calls “John Fowler orange”. Upstairs Free Style panelling looks suspiciously Vincentian. A bit of Cadogan Park here, a bit of Deramore Park there. So does the recently reinstated conservatory. “The conservatory is actually almost entirely new except for the brickwork. It took three years to recreate. The pale green paint inside is the original colour.” Maybe Tyrella House isn’t quite the chunk of Georgiana it first appears to be. “The middle bit behind the new Regency addition,” he explains, “is William and Mary.” The house used to be even bigger. “My father demolished about a third of the house – the cream room, jam room, butler’s pantry, the dark kitchen and so on.”

Tyrella House Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella was the seat of Reverend George Hamilton and his wife Ann Matilda (daughter of the 5th Earl of Macclesfield) at the close of the 18th century. Rural legend has it that the Reverend used the stones from the old local church to rebuild the house in 1800. Arthur Hill Montgomery bought the estate in 1831 aged 36. Six years later, Samuel Lewis records in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, “Tyrella House, the handsome residence of A H Montgomery Esq, is beautifully situated in a richly planted demesne of 300 acres, commanding extensive views over the bay, with the noble range of the Mourne Mountains in the background, and containing within its limits the size and cemetery of the ancient parish church.” Arthur was the fourth son of Hugh Montgomery of Greyabbey House down the road. Bill Montgomery, a great-great-something-great-grandson of Hugh, still resides at Greyabbey with his wife Daphne. Their daughter is the actress Flora Montgomery who’s married to the owner of 1 Lombard Street restaurant. “I hate to disappoint you,” David says on the subject of ghosts. “All the people have sold the house and went on to do something else. Spent money on it, changed hands. I don’t miss ghosts, wouldn’t want one.”

Tyrella House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s time for that dinner in the spirit free dining room. Plat du jour du nuit. Such joy. A love song to Northern Irish cuisine. Spinach and ricotta tartlet | stuffed sea bream | mascarpone, raspberry and lemon tart. Fitzrovia’s Pescatoria relocated. Best seafood since the roast fillet of curried cod with oyster mushrooms and herb butter sauce at the O+C. Or the sous vide salmon cooked by Paolo Pettenuzzo at the C P Hart party. The diver scallop crudo, cucumber, black radish, jalapeño and lime ice at the London Edition Berners Tavern springs to mind. Or even the creamed cheese and smoked salmon Westbourne breakfast with Natalie Elphicke OBE. Chatting about Conservative housing policy, Chief Exec of the Housing Finance Institute Natalie summed it up as, “Something old, something new, something borrowed – Lord Adonis, who’s turned blue.” Stop! Tangent alert! What’s the story? Oh, Renideo Pinot Grigio 2009 and St Jean Pays D’Oc 2012 over dinner at Tyrella House. The dining experience isn’t always this peaceful according to David. When Country Life visited in 1996, dinner was interrupted by ebullient bovine neighbours nosily emerging from between the rhododendrons. Country Life published “during dinner a herd escaped and raped the garden like a Mongol horde”. David smiles, “Overweight marauding rogue cattle licking the dining room windows wasn’t the look we were going for at all!” At least Country Life did also mention the flourishing polo school at Tyrella.

Tyrella House Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Conservatory © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Nursery Wing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Twin Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Double Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Tea Set © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Strand © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach Mournes © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach Newcastle © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Descendants of the last owners, the Robert Neill and Sons Ltd dynasty, recall early 20th century life at Tyrella, in a Lavender’s Blue exclusive. Coline Grover says, “I lived in the house with my grandparents, and relatives various, from 1940 until they sold it in 1949, and moved with them to Old Forge House in Malone, south Belfast. Tyrella House was wonderful with a swing house underneath the nursery wing. It was incorporated into the property and had two marks on the ceiling where if you went high enough your feet touched the ceiling! And there was a rock garden with a two storey playhouse called Spider House.” Coline’s cousin-in-law Ian Elliott adds, “The Georgian house had a boudoir and some lovely Arts and Crafts additions – and that fabulous view to the Mournes. It was bought by the Neill family – brothers Jack, Samuel and William – as part of their businesses (coal, construction, farming etc) in the 1920s after the 1st World War. They already owned East Downshire Fuels in Dundrum as well as Neill’s Coal in Bangor, Kingsberry Coal and Bloomfield Farm (where the shopping centre is now). The family circle elected Billy Neill to live and farm there with his wife Vera. She was formerly Phelps from Kent, a direct descendant of Jane Lane who helped Charles II escape from the Battle of Worcester in the 1640s. They raised their three children (including Berry) there. The Corbetts (whiskey distillers from Banbridge) have owned it since 1949.” Coline’s brother Guthrie Barrett concurs that “Billy Neill sold Tyrella in 1949”.

