The English country house is considered our greatest contribution to the field of architecture – the unified vision of house and landscape combined with fine interiors, superb furnishings and exceptional art collections. Yet in the 20th-century, it seemed that after Lutyens we largely lost our ability to excel in their creation – the new country houses seemed shadows of our earlier confidence, lacking the grand flair, and certainly the detailing, which had so defined the Georgian Classical house. This was partially due to financial circumstances but also due to the influence of modernism which sought to re-interpret the country house in a new language – and it often didn’t translate well.
Yet, there are signs that given the right client and the right architect, we can again create the sort of country houses which will be admired in 200 years. Country Life magazine this week (5 May 2010) features one of the best country houses to be built in the last 70 years; Ferne Park in Wiltshire, winner of the Georgian Group award for the Best Modern Classical House in 2003.
This is a house built in the finest traditions of the English country house – with its clear use of the Palladian vocabulary but skilfully reinterpreted for the location and the needs of the client, Lady Rothermere. The architect responsible, Quinlan Terry, has been responsible for some excellent buildings but this may well be his best. The new house, built in 2000-2, was on the site of a previous Georgian mansion called Ferne House which was demolished in 1965 having fallen into a poor condition. By rebuilding on the same site, Terry had a setting which was simply waiting for a new house to be created.
The local authority had already set the requirement that the new house must be Classical so both client and architect drew on other houses they knew such as Came House (Dorset) and Castletown Cox (Ireland), and were able to develop a distinctive plan for the site. The house also cleverly has contrasting fronts with the dramatic views to the north matched by the stately columns and pediment, whilst the south, with the gentler views into Dorset, using a simpler facade.
Ferne Park has revived hope that it is possible to build a successful Classical house which is recognisably a continuation of the the glorious Georgian traditions which have created so many of the houses we love today.
More pictures of the house: Ferne House, Wiltshire [Quinlan & Francis Terry, Architects]
Part II of the article will be published in the 12 May 2010 edition of Country Life.