Exercise – Plan a Country House Refurbishment

I have been asked to refurbish an 18th Century Neoclassical style country house in the Scottish borders originally designed by Robert Adam as close as possible to the original appearance. The rooms I have chosen all lie on the ground floor and include both public and private rooms. I have used several Adam designed properties as inspiration, including Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, Dumfries House in Ayrshire and Mellerstain in the Scottish Borders.

The existing house is composed of a central original rectangular building with 19th century wings on each side. I will concentrate on the original rooms comprising the large entrance hall and corridor, dining room on the right of the entrance hall which has windows on to the large front lawn and vista of the surrounding countryside beyond. Beyond this hall I will also include the family parlour which faces the rear of the property and the walled garden, and one of the bedrooms, also at the rear.

The style of design will be largely superimposed although the entrance hall and corridor will be more of an integrated style comprising many decorative features such as columns and alcoves which mean that the space could have little other function. the other rooms will have some decorative features built in but will otherwise be able to change. Public rooms will be much more decorative incorporating elaborate plasterwork in the ceilings and a hand painted design with gilding. The private parlour room and bedroom will be much simpler in design.

This design has been commissioned by the Earl of North Berwick, ancestor of William Crichton-Dalrymple, and his wife who have inherited the run down property in the Scottish Borders and would like to refurbish it to its original state with a view to leaving the house to Historic Scotland as a visitor attraction. They have requested that the design should include art, sculpture and furniture from the period the house was built and any incorporated design should be similarly sympathetic.

In keeping with the history, the majority of the art work and some of the furniture will be from Scottish craftsmen which would have been typical at the time (1).

The Earl has a family art collection that is required to be included in the spaces. Of particular note is a sculpture of Theseus and the Minataur by Antonio Canova, family portraits by Allan Ramsay, paintings by Alexander Naysmith, Sir Henry Raeburn and Alexander Runciman some of which are likely to have been in the house when it was newly built. These pieces are all from a similar time frame of 18th and early 19th Century but the styles will vary depending on the room. Portraits will adorn the hall and stairs while more interesting conversation provoking pieces will reside in the Dining room. The private rooms will have the more personal paintings collected by members of the family during their grand tour or featuring local landscapes.

There will be a clear definition between public and private areas. The public areas will reside in the front of the house with views to the front lawn and land beyond while the rear of the property will hold the private quarters. Entrance to the private rooms will be through single wooden doors, while the dining room and drawing room will have wide double doors which can be opened to invite guests through.

country house ground plan

Ground plan of the 1st floor

The main entrance hall

This space forms a T-shape in the centre of the original part of the building. The visitor enters from the grand front staircase with classical style portico complete with Corinthian columns. The function of this space is as a welcoming area. It provided the first view of the property and therefore is required to create a grand and splendid effect.

Through the large wooden front doors, the entrance hall is a large space in the centre of which sits Antonio Canova’s wonderful sculpture of the Theseus and the Minataur on a simple marble plinth.

theseus & the minataur canova

Four Corinthian style columns sit at the four corners of the hall. In between the hall and the corridor beyond, the columns support a lintel continuous with the ceiling which with feature a intricate plasterwork design with classical motifs featuring egg and dart gilded moulding, Greek key meander and classical female heads, coloured pale blues and greens. The floor will be white octagonal tiles inter-spaced with smaller black squares.

Dumfries Entrance Hall detail

Decorated Lintel in Dumfries House. This house will have paler colours and traditional Neoclassical meander motifs, interspersed with classical heads and urns.


There will be little furniture in this space other than two Chippendale Pier tables with inlaid woodwork on the walls and a Longcase clock made by the famous clockmaker of the period James Cox

james cox clock

James Cox Longcase clock, 1765

Built into the space above the Dining Room and Drawing room doors, two landscapes showing two different views of the Colloseum in Rome by Canaletto, collected by the original owner while on his Grand Tour of the city. The frames of these paintings will be ornately decorated with gilding.


Colosseum and Arch of Constantine, Rome – Canaletto, c1745

(c) National Trust, Attingham Park; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Colosseum and Arch of Constantine, Rome – Canaletto, c.1745

The entrance hall leads onto the corridor spanning the length of the house which is decorated with gilding on the plasterwork. The ceiling will be split into squares by a series of arches and Corinthian pillasters and the domed ceilings will be delicately hand painted with designs similar to that seen in Dumfries House.

corridor Dumfries House

Pewter Corridor Dumfries House


Domed ceilings in Pewter Corridor Dumfries House


Sketch of the Entrance (facing the front door) with columns removed

There will be two staircases at each end of the corridor. The stairs themselves will be made of marble and the elegant ballustrade will be ornate open iron work topped with a mahogany hand rail which at the bottom curves round in spiral shape. Both staircases will be lit from a skylight window above.


Staircase at Pollok House. This refurbishment could have similar staircases with paintings on the surrounding walls

The walls around the stairs will display several family portraits of the previous Earls and their families. Of particular importance are the two family portraits of Hew Dalrymple, Lord Drummore painted by Allan Ramsay and Portrait of Grace Dalrymple-Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. These will be centrally positioned and inlaid into the wall around which ornate plasterwork designs will be gilded.

ramsay hew dalrymple

Hew Dalrymple, Lord Drummore, 1690 – 1755. Scottish judge 1754 – Allan Ramsay

portrait-of-grace-dalrymple-elliott - Gainsborough

Portrait of Grace Dalrymple-Elliott – Thomas Gainsborough, 1778

The Dining Room

Like the entrance hall, this room will present an impressive and splendid statement. Entertaining was not only for the families personal amusement but was an obligation in 17th and 18th century as landowners who were often members of parliament, had to woo their tenants for votes with lavish dinners (2).

