Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance

By Carl Dellatore

Mention English Neoclassical architecture and decoration in a room of serious design aficionados, and several names dominate the conversation: James Wyatt, John Soane, James Stuart and John Nash among them. But it is Robert Adam (son of William Adam, another of the period’s most revered) who is often noted both for his superlative ornamentation and for his voluminous record of published designs and drawings.

Adding to that record is Jeremy Musson’s new volume Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance, due to be released by Rizzoli New York on March 21st. I received an advance copy earlier this week….

Kedleston Hall, designed by Adam and completed circa 1760

Musson, who served as architectural editor at Country Life from 1998 to 2007 and cowriter and presenter of the BBC television series The Curious House Guest, is the author of many books, including The Drawing Room and English Country House InteriorsHis insightful text is paired with spectacular new photographs of some of Adam’s most important surviving homes by the late Paul Barker.

In remarkable detail, the book examines magnificent country houses, including Syon House and Harewood House, that were styled and inspired by the ideal of the Neoclassical; as well as Adam’s castle-style Mellerstain, and town houses such as Home House. In addition, Musson provides a rich account of Adam’s life and work, describing his unique design process, his patrons, and the legacy of his design achievement.

Kedleston’s magnificent drawing room hung with blue silk damask
The Hall at Kedleston, which was described as “The Greek Hall’ in early guides

I reached out to Thomas Jayne, one of America’s foremost authorities on architecture and decoration, for his insight into Adam’s work. Here is what he shared with me:

“Robert Adam epitomizes the importance of documenting and promoting one’s work. He made himself a landmark in architectural history both by his skill as an architect and by his publications. Whoever is a great lover of ornament must love Adam. His record of ancient ornament, his creation of ornament in the classical tradition, and his wherewithal to publish it, makes him one of the pinnacles of architecture and decoration.

“I remain enthusiastic about Adam’s fresh take on ancient ornament and how he made some of the world’s best traditional designs. I especially appreciate that he made his creations even fresher with his rich Georgian palette.”

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The Little Drawing Room at Audley End, with interiors by Adam, circa 1761. The surrounding landscapes were designed by Capability Brown

Indeed, this sumptuous color palette comes alive within this book, whose stately square format, extravagant cover and endpapers, and beautifully designed pages make it a joy to experience and a welcome addition to any well informed architectural design and decoration library.

The “Palladian” Tea-House at Audley End, designed by Adam around 1780

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