You don’t actually need to leave London to get the whole English country house experience if you are a visitor to London with limited time. My last post looked at the famed Adam designed library at Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath. The rest of the house is beautiful too! The outside is welcoming with these charming benches set around to appreciate the gardens. After Adam went to the trouble of relocating Hampstead Lane away from the front of the house, it seems only right to make an effort to take in the garden view!
Upon entry, you are welcomed by a fire just as if you had entered an 18th century gentleman’s home.
Much of the furniture had been sold off by the Mansfield family before it was bought by Lord Iveagh. Interiors appropriate to the time, however, have been sourced by English Heritage to create an appropriate look. This beautiful piece, for example, opens up to reveal storage for cutlery. We were told that the Georgians may take their own cutlery when invited for dining. Hence, why it is located in the front entrance!
I love the grand staircase which has been painted a light blue more in keeping with Georgian times than the black it had been pre-restoration. The details are of stylised honeysuckle and palm fronds. Doesn’t the blue really pop against the warmth of the browns in the wood?
The famed Adam-designed portico is visible from the windows. The exterior haas been refinished in sand applied to wet paint to mimic the look of stone (just as Adam had done for the original finish). I was interested to hear about this facade application because George Washington’s stately home, Mount Vernon, on the shores of the Potomac near Washington D.C. had the same thing done to it.
The house has lots of artwork by famous artists. The Georgians were big into art collecting as part of their love of conspicuous consumption.
This painting by Vermeer was sold by Vermeer’s wife upon his death to pay off bills. It is believed to be a relative of the Vermeer family because she was loathe to part with it. It was sold on the condition that she could buy it back if she raised enough funds. Sadly, she never did.
The Georgians loved the exotic which was increasingly brought to England by the growth in trade and subsequent prosperity. This chinoiserie detailing on one of the fireplaces is exquisite.
One out-of-the-ordinary Georgian detail is that Lord Mansfield’s mixed-race niece, Dido Belle, was raised at Kenwood House. Dido was the illegitimate daughter of Royal Navy Admiral who was the nephew of the first Lord Mansfield. The Mansfields had no children of their own and they took on the upbringing of Dido and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Dido was a mixed-race aristocrat in a time when that was a rarity. This beautiful painting, depicting their youth and exuberance, treats both girls on equal footing with each other (another rarity). Although a recent film was made about Belle’s life (Belle, 2013), another house stood in for Kenwood House which was undergoing restoration.
Kenwood House is run by English Heritage. Located on Hampstead Lane in Hampstead, English Heritage have a easy-to-use website with useful information for a visit. It is very child-friendly with an inside play area, a good cafe and plenty of gardens to roam. My children love visiting Kenwood. You really do get the feeling of being in the country!