The Country House/Chapter 10
HANKS for your letter approving of my design in the principal parts of the interior; I shall now briefly point out the materials which I would recommend to be employed for the floors, walls, and ceilings.
For the entrance hall, I propose that the doorcases, chimney-piece, and the socle or dado should be carried up about four feet high, and should be of yellowish Derbyshire marble, and the walls in stucco, but made to show the joints of different courses, and marbled in fresco of a lighter tint than the rest, while the vaulted ceiling should have the ribs coloured white and brown upon a pale blue ground; for here in the lower part of the tower it will, I conceive, be most proper to indicate as forcibly as possible to the eye, solidity of material and construction.
In the second or inner hall, which we enter from the preceding one, and beyond which is obtained a view of the staircase, as seen through the columns placed on a stylobate, serving as a screen to the stairs, the walls might be marbled of a light greenish tint, intermixed in the socle with brown lines. The columns and entablature should be white; and the ceiling panelled in wainscot, with coffers or compartments containing ornaments in relief on a green ground. As regards this part of the interior, I would remark that should such be deemed preferable, there would be no objection to filling in the upper part of the screen (that is, the openings between the columns) with glass. While this would prevent all draught from the staircase, and in some degree intercept sound also, it would not in anywise affect the general design; but rather might be made to conduce to it, by adopting some ornamental pattern, of course in a corresponding style. Both in this and the preceding vestibule, the floor should be paved with marble or coloured stone, as should also that of the corridors; but the large hall should have a parquetted wood flooring, because that room will occasionally be made use of for dancing. In this last, the walls should be wainscoted and panelled with oak, to the height of about seven feet; and the doorway which forms the entrance to the suite of sitting-rooms should be distinguished by richness of carved decoration in the same material. I further recommend the application of embellishment of inlaid woods or marquetrie of different colours, for the cornice or upper mouldings of this wainscoting, so as to produce a rich border or band along the walls, above which there will remain space for pictures in frames, (inclining forwards) and even if these paintings are of no very great value in themselves as works of art, they will be of use as contributing to the general design, and add greatly to its effect. The upper part of the walls might be painted in fresco in imitation of grey marble streaked with red, which last mentioned colour should be that of the coffers in the wainscoted ceiling.
The ante-room or first room of the suite being smaller than the others, should have a coved ceiling, in order to diminish its apparent height; and this might be painted with Arabesque ornaments on a white ground, somewhat after the manner of several of the ceilings of Julio Romano in the Villa Lanti. The walls of this and of the two adjoining rooms should be hung with silk or other stuff of a quiet sober hue, so as to give the greatest relief to the pictures, I taking it for granted that you would be inclined to place here the principal part of such pictures as you may possess.
Though the ceilings of the two drawing-rooms should not be much ornamented, yet they may be relieved by the introduction of gilding in parts. For all these rooms I propose that the doors, &c. should be white with gilt mouldings. In the library, the ribs or bands of the vaulted ceiling should be gilt upon a white ground; and as regards the bookcases or shelves for books, they ought to be of some light coloured wood, highly polished, and not go higher than the corbels or consoles from which the vaulting springs, in order that there may be sufficient space for busts, vases, and other ornaments of that kind upon the cornices; and this will avoid the inconvenience of having the upper shelves quite out of reach, except with the help of high library steps—always inconvenient. For the lunettes or arched spaces between the corbels, I have not proposed any particular decoration, as they might be filled up by reliefs and casts let into the wall.
The dining room with the arcs-doubleaux and compartments of its vaulted ceiling afford scope for fresco painting of a superior style; and the pencil of our friend Eastlake, who has already shown so much classical talent in decorating the dining-room in London, might render this one of the most striking and charming apartments of its kind in England. It is true that fresco is so little practised in your country, and consequently its process so imperfectly understood, that he would probably have to encounter some difficulties at the outset; but I flatter myself I could be of considerable assistance to him, as regards the practical details, having already succeeded in introducing that mode of painting in spite of most unfavourable circumstances. I would advise that the pictures should be confined to the ceiling and the lunettes, and that the walls should be merely stuccoed, as being upon the whole more in accordance with the destination of the room itself, and affording a quieter background to the company seated around the dinner-table; at the same time that the frescoes in the upper part of the room would thereby show to greater advantage. You will observe that the fresco requires a bold broad style, and has an advantage over oil, as it is very effective even when not seen by a strong or favourable light. Should somewhat more of decoration be thought advisable, I would suggest the adoption of glass-mosaic in narrow uprightat intervals. Of this species of embellishment, which was much used by the Romans, and after, much in vogue throughout Italy during the middle ages, for pulpits, monuments, &c. I have lately introduced an application in a room fitted up by myself, the effect of which is allowed to be singularly striking and good.
