18 months after it was closed for restoration, Kenwood House in Hampstead is now reopen to the public. This national treasure in more than 70 acres of sweeping parkland was restored by English Heritage for £6 million, including £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Curators traced missing furniture and used old bills and drawings to have other pieces copied. New paint colours were hand-mixed to match the originals.
Joiners, gilders and other craftspeople worked round the clock to finish on time.
Where two years ago there were striplights, fitted carpet, and an echoing entrance hall with a desk and ropes, now there are hand-made carpets on old pine boards, a roaring fire, chandeliers, and sofas and chairs where you are encouraged to sit, to gaze perhaps at a landscape designed by Humphry Repton in the late 18th century for the second Lord Mansfield.
Delicate plasterwork was repainted in the original blue and white
The house was much smaller when built in 1700 on hilltop land bought in 1616 by John Bill, later the King's Printer. In the 1760s, architect Robert Adam added wings and the soaring portico, to make Kenwood a fitting home for William Murray, Lord Chief Justice and first Earl of Mansfield, whose portrait hangs in the hall.
This stunning Georgian villa, remodelled and lavishly decorated by Adam, houses one of the finest private collections of Old Master paintings amassed, including works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Vermeer, Reynolds and Turner — built up by brewing magnate Edward Guinness, Lord Iveagh, who bought the empty house after a contents sale in 1925 to hold his collection, but died before it was installed and bequeathed it all to the nation.
Before Kenwood closed, it was in bad repair, particularly the roof. In the Seventies, much of it was refurbished with the wrong paint colours, heavy gilding and false marbling. Now the subtler original hues are restored, the difference is striking. As EH's Head of Properties, Jeremy Ashbee, says: "The Iveagh Bequest said we were to create a generic feel of an 18th-century gentleman's home, so that is what we have done."
Adam's delicate plasterwork was painted in airy pale blues and pinks set off by white. His masterpiece is the Library, or Great Room, where Lord Mansfield worked, read and entertained.
There are sofas, mirrors, and gilded window seats upholstered in red brocade, one original, two copied. An 18th-century card table and chairs stand on a pretty 1780s needlework carpet.
The Great Room, or Library, was the masterpiece of architect Robert Adam in the 18th century
When you enter the house, its front now correctly painted a sanded mousy colour, under the great portico, the fire in the big hall is immediately welcoming, as is a new hand-knotted rug, 18th Romantic: delicate plasterwork was repainted in the original blue and white century in style, but fresh and springy. In Mansfield's day, the hall doubled as a dining room, with tables carried in and out as required.
You then pass the newly blue staircase, lit by a specially made lantern in the spirit of an Adam lantern at Osterley, into the Library anteroom. Either side of the door, in niches, stand Flora and a Muse. The original statues, bought in 1771, were lost, so these two beauties have been cast from sculptures owned by the Duke of Northumberland, at Syon. Nearby are two stone seats with leather tops, carved for Robert Adam by Sefferin Nelson in 1773. Sold in the 1922 contents sale, they were spotted by a dealer who had seen them in a Country Life photo from 1913. Now, incredibly, they have returned home.
Like a sleeping beauty coming to life again, Kenwood has many more such stories to share.
Get the look
Bespoke hand-knotted rugs: from Hill & Co (Hillcorugs.com)
Lanterns and chandeliers: from Wilkinson (Wilkinson-plc.com)
Paper and Paints: from paper-paints.co.uk; Classidur paints at traditional paints.co.uk
Christmas tip: the Kenwood House gift shop has an Adam plasterwork-design range including a leather Oystercard holder, £9.95, and stocks 18th centuryinspired liqueurs and boxed toys.
For more information on Kenwood House, visit english-heritage.org.uk.