Connecting Burlington House (off Piccadilly) to Burlington Gardens (near Bond Street) is “the gist of what we’ve done,” Charles says, looking down into the newly revealed vaulted passageway with its exposed brickwork which now connects the two buildings. “People tend to think in plan when designing. But when this former back-of-house space was dropped three feet, it created this incredible volume.” The original garden steps of Burlington House have been retained as an indoors staircase leading down into the passageway.
Entering Burlington Gardens, he remarks, “The architect David Chipperfield has kept the integrity of Sir James Pennethorne’s original architecture. There’s always a conundrum – do you reinstate the original paint scheme? David has achieved a very good balance. In the Senate Room, the Victorian ceiling colours have been kept but the walls painted a lighter shade. The colour schemes create a sense of the era but they’re not archaeologically accurate.”
“We put in a café called Poster Bar on the ground floor which complements the shops on Bond Street. From my perspective, having a coffee at 8am is very important and rather nice!” Charles reckons. The first floor Senate Room is now a brasserie. It serves small plates (£8) such as Piedmontese peppers or mussel, prawn and squid seafood salad. The cheese plate (£14) includes gorgonzola naturale, robiola tri latte, pecorino ross and truffled honey, fig and marmalade. Puddings (£6.50) include blueberry and violet panna cotta or chocolate bignè.
“Riddled!” shrieked the 5th Countess of Clanwilliam, after years were already gone since irony, when faced with the prospect of sharing her matrimonial home Gill Hall with more ghouls than an episode of Rent-a-Ghost. “Simply one damned ghost after another!” A card game later, or so the rural myth portends, the lucky Earl won neighbouring Montalto House from a gentleman surnamed Ker. “Phew!” she exclaimed, sinking into a sofa in the first floor Lady’s Sitting Room with its Robert West stuccowork of scallop shells and a brush and comb and a cockerel and fox. The only spirits ever at Montalto are the Jameson bottles rattling on drinks trolleys. Over a wee dram, it’s worth catching sight of the resident albino hare in the 10 hectare gardens on the 160 hectare estate. His son the 6th Earl, in between sewing tapestries, demolished the ballroom and a chunk of the servants’ quarters, shrinking the size of the house by a half. Under the ownership of JP Corry, a famed timber merchant, the east wing and rear apartments also had to be chopped following a calamitous fire in 1985.
Country houses form distinctive works of architecture, with appropriately furnished interiors, and considered as part of a demesne, conceived in all its complexity as a picturesque ensemble of gardens, woods and buildings, they represent what is justly described by John Harris in The Destruction of the Country House as ‘the supreme example of a collective work of art’. But whatever else a country house may symbolically constitute, it was always conceived to be decorated and furnished quite simply as a habitation, and it is that incomparable sense of home that the restitution, restoration and refurnishing of Montalto has sought to preserve for today and tomorrow. The Earl of Moira commenced construction in 1752 by which time a prosperous Irishman could have confidence that his home would remain his castle without having to look like one.
A sense of order framing majestic comfort prevails indoors with eight pairs of Doric columns guarding the entrance hall, sentinels in stone. It’s flanked by the dining room and library. Straight ahead the staircase leads to the long gallery, of more than average beauty, an axis in ormolu, a spine of gilt. Trompe l’oeil and oeil de boeuf and toile de jouy abound. The interior, like beauty, is born anew every hundred years. Montalto is a sun, radiant, growing, gathering light and storing it – then after an eternity pouring it forth in a glance, the fragment of a sentence, cherishing all beauty and all illusion.