With a good friend of ours on his way to London and staying at Duke’s, I’m put in mind of Spencer House only a stone’s throw away. Herewith a reprise of my blog entry about Spencer House.
Amidst the buzz about the Althorp clear-out, it might possibly be that the focus is on the celebrity of the Spencer family. A pity, as the notoriety about the family and its possessions occludes the splendor of Spencer House, which survives in its now thankfully restored glory.
Its Green Park façade survives in its originality, designed in the 1750’s by John Vardy in the Palladian manner. Interesting, though, to see the crossed palm fronds in the pediment, placed beneath and thereby giving rather unusual emphasis to the ocular window.
With the demolition of so many aristocratic London great houses in the 1920’s, Spencer House is a rare survival. Nevertheless, for most of the 20th century, it was put to hard use, for over thirty years as offices for The Economist, complete with suspended acoustical ceilings in the interior and other institutional detritus. Its restoration began with the acquisition of the property in 1985 by a consortium headed by Lord Rothschild. Astonishingly, significant portions of the interior remained virtually intact. Although in the interior realization Vardy was early on replaced by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, Vardy’s Palm Room wildly celebrates the aforementioned motif used, albeit with considerable restraint, in the façade.
With the rooms of state all aesthetically fairly exuberant, it might be difficult to discern the segue from the rococo of Vardy to the archeologically accurate neoclassicism of Stuart. Placed directly over the Palm Room, Stuart’s neoclassicism finds expression in the Painted Room. With its complement of damask and gilt, it is some distance removed from the restraint one might expect if one were to gauge from the illustrations in Stuart’s 1762 Antiquities of Athens.
While it is the various works of Vardy and Stuart at Spencer House that are especially acclaimed, the contribution of interior designer David Mlinaric in providing guidance for the restoration of the rooms of state and the successful integration of the lesser rooms to make the entire interior a contiguous whole that arguably constitutes a feat almost as notable as that of those 18th century worthies. Although Mlinaric’s design firm carries on, M. Mlinaric is largely retired, but his years of activity contributed a wonderful legacy in a number of historic interiors. Indeed, Lord Rothschild used Mlinaric in another project to great effect, the design of the rooms in the Bachelor’s Wing at Waddesdon Manor, a Rothschild house in Buckinghamshire.