Tyrella Beach Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I haven’t been back to Tyrella House since 1949,” says nonagenarian Beresford Neill, otherwise known as Uncle Berry. He lives in Malone now. “A most wonderful childhood. Absolutely beautiful. Tyrella was completely and utterly the back of beyond. For goodness sake, it was completely feudal. There were no neighbours. We had our own entrance into the church next door and our own pew.” Berry’s on a roll: “My father got married in February 1917. He bought the estate: 300 acres; a 3.5 acre walled garden; 48 rooms.” Althorp has 90 rooms. Although what constitutes a room is a moot point. Lumber rooms, anyone? “There was no electricity. In 1906 a gas heating machine was installed. It had huge pipes and a great big cage in the kitchen. There was no telephone until 1933. How mama coped I don’t know. We’d a cook, housemaid and three gardeners. There were three bathrooms – one for staff, two for the family. We always had dogs – mostly Labradors. There was a large wood to the side of the house and a rock garden. The rocks were transported in 1890 from Scrabo to Tullymurry by train, then by horse and cart. It was a tremendous effort!”

Mountains of Mourne Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Berry reminisces, “In 1944 I enlisted as a private soldier in the Rifle Brigade. It’s now called the Rifles. It was a very swish regiment. After the War I got transferred to Ballykinler Camp. I spent the whole of 1946 there. I’d a marvellous time! I could walk over the fields from Tyrella to Ballykinler in 10 minutes.” Life wasn’t uneventful, even at isolated Tyrella. “We had the most enormous beech tree but a storm split it down the middle. It was sawn up by a gardener of course but a stump remained. One quiet Sunday afternoon I decided to blow up the remains of the tree. I thought I was the last word in explosives! I got seven anti-tank mines, made a fuse, and set them off. Bang! The birds stopped singing. Silence. Then… tinkle tinkle. The windows shattered. Sheer bloody stupidity! I should’ve opened the windows first!”

Tyrella House View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We don’t usually open to paying guests in November,” signs David, due to ignorant comments about temperature levels inside the house midwinter. Some people really don’t get it, do they? First of all, welcome to Northern Ireland. The clue is in the first part of the Province’s name. Mind you, Huntington Castle in the south of Ireland suffers from the same issue. Secondly, if you want over-insulated overheated rooms check into a hotel. Don’t stay in an Irish country house. They don’t do double glazing or underfloor heating. But they do have lashings of character, history and art; uncompromised aesthetics; and endlessly entertaining hosts. What about open fires in marble surrounds? De rigeur. Like those other majestic Hidden Ireland gems, Hilton Park and Temple House, heavy curtains and concertina shutters in Tyrella’s guest bedrooms put to sleep any worries of chilly discomfort. A newly installed biomass boiler also helps. “I’ve still kept the 1906 boiler with its original instruction manual. It’s beautiful – like a beast of a furnace on the Titanic.”

