Miers, Mary. The English Country House, from the Archives of Country Life.

NY: Rizzoli, 2009.

Country Life magazine was founded in 1897 and in every issue since then it has featured, in glorious photographic detail, one or another of England’s rural homes. Moreover, the editors have concentrated not on “greatly stately piles and ducal palaces,” as Miers calls them, but on actual residences still inhabited by actual families — often the descendants of the original folks who built them many centuries ago.

This weighty and oversized volume includes more than sixty homes covered in the magazine over the years, arranged in roughly chronological order of foundation. Thus, the first is Stokesay Castle, in Shropshire, established in the late 13th century, though there have been at least four major additions and revisions since then. It’s now owned by English Heritage, actually, though it only left private hands for the first time in 1992. The last, and newest, home in the book is Corfe Farm, Dorset, an entirely 21st-century construction, though it was built on the foundations of an earlier house and its comfortable style recalls the late 19th-century English manor house revival of Sir Edwin Luytens. In between these two are an astonishing collection of intriguing buildings and estates, ranging geographically from Great Dixter, near Hastings, and Trerice, not that far from Land’s End, to Barsham Manor, on the northern coast of Norfolk, and Blackwell, outside of Carlisle. The illustrations, a large proportion of them full-page, are nearly all in color and include outside views of entrances and gatehouses, indoor studies of state rooms and family parlors, and details of hangings, wallpaper, and carved chimney-pieces. The author’s accompanying text points out where later restorations and replications have been inserted — usually quite invisibly, to the credit of the owners — and notes the sad losses due to demolition or merely thoughtless rebuilding. (She doesn’t have much good to say, for instance, about J. Paul Getty’s depredations at Sutton Place, in Surrey, the original design of which was modeled on Hampton Court.) The volume opens with an extended survey of the architectural fashions which were reflected in country houses from the medieval period on, and the designers and schools of thought responsible for them, and closes with a very useful (though much too short) glossary of technical terms. If your interest is in architecture or interior design, this is a volume you will want to return to repeatedly.


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