Horace Walpole, fourth Earl of Orford, was many things. As a man of letters, he wrote the pioneering gothic horror novel The Castle of Otranto. He was a pint-size provocateur, with a tongue as sharp as his intellect. A leading art historian and collector of all manner of oddment, he also served as a member of Parliament, following in the outsize political footsteps of his brilliant father, England’s first prime minister. Walpole was also a tastemaker par excellence, stunning his more conventional countrymen with Strawberry Hill, the fantastically odd and wildly influential Gothic Revival house he created in the London suburb of Twickenham and which he tinkered with ceaselessly from 1749 until his death in 1797.
Here amid sham battlements and decorative pinnacles, he entertained the high and mighty, arranged his beloved objects with a theatrical eye, and enthusiastically explored the architectural expediencies of papier-mâché.
Long a disintegrating wreck and now an exponentially improved historic site, thanks to funds raised through England’s Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors, Strawberry Hill—“the prettiest bauble you ever saw, ” its owner swooned—this month opened a quintet of Walpole’s private rooms. Among them are Walpole’s own bedroom, as well as the Plaid Bedchamber and the Breakfast Room.