From the archive (1989): an eighteenth-century untry house by Rosemary Hamilton

Simon Brown

One of the remarkable things about the early-eighteenth-century house shown here is that it has never been altered or extended. Unlike the other houses in the vicinity which range in date from medieval times to about 1720, it is almost totally original. Even the top floor, which some architectural historians have mistakenly thought to be a later addition, appears on the original plans. With its mellow brick and stone elevations, punctuated by small-paned windows, this is a particularly felicitous example of English domestic architecture.

When the present owner took on the house had been carried out, major work was necessary to update the plumbing, heating and wiring. A local builder, Patrick Maidment, was given charge of this and other building work, which included the replacement of the roof. After these essential repairs to the house, the owner asked interior designer, Rosemary Hamilton, to supervise the decoration and furnishing of the rooms.

Having started her interior business some eighteen years ago, Rosemary Hamilton has accumulated a number of faithful clients who, over the years, have called her in whenever they move house: 'This is the advantage of keeping the business small, she comments. “It means that you have time to concentrate on each project individually, and see it through each stage.' In the course of her work, she has carried out commissions in Switzerland, Brussels and India, and she now operates from a small interior design shop in Pimlico.

This particular project is clearly one of her favourites: 'I was extremely fortunate to be working for a client with such a large and eclectic collection of paintings and furniture,' she says. And with no deadline imposed, we were able to plan every detail of the layout of furniture, rugs and works of art. In the end, this took about two years.

A feature of the house which particularly attracted the current owner was the large entrance-hall, an impressive two-storey space with a handsome oak staircase and wide galleries. Walls and mouldings have been painted in a subtle combination of pale pink, pale blue and white as a background for the rich woods of the staircase, floorboards and cabinets. The most notable piece here is the Italian marble-topped bombé commode, circa 1750, beneath the the stairway soffit.

Given the excellent proportions of of the rooms in the house, Rosemary Hamilton's main challenge lay in finding appropriate wallpapers and fabrics for the outstanding collection of furniture and paintings. Fortunately, her client trusted her taste sufficiently to give her a virtual free hand. She was very appreciative of this trust, especially for the decoration of the study where she suggested a dramatically-patterned paper from Tissunique. Although rather more demanding than her other choices in the house, this wallpaper has proved highly successful in pulling together the various colours in the room, and is balanced by a plain grey carpet.

Rosemary Hamilton is also fortunate in her curtain-making team, Peter and Daphne Jenkins, who made all the curtains in the house to her specifications. Some of the braids and tassels have been specially made and dyed to match the fabrics and pelmets; for example, in the library, the rich blue silk curtains were dyed and woven by Gainsborough Silks, and the fringes and tassels were made by the Nottingham Braid Company.

The panelled library is a grand yet, paradoxically, unintimidating room which provides a handsome setting for antique furniture and objets. To either side of the unusually tall marble chimneypiece stands a wooden console table, the two being almost an exact match. The second one was found in the same part of the country as the first, but ten years later. Similarly, the two Persian rugs were bought separately, but have very much the same pattern and are virtually the same size.

Patrick Maidment installed the old oak pillars and vitrines on the library wall. These vitrines, which house drinks and a stereo unit, are made of old oak integrating sympathetically with the existing panelling. The ornate ceiling, which was formerly grey, has been gilded and repainted in various shades of blue, and a striking Italian carving in carving hangs above the chimneypiece. The tones of the panelling and furniture are a splendid foil for the rich variety of fabrics used for the chairs, stools and curtains. A nineteenth-century Irish footstool is overed in Percheron's 'Belem', and the black lacquer stools to either side of the sofa are in a fabric from Charles Hammond. The sofa is covered in a Marvic moiré, and Manuel Canovas' 'Hayderabad' covers a pair of French provincial wing chairs. These warm reds, together with the red leather desk chair and the carpets, provide highlights of pattern and colour.

Opening off the panelled library and leading into the dining-room is the garden room. This pretty, light space is a charming contrast with the darker rooms to either side. Here, the panelled walls have been stippled in a pale, clear green by Paul Humphreys and his team, who were responsible for the wallpapering, gilding and decorative paint finishes throughout the house. The design for the green and yellow carpet was inspired by the enrichments on the ceiling and was specially woven by CP Carpets. The room has something of the feel of an eighteenth- or early-nineteenth-century interior in Scandinavia or Germany, thanks partly to the colour scheme and, more significantly, to the tall Danish clock and the ceramic stove from Germany. This is the only room in the house which is not hung with paintings. Instead, the walls are decorated with carved and gilded pendants, painted wooden panels, mirrors and clocks. The owner is an enthusiastic collector of barometers, and every room in the house, including the bedrooms, has a barometer. Above the sofa in the garden rooms hangs a fine eighteenth-century French example. In front of the sofa is a 'coffee-table' the base of which was once the base of a late-seventeenth-century cabinet which, sadly, was destroyed in a fire.

The enfilade of library and garden room leads into the dining-room. As the owner has had a red dining-room for the last thirty years and has never tired of this colour scheme, Rosemary Hamilton had this room lacquered in a deep red by Paul Humphreys. Curtains in 'La Granja', a red self-striped fabric from Tissunique, have been given long fringes and red-and-gold tassels rather than pelmets. The table seats no more than six comfortably because the owner never entertains greater numbers than this, and it is laid with plain china as he prefers to display his collection of Meissen china in cabinets.

Upstairs, a collection of Empire furniture is strikingly displayed in the dressing-room against a background of walls glazed in dark blue. The bed itself was found in Camden Passage, and the specially-made mattress has been covered in a bold blue-and-gold striped Italian silk from Sanderson. The same fabric has been swept up into a corona, lined with Marvic's 'Earl' shantung, and finished with ombres and a finial made by Carvers & Gilders.

The Biedermeier room also takes a blue theme. Here, a group of Biedermeier pieces is seen to excellent effect against Charles Hammond's 'Beau Stripe' wallpaper, with Percheron's 'Manon' stripe used for the curtains.

The careful arrangement of fine pieces of furniture, combined with rich and unusual fabrics, typifies the meticulous yet imaginative approach of Rosemary Hamilton throughout this whole project. The decoration of the rooms is appropriate to the house yet skilfully integrates a variety of English and Continental elements.