The remaining drawing shows the large corridor on the upper floor.
I need hardly remark that these designs are only intended to convey an idea of the general character and style of the different rooms, as submitted to you for consideration. Much yet remains to be definitively settled, there being a variety of circumstances with which I am at present but imperfectly acquainted; nor can I possibly say what modifications of the plan I should advise, until I know wherein you consider it objectionable, or wherein it fails to meet your precise wishes. Some objections I may probably be able to combat; others may possibly, by leading me to consider the points in difference afresh, enable me to hit upon variations that may not immediately occur to me. Much will depend upon your collection of works of art, which is as yet but imperfectly known to me; much also upon my meeting with clever workmen, capable, not only of entering into my ideas, and executing without further trouble any piece of decoration that may be required, but also, as has not seldom happened to me, of suggesting valuable hints during the progress of the work. So far indeed am I from wishing you to decide at once in favour of what I propose, I am most of all solicitous that you should as completely comprehend not only the general scheme, but the contemplated effect of every part. Undoubtedly it is very pleasant to an architect to meet with an employer disposed to give him carte-blanche and permission to follow out his own ideas unrestrictedly; yet it is still more delightful to meet with one who, instead of merely passively acquiescing, assents from conviction after deliberate study of the ideas submitted to him, and from the lively interest he takes in them.
If I have ventured to propose marble, gilding, fresco painting, and glass-mosaic, do not be alarmed at the seeming extravagance, or imagine that any great expense will be incurred. In architecture the most durable materials are the most economical, and they carry with them a nobleness of appearance not attainable by even lavish ornaments, costly at first, yet of a perishable nature. Consider what large sums are expended in the course of a few years in keeping up houses that have to be repaired or refitted up from time to time as regards all but their bare walls, in consequence either of the materials getting soiled and shabby, or of the changes of fashion, which having been the only guidance in matters of taste at first, must continue to be consulted and conformed to, otherwise the whole looks out of date; whereas, that which is originally beautiful, independently of any painting and mosaic, than they have done in consequence of being furbished up every now and then by decorators and paper-hangers, and often in very questionable taste, while after all, the effect for the time is at the best of an inferior kind.fashion of the day, will so remain, let the caprice of fashion change as it will. I do really believe there are many rooms that would have cost their owners less, had they been entirely lined with marble, and otherwise ornamented with fresco
Besides by economy and a little dexterity of management even materials may be obtained at a comparatively moderate cost: works in Carrara marble, for instance, may be executed in Italy from designs sent over for that purpose, at about half the price, including freight and duty, which they would cost in England. The only nconvenience is that they cannot be furnished so promptly, it being requisite that the orders for them should be given some time beforehand. You will perhaps recollect the circumstance I have stated in respect to this matter in my "Architectura Domestica."
As to gilding—oil-gilding is cheaper than water-gilding; which last has only the advantage of looking more brilliant than the former at first. Fresco painting, again is less expensive than any mode of painting in oil; for it necessarily demands far greater rapidity of execution, and the effect being produced at once, instead of the work proceeding through all the different stages from dead colouring to the last finishing. How very poor a succedaneum for fresco painting is Gobelins tapestry! in which latter the execution is entirely mechanical, giving a mere soulless plodding transcript of the original, while as some of the colours fade sooner than the rest, the whole becomes in a short time quite inharmonious. I am moreover convinced that there are many able artists now living, who would execute designs in fresco for the same price that is paid for designs in tapestry; so that durability being considered, the saving accruing from the former would be considerable. Nor is it the least important consideration of all, that art itself would be extensively benefited by the adoption of such practice. I at least am thoroughly convinced, that a single room painted in fresco by an able artist would do more for the advancement of sound art in England than a score of commissions for oil-pictures, or than a hundred so called illustrated editions of popular works, with wood cuts. Pre-eminently gifted as is England with a true feeling for colouring, there is no doubt but that her school would be able to impart a fresh vigour to fresco painting, and would set a bright example to the continent in this branch of the art. Yours, &c.
N B. Some further observations of M. de Chateauneufs, in defence of his views regarding the fit style of architecture for a modern house, and also his design for the interior, have been omitted: I regret this, and so, I think, will the reader; the additions, however, would have made the work too expensive. The plates at the end will give a clear idea of the general plan and the elevation, and the last plate contains the proposed alteration of the tower, and omitting the lake. Editor.