Tyrella House Spider House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

And bags at dawn. Peering over the bedroom landing, the oval staircase resembles a gargantuan pencil sharpening, a bannister bordered carpeted curlicue, a variation on the Fibonacci spiral. Downstairs, breakfast is laid out country house style – buffet on the sideboard. “I do recommend Lindy Dufferin’s Greek Style Yoghurt,” says David. Distinguished historian Dr Frances Sands announced recently at 20 St James’s Square: “Breakfast was the only meal of the day you served yourself. That’s why there is side furniture in the breakfast room. If there is no separate breakfast room, really then the dining room should be referred to as the eating room. There was a huge fear of odour in Georgian times. The eating room would’ve had no curtains, carpet or silk wall hangings. Seating would’ve been leather.” The dining room or should it be eating room was once the billiard room according to the host of Tyrella House.

Tyrella House Sea Bream © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It is impossible to leave Tyrella without mentioning the beach. The Mountains of Mourne thrillingly tower over miles of unspoiled golden strand between Clough and Killough (interchangeable townlets after a G+T). “It is no secret that Northern Ireland is home to some of the world’s greatest writers,” brags the local tourist board, “Lavender’s Blue, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Louis MacNeice and of course, C S Lewis.” This part of County Down was C S Lewis’s childhood holiday destination and provided literary fodder for Narnia: “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards, which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge.” Coline Grover concludes, “Tyrella Beach never changes of course.”

Tyrella House Dinner © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Credits Guthrie Barrett, David Corbett, Ian Elliott, Coline Grover, Berry Neill

Tyrella House Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architecture Art Country Houses

Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve Waterford

What a Fad

Mount Congreve Entrance © Stuart Blakley

First it was Farmleigh, then Lissadell, next it was Mount Congreve. Historic Irish houses lived in by the original families with intact interiors and gardens that could have been saved in their entirety for the nation. The Guinnesses’ former home Farmleigh was eventually purchased by the Government after its contents had been sold. Lissadell, once the home of Countess Markievicz who helped establish the Republic of Ireland, was sold on the open market and its contents auctioned despite the Gore-Booth family offering it to the State. At Mount Congreve, it is the gardens that have been saved. Its last owner, Ambrose Christian Congreve, struck a deal with the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey that in return for tax exemption during his lifetime, the gardens would be left to the people of Ireland. The house is still there, stripped naked of its phenomenal collection of furniture and art, still surrounded by one of the finest gardens in the country, if not the world.Mount Congreve Facade © Stuart BlakleyIt took just two days in July 2012 for Mealy’s and Christie’s to auction off the entire contents. At the time, George Mealy explained, “There are lacquered screens and vases from Imperial China, rare books, Georgian silver, vintage wines, chandeliers and gilt mirrors and enough antique furniture to fill a palace. Everything is on offer. It’s a complete clearance of the entire estate. He did his art shopping in London. He got most of it through London because he had spotters for items that he might be interested in. Mr Congreve loved collecting. He loved nice things and he had unbelievable taste.” The result was a hard core property porn auction catalogue. Page after page of exotic beauty: the crimson library, the lemon bedroom, the Wedgwood blue sitting room, the large drawing spanning the full depth of the house: Chinoserie takes on Versailles.

 

 

Mount Congreve Garden Front © Stuart Blakley

Jim Hayes, former IDA director, records a visit to Mount Congreve in his autobiography The Road from Harbour Hill, “We were received on arrival by Geraldine Critchley, the social secretary and long-term assistant of Ambrose Congreve. The ornate hall was decked with a number of gloves, walking canes and a variety of riding accessories. We were escorted into a large drawing room, the walls of which were covered in 18th century, hand-painted, Chinese wallpaper. Three large Alsatian dogs lay asleep in the corner of the room. A liveried servant then appeared with a silver tray and teapot and antique bone china cups and saucers. This young man, of Indian origin, was one of the last few remaining liveried servants of Ireland’s great houses.” Sheila Bagliani, doyenne of Gaultier Lodge in County Waterford, recalls, “Gus, Ambrose’s Alsatian, had full run of the house.”

