Nicola here, looking forward very much to her holiday on the Isle of Mull in a house appropriately called "The Library!" It's very possible that I may not set foot outside the door for the whole fortnight, especially if it rains!
Today I'm wondering if you have ever had a decorating disaster? A few years ago I painted the whole of one room in my house with a colour called "spicy peach." It was only when I'd finished and stood back to admire my handiwork that I realised that I'd used the wrong pot of paint and that I didn't like the finished result at all. Some hasty re-painting then occurred. I was reminded of this a couple of months ago when we visited a Georgian house in Buckinghamshire called Claydon. Claydon House was one of the places where the film version of Emma was made, the one that featured Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam. It also has connections with Florence Nightingale, who spent her summers at Claydon after her sister Parthenope (wonderful name!) married Sir Henry Verney in 1858.
This is the outside of the house. It looks very restrained, doesn't it? But inside, Claydon is a riot! Eccentric is one word that has been used to describe Claydon, flamboyant another. The word "vulgar" has even been whispered. So here I have included some photos of the interior so you can judge for yourself whether the Georgian designer went over the top or not.
Claydon House was built by the second Earl of Verney between 1757 and 1771. The Verneys were one of the families who were tragically split during the English Civil War. Sir Edmund Verney was standard-bearer to King Charles I and died at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. His eldest son, Sir Ralph, took the parliament's side. Ralph's brother Sir Edmund was a Royalist.
Visitors approach the house across a semi-circular courtyard. Originally this was the site of a wing to the house which included a lavish entrance rotunda, a ballroom and an observatory on the first floor. However the second earl ran out of money before he could complete his extravaganza and died destitute in 1791. When his niece, Lady Fermanagh, inherited Claydon, she promptly demolished this entire wing of the house!
Despite Lady Fermanagh's preferences for plainer decoration, what is left at Claydon is still staggering. The National Trust leaflet describes the North Hall as "one of the most unrestrained and ebullient examples of the rococco style in England." Here is an example of one of the fireplaces. The interior designer was a man called Luke Lightfoot, a mysterious character who was apparently carver, cabinet-maker, architect and surveyor. He was also an embezzler. The earl dismissed him in 1769 for fraud. Presumably it was Lightfoot's embezzling that helped to kill the goose that laid his golden eggs and hastened Verney's slide towards bankruptcy.
These mahogany doors in The Saloon are ten foot tall so there was never any danger of having to stoop to get through the doorway! They are inlaid with boxwood, ebony and ivory and weigh half a ton each. From the windows here you can see three artifical lakes which were created as part of a scheme to landscape the grounds at the same time the house was being built. Taken together one can see the whole extent of Verney's Grand Plan – and why it was so ruinously expensive. It always fascinates me to visit a place where someone has got so carried away with their great schemes that they seem to have been unable to see that they are plotting their own financial ruin.
The staircase was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The gilded iron balustrade with its intertwined ears of corn is beautiful, but it is the steps themselves that are extraordinary. I had never heard of a parquetry staircase. Hopefully you can see from the picture the way in which a pattern has been created using mahogany, ebony, box and ivory. It is stunning - and again, exceptionally extravagant! It is also very slippery. I wondered how practical it was on a daily basis. That's another feature of grand designs, of course. They aren't always particularly sensible.
The final word has to go to The Chinese Room, which is a complete riot. Lightfoot really allowed himself to get carried away here. At the time the room was decorated, the style called chinoiserie was extremely fashionable. Many English houses boast a "chinese room" but none are as exuberant and inventive as this. The pagoda-like alcove, which once held a bed, and the door cases and chimneypieces are all decorated with "Chinese" heads wearing "Chinese" hats and adorned with temple bells, scrolls, swirls, fretwork, rockwork, birds and plants. Lightfoot imported textiles, wallpaper, porcelain, screens and laquered furniture to complete his vision. When I first walked into the room I was so startled I couldn't speak. I spent a long time there simply trying to take it all in – and then I came back later for another look! These pictures, of the doorway and the pagoda, cannot do it justice! It wasn't that I felt that it was in bad taste, precisely (and of course one has to take into account the fashions of the day). It felt more as though the designer had tried to pack in so much to the house that he had got completely carried away.
So after my little tour I'm wondering what you think of Claydon House. Terrific or tasteless? And do you think it's possible in modern times to come up with anything as extravagant and riotous as Claydon? Have you ever had a decorating disaster on a grand – or even a minor - scale? My spicy peach walls pale into insignificance beside Claydon's chinoiserie and at least I've never had to demolish a ballroom!