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HOUGHTON HALL King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6UE
Houghton Hall was built in the 18th Century for Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of England. The sumptuous interiors were designed by William Kent and, as a break of tradition from the usual crimson, Kent decided to use green and gold for upholstery and drapes in the House. This may have come about through the designer's development of the iconography of the rooms, in particular dedicating the State Bedroom to Venus, Goddess of Love and Sleep. Green at the time was particularly associated with Venus.
In 1796 the House passed into the hands of George James, 4th Earl and 1st Marques of Cholmondeley and remains today the home of the 7th Marques of Cholmondeley. The present Marques is undertaking considerable work on the restoration of the gardens and continues to devote, in equal measures, the enthusiasm of his grandmother, Lady Sybil Cholmondeley, in her eighty years of loving care and restoration of the Hall.
These paint colours came about through an eclectic mixture periods. At the time of their development many of the textiles were catalogued for conservation and restoration purposes. Through salvaging a bag of tiny pieces, we were able to build a Houghton story. The Walpole velvets had faded from forest greens to bluish grays. They had opaqueness to them due to the fine sheen in the pile being mostly undamaged.
Further investigations in the bag revealed scraps of damask and brocades collected by Lady Sybil's brother, Sir Philip Sassoon. Sir Philip died in 1939 leaving his outstanding collection of eighteenth Century decorative art to his sister, to be absorbed into the Houghton interiors. Many of the yellowing shades of silks and damasks are reflected in the colours used by John Singer Sargent in his portrait of Lady Cholmondeley 1911-12, in which she wears a vast Persian silk shawl belonging to the artist. All the little remnants in the bag seemed to be woven around the colours of Houghton. The Norfolk landscapes with its muddy seas and huge sunsets. The beautiful fallow deer grazing in the Park and the rustic brickwork and golden sandstone of the stables and pumphouses. These colours were a true representation of a Country House that had grown organically through several centuries, and was about to pass into a new one.
Lady Sybil Cholmondeley moved into Houghton in 1919. Along with her own many beautiful objects, she brought with her an understanding, appreciation and warmth for this great political edifice. With her touch Houghton became a home not only for visiting dignitaries, but full of artists, musicians, and many colourful and interesting luminaries of the day. In 1957 Vita Sackville West wrote to Sybil from Sissinghurst describing her response to Houghton:in some strange way you contrive to make its grandeur as friendly and easy as a cottage. Vita's husband Harold Nicholson also observed I have never seen a house so perfect and self-contained - the backs of things are as perfect as the side that shows! Certainly the most beautiful eighteenth century house that I have ever seen. Clearly Lady Sybil's flair for details, and her compassion for humanity distributed through her war work with the Wrens, and later her hands on approach to the visiting public at Houghton, make her a unique and colourful, independent woman of her time.
She died in 1989, leaving behind her legacy of a more personal and immediate nature than that of her forebears. With this in mind it seems only fitting that, a decade later, we have been inspired by some of her influences to create a special range of Houghton colours in a lime wash; a traditional paint that has endured through the Centuries, and continues to enhance both ancient and modern environments with its natural beauty, practical qualities and earthy properties.
- Text by Miv Watts - Designer.