Stamford Brook House lends itself to family life. The children, Dominic, four, and Anelie, one, run wild downstairs while the formal rooms on the upper ground floor remain toy-free. “It works well because there was a hierarchy to the rooms, with the servants downstairs and the owners above.”
On a recent visit to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford she found a painting of the house by the Impressionist Lucien Pissarro. “He was drawn by the sensibility of the house, the geometry and arithmetic.”
Architectural historians say it was the Georgian period that gave the British a sense of their own style. The timber-framed, medieval cottagey look gave way to brick-built formality, high ceilings and generous rooms. Architects such as Robert Adam, John Nash, John Wood the Elder and John Wood the Younger conjured up wonderful crescents, squares and whole cities such as Bath where their creations now attract international buyers.
Few places have more cause to boast than Bath. This is where Jane Austen lived for a while, mocking it in her novels, and it is also where the Georgian fashionistas came to party at the Assembly Rooms and take the waters in the Pump Room. If you wonder what they wore, you need only pop along to the city Fashion Museum where 30 original 18th-century outfits, including gowns of patterned silks, gentlemen’s embroidered waistcoats and wide-skirted court dresses held out by panniers, are on display. The kitsch of the time has influenced modern designers such as Vivienne Westwood.
In the countryside the English country house flowered. “Nothing since has replaced it as the status house, ” says Dawn Carritt. “It became part of what England wanted the world to think of it. It emphasised the English success story.”
The V&A is celebrating the Georgian tercentenary with an exhibition, Designing Georgian Britain, which looks at the work of William Kent, who designed Horse Guards and the Treasury in Whitehall, Holkham Hall in Norfolk and the entertaining rooms at Houghton Hall, also in Norfolk, for the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.
Both these great houses work as showcases for the treasures brought back from the Grand Tour, which was the Georgian aristocratic equivalent of the gap year. Souvenirs came in the form of marble busts, shipped home from Athens.
Between Holkham and Houghton, out on the rump of the North Sea, Sir John Soane redesigned a house called Burnham Westgate Hall for Sir Thomas Pitt, first baron of Camelford, and the work was carried out between 1783 and 1785. It is the perfect English country house, set in its own parkland, and has been lived in for the past two decades by former government whip Baroness Rawlings and her partner, the financier Paul Zuckerman. It is now for sale, with 13 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms and nine reception rooms, at £5.75 million through Sowerbys (04).