Monday, 28 October 2013

Georgian Group Architectural Awards / Shortlist / Restoration of a Georgian Interior

This year we bring interior decoration out of the shadows, recognising it as a specific discipline and its practitioners as highly skilled and creative contributors to restoration projects. Too often perhaps we are seduced by outward transformation, but even where historic buildings remain unchanged externally magic can be wrought internally, sometimes to Georgian interiors within older buildings and sometimes within tight physical limits: a single room, perhaps, or a single ceiling. 

Our first scheme is exactly that, the reinstatement of a lost Georgian ceiling for the seventeenth century double cube Great Dining Room at Great Fulford, near Exeter. The creation of this perfectly proportioned room within the Tudor walls entailed cutting through tie beams and retaining walls, with the result that the ceiling collapsed in the nineteenth century. The room was then abandoned until the mid twentieth century, when a temporary ceiling of workaday acoustic tiles was installed to make the room habitable. That in turn has now been replaced by a plaster ceiling to an approximation of the original design: without documentary evidence, imaginative interpretation was needed. This has been amply shown by Geoffrey Preston, who has rejected timid inoffensiveness in favour of creating something vigorous and of lasting interest. In his skilled hands, it works beautifully, at a stroke allowing a fine room to recover its sense of hierarchy, proportion and meaning – all reinforced by the parallel reinstatement of the 1700 picture hang and the ex-situ restoration of the Ashburnham marble fireplace. It is a powerful statement of confidence in the future of the house, which is now firmly on an upward trajectory.   

Secondly we have the triumphant reinstatement of the Benjamin Dean Wyatt interiors at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, opened in 1662 but substantially Regency as we see it today. The civilised, tasteful opulence of Wyatt’s decorative scheme had been more or less wholly lost beneath successive redecorations and alterations, so that the interiors had lost their coherence and become a riot of the usual monotonous red plush. Under Lord Lloyd Webber’s direction that has all been spectacularly reversed: the front of house spaces now form a superbly uplifting and legible sequence, redolent of Regency refinement. The Grand Saloon has been transformed from a cloying and clogged space, truncated at one end and dimmed by a blocked-in window, to an ethereal wonder where the architectural elements read properly. The King’s and Prince’s Staircases have recovered their splendour and the Rotunda, newly enriched with a copy of Canova’s Three Graces, is breathtaking under its coved dome. After years of nicotine-stained and gin-soaked dowdiness, the Theatre Royal has recovered its status as one of the finest public interiors in London. 

The awards will be presented by The Marquess of Salisbury on the evening on 29 October 2013.

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