Kenwood House is a fine example of the work of Robert Adam, who remodelled the place between 1764-73 and designed much of the interior. The mansion was originally built in 1616 and remodelled for William Murray, who made the pivotal court ruling in 1772 that made it illegal to own slaves in England. Kenwood House contains the Iveagh Bequest of paintings and eighteenth-century furniture. Paintings include one of Rembrandt’s finest self-portraits, Vermeer’s ‘The Guitar Player’ and Gainsborough’s ‘Countess Howe’. The location is every bit as important – Kenwood House is set in lovely grounds at the top of Hampstead Heath. Kenwood House is closed for repairs until autumn 2013.
I say: Kenwood House is fantastic. If you’re ever in London, later than late this year, go and visit. They’re giving it a makeover at the moment:
…but it is well worth the trip to Hampstead, which is one of London’s most interesting, diverse, and crowded area for art, literature, nature and STUFF.
So… Kenwood House.
The detective work on the original paint samples has been done by English Heritage’s experts, alongside Crick Smith of University of Lincoln, a conservation company that has also worked on the St Pancras Hotel, Osborne, and HMS Victory.
“What the paint analysis revealed was radical and unexpected, both on the outside and the inside,” says Dr Jeremy Ashbee, English Heritage’s Head Properties Curator. “We wanted to recreate the rooms as they would have appeared to [owner] Lord Mansfield,” said Ian Crick-Smith. “It’s not enough to go on drawings. Adam produced a variety of proposals for Kenwood—we wanted to identify the one that was actually executed.”
Visitors to Kenwood will be astonished by the changes to the old colour scheme that has been there since major (and what English Heritage now knows to be inaccurate) redecoration was carried out 40 years ago. The exterior will only change subtly—at the front entrance, the old cream colour has been replaced with a sanded paint finish, scored into rectangles to look like stone. “We worked hard to get the right effect,” says Jeremy. “The old gardenia-coloured paint had to go, but we had to make sure the new surface really did look like stonework, so we did a lot of trials.”
Inside, the transformation is even greater. Gone is the gold of the gilding that once criss-crossed the library, replaced by Adam’s original white. “The colour palette is really different, much more restrained—the richness of the gilding has given way to the white,” says Jeremy. You can now follow in the footsteps of Lord Mansfield’s visitors, along the elaborate trail of shades that Adam designed. First, you arrive in the hall with its green and blue shades only subtly changed. From there you pass through the staircase hall, which now has a lighter shade of blue. The ante-room, once a creamy, sandy yellow, is now apple green. At last, you would have been introduced to your host, Lord Mansfield, in the library, with its bright greens now a sombre, darker green, and that gilding turned monochrome white. No other Adam house follows this precise colour scheme.
Hoorah for English Heritage – other updates are being made too.
It isn’t just the paint that has been changed at Kenwood, but the whole visitor experience, to make it more family-friendly. “Throughout the house, there will be refreshed visitor information,” says Dr Susan Jenkins, English Heritage’s Senior Curator for London and East, “In the housekeeper’s room and the orangery, there will be activities and displays for visitors with young families, including a dolls’ house and a Story of Kenwood interactive exhibit. The original furniture was sold from Kenwood in 1922, when the Mansfield family moved out. Where possible, the original furniture designed by Robert Adam is being acquired and reinstated. The rooms are being furnished to reflect the first inventory taken in 1796,” says Susan.
All veh-ry exciting!