Thursday, December 29, 2011

A look back at Dumfries

Dumfries House, built between 1754 and 1759, is located in Ayershire, Scotland.

Despite having studied in Scotland and done research at Hopetoun House, Dumfries House managed to stay off my radar. I didn't learn about the house until we featured it during my tenure at Architectural Digest. The house was essentially saved by the Prince of Wales, whose foundation stepped in at the last minute to stop the auction of the house's contents. The trucks were en route to Christie's in London when the sale was cancelled, making for quite a dramatic story!

Since the house opened to the public in the summer of 2008, significant restorations have been completed, both structural and decorative. I thought it'd be fun to look at some images and read about the highlights.

The wall decoration in the Pewter Corridor, part of Robert Weir Schultz’s late 19th century extension to Dumfries House had been almost completely painted out in the 1960s. The Conservation Studio from Edinburgh has uncovered the original vibrant polychromatic Adam revival wall decoration in a section of this corridor. Nevins of Edinburgh have replicated the wall decoration it the remaining corridor.

Chippendale Bookcase: The magnificent padouk bookcase in the drawing room is generally recognised as the greatest achievement in Chippendale’s early career. Like many pieces in the collection, this too, had seen some crude repair work and modern, somewhat inappropriate surface treatment in the past. The furniture restorer James Hardie from Edinburgh has spent weeks conserving this complex piece in a circumspect and sensitive manner. Missing parts of sculpted and gilded limewood have been recreated; 20th century surface polish gently removed and areas of greatest instability have been appropriately strengthened. In the process, a full understanding of the constructional and material details of one of the world’s most amazing works of fine furniture has been gained and contributed to our appreciation of Chippendale’s unrivalled position amongst furniture makers-designers on the world stage.

18th century Axminster carpet: This carpet, which is one of the earliest documented carpets to have been made by Thomas Whitty in Axminster, has now been restored by Heather Tetley from the Tetley Workshop in Devon. It has been wet-cleaned, partly in-filled, stabilised and put on a linen backing. The carpet’s vibrant rococo design and colour have been reawakened and skilfully complemented by a newly made protective runner (Eyemats, Chatham, Kent). An innovative method, this runner digitally simulates the historic pattern beneath in order to create a visual continuity for the whole interior. By focusing on the carpet project attention has also been drawn to a surviving letter in the archive which hints at the possibility of John Adam having been involved with the carpet design.

The Chippendale sofas and elbow chairs, all of which had seen previous 19th and 20th century refurbishments, haven now been sensitively restored by Peter Holmes of Arlington Conservation. The silk damask covers have been applied by Barry Ansell of R D Robin Upholsterers. The Blue Drawing Room, as it was historically known, once again, sings out to the visitor with its rich colours and texture. The fabric for the handmade (by curtain maker Janette Read) 18th century style silk damask curtain complete with wooden pulley wheels (made from box wood by James Hardie of Edinburgh) as all the other newly made silks in the house have been commissioned from Humphries Weaving in Suffolk. The ‘Dumfries House pattern’ has been woven on looms of 21 inches width and is based on a piece of 18th century fabric, which had survived on one of Alexander Peter’s Scottish made chairs at Dumfries House.

The Chippendale Bed: This majestic four poster bed by Thomas Chippendale, the best of all the beds at Dumfries House, has now been restored to its full 18th century splendour. The bed, which had undergone a dramatic refurbishment in the 19th century, is once again shown as Chippendale first supplied it, complete with a silk fabric covered cornice, ornate bolt covers and layered mattresses containing historically correct stuffings of horsehair, wool and feathers. This bed is the only bed design from Chippendale’s Director which is known to have been realised and to have survived.

For more information on how you can help support the house's continued preservation efforts, click here.


  1. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

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  2. Thank you so much for the kind words! Am glad you're enjoying the blog. It's been a busy summer, so I've not been able to post much, but I'm looking forward to this fall -- lots of fun things on the books. Thanks again for getting in touch. I really appreciate it.