Mount Congreve Driveway © Stuart Blakley

Ambrose was in London rather aptly for the Chelsea Flower Show when he died in 2011, aged 104. He had no children so eight generations of his family’s enhancement of Waterford came to a close. Geraldine Critchley, his partner, survives him. The son of Major John Congreve and Lady Irène Congreve, daughter of the 8th Earl of Bessborough, Ambrose inherited Mount Congreve in 1968 and restored and redecorated and replanted it to within an inch of its being. The good life took off, on a whole new level. Ambrose divided his time between Mount Congreve and his London townhouse near Belgrave Square. He employed a succession of fine chefs de cuisine including Albert Roux who went on to co-found Le Gavroche restaurant.

Mount Congreve Garden © Stuart Blakley

Now for some horticultural stats. 46 hectare estate. 28 hectares of woodland. 1.6 hectares of walled gardens. 16 miles of paths. 3,000 different trees and shrubs. 3,000 rhododendrons. 1,500 plants. 600 camellias. 600 conifers. 300 acer cultivars. 300 magnolias. 250 climbers. The stuff of rural legend, all piled high on the south bank of the River Suir. The manicured gardens end abruptly next to open fields, like a beautiful face half made-up. Awards include classification as a Great Garden of the World by the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and a Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Sheila Bagliani remembers, “Piped music in the grounds kept the 25 gardeners entertained while working. Ambrose also employed the Queen Mother’s former chauffeur.” Lot Number 492 at the auction was his 1969 shell grey Rolls Royce Phantom V1, price guide €12,000 to €18,000. It sold for €55,000. At his centenary lunch celebration, Ambrose declared, “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine. To be happy for a day, read a book. To be happy for a week, take a wife. To be happy forever, make a garden.” His garden lives on in perpetuity, making the public happy.

Mount Congreve Garden Dutch Steps © Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Luxury People

The Baglianis + Gaultier Lodge Woodstown Waterford

Townland and Country

Gaultier Lodge Front Garden © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Bastardstown, Cheekpoint, Mooncoin, Passenger East, Priesthaggard… Names, names, such memorable names. Say them with a cut glass accent. Only in Waterford, the civilised southeast coast of Ireland. Geography is close, history closer. Everything is near water, everyone remembers generations past. Land of Molly Keane. Nowhere is more horse and hounds than Gaultier Lodge (pronounced “Gol-teer”) thanks to its country pursuits loving owners, Sheila and Bill Bagliani. Animal motifs abound, on potpourri sachets, coasters, wallpaper friezes, upholstery, saltshakers, pepper grinders, paintings (there’s an artist in residence – Sheila), even wine glasses. “We’re a bit obsessional!” jokes Sheila.

2 Gaultier Lodge Entrance Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge may have been referred to in Victorian times as “Gaultier Cottage” but don’t be misled by its reticent exterior. This is a sophisticated design befitting its former status as a hunting lodge of the Earl of Huntingdon. Four rooms span the original beach front, linked by a tripartite gallery along the entrance front. The middle two rooms are deeper with more ornate mantelpieces and cornices. Now the drawing room and dining room, they are interconnected by a vast pair of panelled doors. In the middle of the gallery is a square vestibule with symmetrical openings. Twin sets of doors include a false door for visual harmony. A guest bedroom bookends either extremity of the beach front.

1 Gaultier Lodge Entrance Porch © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

The hand of a master is at work. His name is John Roberts, the architect who designed much of 18th century Waterford City and worked on Curraghmore, the Marquess and Marchioness of Waterford’s stately home. Never has a piano nobile been more appropriate. The raised ground floor provides breathtaking views across Woodstown’s unspoiled golden strand to a Knights Templar church on the opposite side of the Waterford Channel. “Thank goodness low tide goes out 2.5 kilometres,” says Sheila. “Otherwise we’d be as developed as Tramore.”

1 Gaultier Lodge Pillars © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

In the early 1900s a two bay bedroom wing was added – no country house, however miniature, should be without one. And a porch. “We’ve done our best to dress up the plain porch,” she continues, “with pillars and sash windows.” A pleasant colonial appearance is the result. The coastline was damaged by the Lisbon Tsunami of 1755. Gaultier Lodge was built four decades later. A photo dated 1870 shows the retaining wall along the beach part concealing the lower ground floor. “A storm has since washed away the mound of rabbit burrows against the wall. Last winter another storm flattened our greenhouse and blew 100 slates off the roof.” There’s a price to be paid for the beauty of proximity to nature. Not that it’s apparent, on a long spring evening sipping wine on the lawn watching the remains of the day.

