An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 80

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 1, 2020 - Issue 80
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
Another house that I would like to return to is, yet again, a re-design of an earlier, Tudor house by Robert Adam. Saltram House is near Plymouth in Devon and I have only visited it once. I want to return as it is a total gem of a house with lots of Chinoiserie that is perfectly in keeping with the era. Chinoiserie was the gout du jour at virtually any time in British design history so don't be surprised to see in classical, neo-classical, Victorian or any other period house with a room of Chinoiserie design. Some attempts are better than others and the quality of the Chinoiserie wall paper in Saltram is among the best of the best. Furthermore, what I remember best are the small reverse glass paintings in stunning little rococo frames. Saltram was another of those houses, like Erddig, that was "discovered" by furniture historians with all its original furnishings. This is a little silly as, like Erddig, everyone knew what a great interior it had. It is just that Plymouth was far from the nexus of London. That great houses, existed well outside of the city always comes as a bit of a surprise, but should not be as there are many. Furthermore, Robert Adam, for one, worked throughout the UK in many far flung spots. One of the great pleasures is to find yourself in the middle of nowhere and then to find yet another Robert Adam designed interior. Horace Walpole's harsh critique of Adam in 1785 that referenced Adam's work as "gingerbread and sippets of embroidery" falls flat in our day as the lush and original interiors Adam created have continued to inspire designers for over two hundred years.

The enjoyment of Saltram is, in part, its remoteness. On walking into the entrance hall, you almost feel as if you are in a Jane Austen novel as it is simply breath taking with rococo and neo-classical details merged in the overmantel to the fireplace, something that Ms. Austen would surely have one of her characters comment on for its ostentation. And because you are deep in the country, it seems to have more power than if it were in London. But the charm of the house is clearly in the Chinese wall papers and the reverse glass Chinese paintings, items that were in place when Adam arrived and which he left alone. As much as Adam was capable of transforming houses architecturally to feel neo-classical, he clearly understood that personal taste counted, particularly in bedrooms. As imposing and decorous an entryway could be, as strictly formal a dining or sitting room could be, or as stiff and didactic a library could be, Adam understood the value of charm. (See photos of the interior here, I might add that i have for sale, a lovely little reverse glass painting in a rococo frame as well as a suite of neo-classical furniture not unlike the suite in the photograph of the sitting room at Saltram. Feel free to ask for photos.

This was my over riding impression of Saltram, albeit through the lens of a visit that I took twenty-five to thirty years ago. The value of returning is, for me, to see if this impression holds. As I don't have the house guide that I purchased (all of that is in storage) I can only go on what I see in the National Trust photos that are published on the web. I recommend going on the web to see photos of the house, a must visit for those of you who head to Devon and Cornwall for either the food or the gardens. (