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The Bowes + Marlfield House Gorey Wexford

A Bon Mot Cast in Stone

Marlfield House Portico © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-2

Back to Marlfield House, 20 years since the first visit. The Gorey bypass may cause a moment of disorientation along the journey, but the country house hotel at the heart of the 30 acre estate is still reassuringly grand, everything just so, now entering decades of decadence, heaven’s in the detail, sugar crystals in silver bowls for coffee de rigeur. Marlfield is now in the very capable hands of the second generation of the Bowe family to run the hotel. Sisters Margaret and Laura and their own families live on the estate. Their parents Mary and Ray bought the house from the widowed Lady Courtown in 1977. À la mode modifications completed over the following decade allowed the building to breathe as a hotel. Through recessions and a boom, Marlfield became a byword for brilliance, a billet doux to hospitality, a magnet for the smart Dublin set.

Country Life Marlfield House @ 1Lavender's Blue_edited-1

Forget the usual bog standard 20th century hotel extension horrors. Distinguished artist and architect Alfred Cochrane’s work at Marlfield adventurously augments its presence, both physically and architecturally. Creative clients helped. “We’re all mad about design,” according to Margaret. “Our family all have a good eye.” From the whimsical to the wacky, always tasteful, never tacky, it’s a tour de force of neoclassical language reimagined for the spirit of the age. Petit Trianon on speed, Temple of the Winds on a high, Crystal Palace methodology. Now if Loulou de la Falaise was an annexe… Take the entrance portico. Its Doric centrepiece, confidently stepping forward from rusticated stone bays, explodes into a not so much broken pediment as broken temple, like ruins glued together with glazing.

Marlfield Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-2

A vast half moon (fully completed by the half moon pond outside) entrance hall links the main house to the rest of Alfred’s single storey bedroom wing. Top lit long galleries spread like elegant tentacles in all directions connecting the entrance hall to the six state suites: the Print Room, Morland Room, Stopford Room, Georgian Room, French Room and Sheraton Room. The crème de la crème is the Print Room, an octagonal cove ceilinged panelled pièce de résistance. “Mariga Guinness did the print decorations on the walls,” says Margaret. “They took days and days to complete! The inspiration came from Louisa Connolly’s famous Print Room at Castletown. When the doors are pulled across the bed alcove, wedding ceremonies are often performed in this room.” A handily placed harp stands next to the French windows. She confirms the hotel can accommodate up to 145 guests for a wedding.

Marlfied House Gardens © Lavender's Blue_edited-1

Marlfield House Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Marlfield House © Conservatory Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

The other 13 guest bedrooms, all with marble bathrooms, are upstairs in the main house. A conservatory on the garden front, also designed by Alfred Cochrane, balances the state room wing on the entrance front. History, symmetry, geometry, harmony, luxury: all are important at Marlfield. The conservatory is a tripartite triumph in cast iron and glass. A central projection balloons up to a storey height ogee shaped dome. A frame of distinctive lattice metalwork pilasters topped by stylised Ionic capitals holding a frieze is as stylish as anything produced in the days of the Prince Regent. Yet more French doors lead onto a croquet lawn.

Marlfield House Library © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bon appétit! Mushrooms immersed in white wine, thyme and cream on toast accompanied by poached hens’ eggs trickling in black truffle oil are a culinary must in the library. “The eggs are from our neighbours, Samuel and Maurice Allen’s happy hens!” Many of the herbs and vegetables are from the Bowes’ kitchen garden while fish, meat and dairy produce are all sourced locally. Classy food in classical surroundings. The library is a rich blue; the sitting room next door, a pale lemon. Like all the rooms, they are filled with more antiques than Mealy’s on auction day. Plasterwork and white marble fireplaces form the backdrop to colourful festoons and fabric pelmets.

Marlfield House The Print Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Marlfield House was built in 1852 by the 4th Earl of Courtown as a dower house in association with his principal seat, Courtown House. It’s a classic three storey block of the middle size, four bays wide by two bays deep. The west or side elevation is bowed towards the sunken topiary garden. The other side elevation adjoins a two storey ancillary wing. A two bay breakfront projects from the centre of the south or garden front. Characterful rugged semi coursed rubble stone on cut granite and red brick quoins contrast with overhanging modillioned box eaves (c’est quoi?). A low pitched roof is punctuated by tall chimney stacks. The 5th Earl swapped the ground floor multi pane windows found elsewhere in the building for plate glass sash windows in 1866.

Marlfield House Harp © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

This architectural dowager, a bon viveur full of joie de vivre, not in mourning, never rests on her manicured laurels. More than 160 years after the first stone was laid, a new lease of life is underway for Marlfield. “It will be rustic and informal, edgy even!” says Margaret about the new bistro in the ancillary wing. “French doors will open onto the market garden and there’ll be a fireplace on the terrace. It will be very family friendly. We’re also opening a small interiors shop which will host pop up events every so often.”

Marlfield House Peacock Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Hopefully it won’t be another 20 years till the next visit. One family, two houses, three miles apart, the fates of Courtown and Marlfield couldn’t be more different. Courtown House wasn’t so lucky, now deceased, its belle époque beyond living memory. It was sold to the Irish Tourist Board in 1948 and with the usual cultural myopia and political bias of that era, promptly pulled down. The 9th Earl of Courtown, James Patrick Montagu Winthrop Stopford one time Viscount Stopford, recently visited his former ancestral home. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks stayed at Marlfield House while filming yawnbuster Saving Private Ryan at Ballinesker beach, one of the golden strands straddling County Wexford coast. Pierce Brosnan, Steve Martin, Meryl Streep and Peter Ustinov have all enjoyed Marlfield. In the word of Robert Redford who has the last word on the last word: “Sublime!”

Marlfield House Cat © Lavender's Blue 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