1 Gaultier Lodge Entrance Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

2 Gaultier Lodge Beach Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

1 Gaultier Lodge Beach Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge from the Beach © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Driveway © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

1 Gaultier Lodge Garden © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Garden © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Beach © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Bedroom View © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge View © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

“Historic houses are like horses,” declares Sheila. “They’re expensive to run!” That hasn’t stopped the Baglianis buying another one on the opposite side of Ireland. “Castle ffrench was the home of Percy French. Maurice Craig compares it to Bonnettstown in his book Classic Irish Houses of the Middling Sizes. All the original furniture was sold but we’ve bought suitable pieces, many from the US.” Sheila and Bill also own a stud in North Carolina, suitably called Castle French Farm.

Gaultier Lodge Entrance Hall © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

The fire roars. Frequently read books on the country and houses and country houses and country house owners and lovers of country houses and country house owners’ lovers pile high on occasional tables. “When I used to go to Mount Juliet, it was just like the famous Colman’s Mustard advert, where the butler is sent back from the hunt to get mustard for a guest’s sandwich. The butler really did cater to every whim,” recalls Sheila. Bats noiselessly swoop in eternal graceless circles across the lawn while inside dinner is attentively served. Red onion and goat’s cheese tart is followed by monkfish with salad on the side, an American touch. The hallmark of Gaultier Lodge cooking is fresh country produce, layered with taste, such as the carrots soaked in butter and citrus. Gin and tonic sorbet – what’s not to love? Pudding is Italian carrot cake “baked with ground almond instead of flour to make it lighter”.

Gaultier Lodge Cornice © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Woodstown has always been famed for its decadent high end hospitality. In 1967 newly widowed Jackie Kennedy and her children Caroline and John stayed at nearby Woodstown House. The Daily Herald breathlessly reported, “Woodstown House, about seven miles from Waterford City, where the Kennedys will stay during their visit is one of the most beautiful residences in the area, known for its gracious mansions… Mrs Kennedy will occupy the main bedroom which is toned in a predominantly dark blue colour.”

Gaultier Lodge Breakfast © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

It keeps going, “The Woodstown area itself probably carries the greatest concentration of Anglo Irish blue bloods in the country and the social whirl runs at a pretty fast pace. Among her neighbours in the county will be the Duke of Devonshire who owns Lismore Castle and the Marquess of Waterford who lives at Portlaw.” Another temporary resident in the 1960s was Jack Profumo who decided to lie low at Ballyglan, his brother’s house across the road from Gaultier Lodge. Names, names, such memorable names.

Gaultier Lodge Carrot Cake © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

 

Categories
Architecture Town Houses

William Thackeray + Small Dublin Houses

Perfectly Formed

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It’s the Tardis effect. Buildings that are larger than they look. Dublin has them aplenty. Perhaps it’s a Franco-Irish leftover from Marie-Antoinette’s pining to play at cottage living under the shadow of Versailles. Sir William Chambers’ 1758 Casino Marino, Italian for ‘little house by the sea’, is the Irish capital’s very own Très Petit Trianon.

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, terraced dwellings with all the appearance of being single storey (ok, some of them actually are) sprung up across the city. Bungalows they ain’t. These are miniature sophisticated architectural gems in the grand manner.

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This low lying building boom really took off when the Dublin to Dún Laoghaire (née Dun Leary née Kingstown) railway was completed in 1834. These little houses were erected – standalone, semi or together – along the coast from Sandymount near the city centre southwards to Monkstown. The closest equivalent English style of the early versions is Regency.

