Buildings Issue

Thursday 28th October 2021

I really preferred Syon but Reggie Cresswell put Osterley first. We went on a Robert Adam crawl including National Trust fantasy rustic lunch at Osterley. Reggie offered cerise cough sweets for pudding. He was transported fully back to the 18th century and simultaneously the time of Henry James who wasn’t 18th century but visited Osterley and admired the outside staircase, plus wrote a short story partly set there. Me, I’m rather common and loved the purring luxe and Northumberland millions (also signed Royal photographs on the side tables) at Syon. We were even allowed to peer into alarmingly alarmed non-Adam rooms there and imagine what the family might get up in them when the public are fully back behind the outside barriers.

You think of Adam as light and delicate, those just-bass-relief plasterwork panels and marvellous pudding colours. But he can be thunderous and terrifying. The hall at Kedleston is full-on Roman Temple, the Derbyshire marble violently streaked. You could never be cosy in there. Osterley is in a smaller scale. Reggie read out from Pevsner who said the entrance hall was ‘low’. Indeed it was. Not everybody would have four huge stone urns on plinths in their hall, let alone entire statues in alcoves and half-dome recesses but really this room is one of Adam’s quieter ones. Just two colours, white and grey, and the whole effect got with light relief plaster-work in profusion. There’s a terrific energy of ovals skimming within rectangles and a marvellous light harmony which is nevertheless not a bit bedroom and silly. In the library which is all white, not brown as libraries are meant to be, the bookcases are not as anyone else ever conceived a bookcase. The room is so delicate and satisfying in itself that a book would be an intrusion. Adam did total room. He designed everything, even the keyholes. So it’s a unique exercise in architecture on the inside. It hadn’t occurred to me before that he is also very versatile. At Osterley there is an Etruscan room and another fancified French tapestry room, but always the Adam delicacy and deliciousness. The dining room at Syon could be sliced and served for pudding. The faintest blush pink walls and alcoves lined in faux red morocco. That part might be a little chewy, but the colours and the contrasts are delicious: there’s no other word. What a suite of rooms at Syon: the library is Tudorbethan, the drawing room Renaissance with vaulted ceiling and coloured plaster coins, the dining room, I suppose, Greek and the shattering Anti-room the full Roman thunder lifted into a kind of dream of gold towards the ceiling, with gold statues surmounting the dark blue marble pillars ┬ábut the ceiling itself like a cake and the floor quite zany with bold contrasting colours.

What’s the secret of it all. Plaster has a lot to do with it and paint. Colours as not used before. Design drives the whole. Other rooms might be re-done in their history which is good. It’s good that a room accumulates and is strewn with the various lives that have lived in it. Not so with rooms by Robert Adam.

 

Osterley: French tapestry Room

Osterley: French tapestry Room by Robert Adam

Osterley: the Etruscan Room, another of Adam's Modes

Osterley: the Etruscan Room, another of Adam’s Modes

Osterley: Adam got the Owner to Agree to Demolition of Quite a lot of the House to Insert This

Osterley: Adam got the Owner to Agree to Demolition of Quite a lot of the House to Insert This

Syon: the Anti-Room. Could you Do your Pre-Drawing Room like This? Remember to Allow Room above the Pediment for Full-Height Gold Statues

Syon: the Anti-Room. Could you Do your Pre-Drawing Room like This? Remember to Allow Room above the Pediment for Full-Height Gold Statues

The Anti-Room Floor at Syon: Bizarre

The Anti-Room Floor at Syon: Bizarre

The Dining Room Alcoves at Syon: Edible

The Dining Room Alcoves at Syon: Edible

The Dining Room: Full View. How would you go about Having This at Home?

The Dining Room: Full View. How would you go about Having This at Home?

The Renaissance Drawing Room at Syon: Ceiling like a Box of Sweets

The Renaissance Drawing Room at Syon: Ceiling like a Box of Sweets or an Iced Biscuit

The Library at Syon: Suddenly Adam doing Tudorbethan, so Astonishing Flat. Great

The Library at Syon: Suddenly Adam doing Tudorbethan, so Astonishing Flat. Great

Radiator Cover in the Long Library at Syon: Just no end to Adam's inventiveness

Radiator Cover in the Long Library at Syon: Just no end to Adam’s inventiveness

Posted Monday, November 8, 2021 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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