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The amazing renovation of the State Rooms at Kedleston Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 July 2017

The Drawing Room, showing the painting 'Orlando delivering Olympia from the Sea-monster' attributed to Lodovico Carracci, over the fireplace. This room was planned by the architect James Paine before he was superseded by Robert Adam. It was one of the first rooms to be completed in the restoration project.This view shows the Waterford crystal chandelier and the Exeter carpet Photo: National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Drawing Room, showing the painting 'Orlando delivering Olympia from the Sea-monster' attributed to Lodovico Carracci, over the fireplace. This room was planned by the architect James Paine before he was superseded by Robert Adam. It was one of the first rooms to be completed in the restoration project.This view shows the Waterford crystal chandelier and the Exeter carpet Photo: National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Jane Travis reports on the recently completed spectacular restoration of the eleven state rooms at the heart of Kedleston Hall

Kedleston is one of the grandest and most perfectly finished houses designed by Robert Adams  Photo: National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra Kedleston is one of the grandest and most perfectly finished houses designed by Robert Adams Photo: National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The impressive hall at Kedleston was built as a ‘show palace’ – an absolute example of an 18th century ‘statement’ property that was designed to impress and entertain guests of the Curzon family.

At the heart of the hall are the eleven rooms of the state floor. They were the creation pre-eminent architect of the age, Robert Adam. These rooms reflected the flourishing fortunes of the family, displaying the latest taste in architecture and interior design of the time – Neoclassicism.

In fact, Kedleston Hall – which is tucked away in idyllic parkland despite being less than three miles from Derby’s bustling city centre – houses one of the finest neoclassical interiors in Britain. Many visitors to Kedleston list the impressive Marble Hall, which is a superb example of this popular 18th century style of architecture, as a highlight of their visit. Yet as the hall re-opened for the season this year, the other ten rooms comprising the state apartments were guaranteed to impress visitors in equal measure, for in early spring a 30-year restoration project by the National Trust reached its conclusion. Now this special floor at the heart of the hall can once again be seen in all the spectacular opulence that visitors would have experienced when Kedleston was newly designed and open for entertainment.

Work has been on-going in the different rooms during the closed season ever since the National Trust acquired the hall in the mid-1980s. Many objects have been taken away to be tended to in the workshops of skilled craftsmen and women across the country over the years, but it was the return of the lavishly decorated 18th century State Bed this spring that signalled the final stage of the project. The bed is once again the magnificent centrepiece of the State Bedroom and literally dazzles visitors as they enter the room.

View from the Music Room doorway into the Drawing Room. This room was planned by the architect James Paine before he was superseded by Robert Adam. It was one of the first rooms completed – the walls are hung with a cotton silk mix made early in the restoration project Photo: National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie View from the Music Room doorway into the Drawing Room. This room was planned by the architect James Paine before he was superseded by Robert Adam. It was one of the first rooms completed – the walls are hung with a cotton silk mix made early in the restoration project Photo: National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Annabel Westman is the conservator behind much of the work on the bed. Due to the lack of written documentation, she had to complete all her research into the original design of the textile hangings from surviving archaeological evidence and by referring to other contemporary beds.

‘The main challenges were the original arrangement of curtains and the design of the counterpane,’ Annabel explains. ‘Only a pair of head curtains survived but it was clear from the archaeological evidence that there was once a drapery curtain at the head of the bed as well as draw curtains that pulled completely around the bed. The counterpane was a challenge as the original shape did not survive and the evidence of the design layout of the bobbin lace design was not clear.’

Satisfied with the finished result, Annabel feels that the completed design is ‘as close as possible to the original effect as could be achieved with the surviving evidence.

‘It is once again a stunning focal point to the state apartment, which would have been the original intention,’ she concludes.

Described as the ‘crescendo of furniture in the house’, the bed functioned to impress any 18th century guests of the Curzon family who visited during the summer when the state floor would have been thrown open for evening entertainments. Even the braid and lace adorning the bed was made of gold – the ultimate statement of luxury – and creating it took hours of dedicated skill. The lace decorating the newly-restored bed took over 11,000 hours to make, taking over 19 months of dedicated work to complete.

Over the course of the restoration project, numerous local and national highly-skilled craftspeople have focused on key areas of the state floor. Walking from room to room in the state apartment today, it is difficult to comprehend the thousands of hours that have been spent in returning them to their 18th century finery. The walls of many of the rooms have been repainted using historically accurate colours, which were identified from archive material and by using modern technology, such as X-rays to analyse paint samples. Fabric wall hangings have been meticulously recreated – the National Trust quotes using over 1,500 metres of bespoke silk damask on the walls in the state apartment alone from designs identified from surviving scraps of the original fabric.

Less glamorous but equally important, has been the structural work carried out over the past 30 years by a dedicated workforce. This has included repairing old floorboards, doors and windows and carrying out major mechanical work – such as overhauling the cantilevered staircases in this section of the hall.

As conservation manager at Kedleston Hall, Simon McCormack knows just about all there is to know on the work of the renovation project. He has been involved in the restoration work for the past 18 years and his delight in the finished look of the rooms is clear. Kedleston can once again be seen in its original, intended glory.

Simon comments: ‘From the time it was built, country house tourists would flock to Kedleston to marvel at its interiors. This project has brought Kedleston back to life and our visitors will now be able to enjoy this unique space just as they would have done in the 18th century.’

Moving through the rooms today, you really feel as if you are experiencing this special floor in all its showiness just as guests would have done over 300 years ago. Many of the rooms are bright, bold and flamboyant, exactly what the Curzon family aspired to achieve with their original commission.

As you step into the Drawing Room the brilliance of the yellow-gold gilt adorning the settees is almost overwhelming. Now set against the historically-accurate piercing blue silk damask, you can appreciate the striking contrast of blue against gold which was a deliberate, confident statement of the family’s affluence and their appreciation of the era’s latest style in interior furnishings.

The Library was purpose-built; a bespoke design by Robert Adam to house the Curzon family’s extensive collection of books, which included many on architecture. Kedleston today houses one of the National Trust’s best collections of antiquarian books.

Then follows the richness of the State Bedroom with its magnificent bed of silk damask and gold lace, displaying symbols of kingship. This is now, as Simon McCormack states, ‘the jewel in the crown of Kedleston Hall’s furniture’.

Even frequent visitors over the years will be well rewarded by a return visit to Kedleston Hall. Eight rooms can now be seen as they were originally intended, and you could happily spend hours taking in the architectural precision of the 18th century master craftsmen who created them and the accomplished 21st century specialists who have recreated their work so spectacularly.

Kedleston’s state floor rooms and their furnishings may seem ostentatious, an extravagance reserved for the likes of royal palaces; yet this was the exact purpose of their original creation. Being able to experience the state floor today in all its 18th century glory is a rare and special privilege.

For further information and visiting times see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kedleston-hall or call 01332 842191.

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