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While some are all on one level, most have a flight of eight or so steps leading to a distinguished doorcase. Despite lacking the verticality of the townhouses lining the streets and squares of the city centre, these small houses still boast the typical Dublin doorcase treatment with attached columns separating the central door from sidelights and a half umbrella fanlight overhead. Many are three bay with a tall sash window on either side of the doorcase. Below the door is typically a string course and beneath it the shorter windows of a semi basement continue the lines of the windows above.

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The symmetry and classical proportions of these ‘upside downside’ houses as they are sometimes affectionately called, their main floor raised to piano nobile status, so evocative of French and Italian villas but in maquette form, raise questions about their origins.

The Wide Street Commission of 1757, which lent Dublin such lasting gracefulness, could not rid the city of cholera or beggars. Middle class people quickly took advantage as speculators built summer houses or ‘bathing lodges’ along the stops of the new railway line.

Monkstown was one such area of sudden growth. It doesn’t get a mention in Pettigrew and Oulton’s directory of 1834 but a year later was recorded as being well populated. In 1843 Thackeray records in The Irish Sketchbook:

‘Walking away from the pier and King George’s column, you arrive upon rows after rows of pleasure-houses, wither all Dublin flocks during the summer-time – for every one must have his sea-bathing; and they say that the country houses to the west of the town are empty, or to be had for very small prices, while for those on the coast, especially towards Kingstown, there is the readiest sale at large prices.’

He continues, ‘I have paid frequent visits to one, of which the rent is as great as that of a tolerable London house; and there seem to be others suited to all purses; for instance there are long lines of two-roomed houses, stretching far back and away from the sea, accommodating, doubtless, small commercial men, or small families, or some of those travelling dandies we have just been talking about, and whose costume is so cheap and so splendid.’

The influence of the classical tradition in Ireland is easily traced to Sir William Robinson’s seminal 17th century Royal Hospital Kilmainham. James Gandon and Thomas Ivory flew the flag throughout 18th century Dublin. In the 19th century Francis Johnson, John Skipton Mulvany and the two generations of William Murray kept neoclassicism to the forefront of development. Chambers provided the precedential style of the mini villas; now all that was required was a forerunner in scale.

That comes in the form of an early domestic work by James Gandon. In 1790 he designed Sandymount Park for his friend the landscape painter William Ashford. Like a piece of couture, this house reaches a high standard of splendour which filtered down in a diluted prêt-à-faire fashion to the masses.

The three bay symmetrical single storey over raised basement entrance front extends on either side by a blind bay with a niche at piano nobile level. A rectangular pediment (is there such a thing?) surrounded by one helluvan urn is plonked above the central doorcase. A peak round to the side elevation reveals that Sandymount Park is in fact a three storey dwelling: clerestory windows are squeezed under the eaves.

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Single storey with or without a basement houses are an Ireland-wide phenomenon. Urban builders may have been inspired by their country counterparts. Gaultier Lodge, County Waterford; The Grove, County Down; and Fisherwick Lodge all express emphatic horizontality, a love of the longitudinal.

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A printed source of inspiration can be added to these built form examples. In 1833 John Loudon published his voluminous Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architect. On one of its 1,400 pages, he illustrates The Villa of Hanwayfield which is three bays wide by three bays deep over a raised basement. A pitched roof behind a low parapet rises above the symmetrical elevations, similar to Dublin’s little villas. A few months after its publication, Loudon mentioned in two magazines that his doorstop of an Encyclopaedia had been a bestseller in Ireland. This coincided with the development of Dublin Bay.

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Whatever the inspiration was, the fad stuck. Towards the end of the 19th century, Portobello in South Dublin was developed on a grid pattern of one and one-and-a-half storey terraced housing. The material (brick) and the fenestration (plate glass) may have been Victorian but the upside downside model ruled.

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Today, these mini villas of Dublin are much sought after hot property. Larger than life characters like Colin Farrell love them – he owns one in Irishtown. But still, a peculiar descriptive term eludes them. Their distant country cousin is a cottage orné. With that in mind, Lavender’s Blue declare ‘cottage grandiose’ as the correct terminology henceforth.5 Small Dublin Houses lvbmag.com