An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 183

Clinton Howell Antiques - May 30, 2022- Issue 183

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

One of my favorite houses in Norfolk (there are a bunch) is Felbrigg Hall. It starts with liking the name of the house, but the thing that is most intriguing is that the interior kept on being redecorated. The owners were swayed by fashion to some extent, so you have Jacobean interiors with Georgian furniture as well as a late Regency library with Gothic influences. It is not a single snapshot like Houghton or Harewood, but a series of snapshots style-wise through one hundred and fifty years. It also has a walled garden which, if I lived in the country, I would desire more than anything as those south facing stone walls are like heaters that create microclimates where you can try to grow something slightly more exotic than what is permissible for your climate zone.

I went to Felbrigg, the first time, because I was too early for entrance into Houghton Hall and I was completely unprepared for how charming it was. Not many of the National Trust country houses come across as lived in places, but Felbrigg is an exception. It might be because the generations all thought they could do a little better at decorating the interior, an idea that is almost inevitable from one generation to the next, but not all that common for A-list country houses. There are some very imposing and wonderful items in the house such as a great rococo overmantel looking glass and trumeau. That there are standing lamps around and that the room that has the overmantel feels of a livable size and not made for fifty or more people adds to that homely quality of the house. That some of the Jacobean woodwork and plaster were left in tact also tells you that the decisions to upgrade were more incremental and not sweeping.

It is the Gothic library, however, that really impressed me. I feel Gothicism lends itself to built in cabinetwork such as bookshelves. There is a natural regimentation and regularity to a row of books similar to the row of spires or finials that are at the top of the divides of each shelf. For my money it is as close to a perfect library as you can get. I suspect one reason for choosing the Gothic style was to complement the overmantel of carved oak which looks to be about 1670. The drum table, the writing table and the pair of standing globes round out the room. Celestial and terrestrial globes are a must in any library from my point of view--they were the google maps of their day, a thought I will leave you with as I have a pair and would be delighted to entertain any offers.