The walls will be pale blue with white plasterwork with elaborate cornucopia motifs. Greek urns and garlands will feature in a frieze like sculpture around the upper wall. The painted ceiling will be the main feature in the room, based on Robert Adam’s ceiling in the drawing room of 5 Royal Terrace in the Adelphi, London. It will be decorated with the four seasons and include griffins, scrolls and festoons.


Dining Room at Pollok House, Glasgow with plasterwork by the Clayton family. A similar colour scheme will be used here.


Greek urns and garlands freize that will feature around the upper part of the walls


adelphi ceiling robert adam full

Adelphi drawing room ceiling, London – Robert Adam

Plasterwork will be used to frame the paintings that will be displayed on the walls. Some of the families finest artworks will be in here including A View of Tantallon Castle with the Bass Rock by Alexander Naysmith, Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (The Skating Minister) by Sir Henry Raeburn and Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus by Alexander Runciman. These paintings were all painted in the 18th and early 19th Centuries and are all by local Scottish artists. The landscape of Tantallon Castle provides local scenery and the Skating Minister is the Reverand of Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh who was a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society (3). Runciman, who was also a Scottish artist provides a classical history painting from Roman legend, fitting with the Neoclassical architecture.

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A View of Tantallon Castle with the Bass Rock by Alexander Nasmyth, 1816

skating minister

Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (The Skating Minister), 1795 – Sir Henry Raeburn

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus – Alexander Runciman, 1781

There will be an Axeminster carpet on the floor which will be designed to echo the motifs in the ceiling and plasterwork on the wall.

The large polished mahogany table will be made by Thomas Chippendale with matching upholstered chairs. A local company will be commissioned to cover these chairs in a floral fabric based on a design found in scraps of old fabric at Dumfries House (4).


Original chairs found in Dumfries House. This design will be replicated in a deep blue colour.

The view from the dining room will take in the extensive front lawn on a gentle slope, curved front drive down to the wooded area of land and edge of the property. Beyond this the visitors are able to see the view of the surrounding hills and villages. This serves as a reminder of the far ranging powerful influence of the family. The gardeners brief is to keep the lawn mostly clear and uncluttered, the emphasis on the vista beyond. There could be some clipped topiary bushes for interest laid out in a geometric design.

The Parlour

The parlour in the formal style of country house, popular in the 17th and early 18th centuries, was used as an informal sitting and eating room (2). It was therefore a private family room and the decoration and furnishing would be simpler.

My plan is to keep the decoration simple (and keep costs down), so no ornate plasterwork or gilding. The paintings will be of a more personal nature, collected by the family members on their Grand tours. Still Life with Drinking Horn by Willam Kalf provides the centre piece.

still_life_with_a_drinking_horn kalf

Still Life with Drinking Horn by Willam Kalf, 1653

The parlour will be used for the family members particularly the ladies, sewing, reading or practising their music (5). For this reason the room will contain comfortable upholstered chairs (in the same abric as the Dining chairs and feature a Harpsichord made by Jacob Kirkman.

The view from the parlour will look out on the rear of the building and the walled garden beyond. Unlike the formal lawn at the front, this garden will be full of fragrant flowers and shrubs and should be fitted out with a path and some stone seating with which the family members could have taken an afternoon stroll.


As with the parlour, the plasterwork and detail in the private bedchamber will be less ostentatious than the public rooms. In the early 18th Century, the Scottish country houses usually were fitted with less fine objects than their English counterparts. Lord Dumfries initially wanted to furnish his house with copies of Thomas Chippendale items but changed his mind when he saw them in the London showroom and decided to purchase most of his furniture from Chippendale and commissioned some copies (1). Thus to remain accurate the furniture in this room will be of a similar style to Thomas Chippendale but instead will be made by a local cabinet maker of the time, Alexander Peter who would have been of a similar quality but at a much less cost.

There will be a large four poster bed hung with silk damask in the same design seen in the upholstered chairs in the dining room.

Aristocrat's estate may fetch £20m

Chippendale bed from Dumfries House

Unlike the other rooms of the house, the walls of this bedroom will be covered in a hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. Such designs were popular in the 18th century with increase in trade with different regions and in a woman’s bedchamber as they epitomised “the perceived frivolity of feminine taste” (6).

The furniture could also feature the Chinese theme such as the Chippendale pieces below which are painted and lacquered.

Chippendale_corner_cupboard_130x130 chippendale clothespress

The artwork will be of a more personal nature namely a watercolour of the surrounding area such as The Village of Jedburgh, Roxburgh by Thomas Girtin as well as some small personal paintings of the house and gardens by the lady of the house.

girtin jedburgh

The Village of Jedburgh, Roxburgh by Thomas Girtin, 1800


1. Christie, C. (2000) The British Country House in the Eighteenth Century. Manchester University Press, Manchester

2. Girouard, M. (1978) Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. 2nd Printing (with corrections). New Haven and London: Yale University Press

3. The National Gallery – https://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists-a-z/r/artist/sir-henry-raeburn/object/reverend-robert-walker-1755-1808-skating-on-duddingston-loch-ng-2112, 13/04/15

4. http://www.humphriesweaving.co.uk/our-work-2/historic-houses/dumfries-house/, 15/04/15

5. The Geffrye Museum of the Home – http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/collections/thematics/18th/domestic-life/page-1/, 13/04/15

6. The National Trust – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/document-1355824589286/, 12/04/15

Word Count – 2204



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