Blackwell, Arts and Crafts House

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It’s been a busy week. On Wednesday we went up to Cumbria. In the morning we went to see the latest exhibition at the Abbot Hall Gallery and the, in the afternoon, drove the few miles over to Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house near to Bowness that’s also owned by the Lakelands Art Trust.

Built at the turn of the 20th Century as a holiday home for the Mancunian Brewery tycoon, Edward Holt,  on a hill overlooking Lake Windermere, its a superb example of a house built in the English Arts and Crafts Movement style. The architect was Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and, according to the Blackwell website

Blackwell offered him the opportunity to put his ideas on the use of space, light and texture into practice on a grand scale and, perhaps, to experiment in ways which might not have been possible had the property been intended as the client’s main home, rather than a holiday home.

The house is orientated east west with the main windows on the south side to capture the light, although the best views are to the west, towards Lake Windermere and the fells.

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I guess the holidaying occupants were not too interested in sitting staring at the views when they were inside the house. The priority seems to have been to get the light in. However, the opportunity to sit and admire the view is available in the Drawing room at the south end of the house. They could also enjoy the view while sitting on the terrace.

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The exterior of the house is not particularly exceptional. I guess the best description of it’s style is “vernacular” with it’s stuccoed walls and steep pitched roof. There is certainly no symmetry or deliberate, harmonious Palladian proportions. Baillie Scott’s primary concern seems to have been designing a house that worked – a case of “form following function” and this has determined the shape of the building and the size and positioning of windows which from outside appear to be placed almost at random.

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Although the exterior is relatively plain, but looking closely, the application of philosophy of the Art and Crafts Movement to create beautiful objects can be seen in the intricate decoration of the drainpipes.

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and the Gothic style front door

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The main priority of the design of the house was the interior, which has been exceptionally well restored by the Trust. They were lucky in that many of the original features have been preserved and the Trust have acquired furniture, objects and fine art consistent with Baillie Scott’s original designs and ideas about the layout so that the interior (downstairs at least) probably looks very much as the architect intended.

It wasn’t permitted to take photographs inside – although you can download some photographs from the Trust’s website here. But one Blogger, who’s an architect, has managed to get away with it and there are some good pictures and commentary here. He also visited and photographed another Arts and Crafts house, Broad Leys, designed by Charles Voysey which is nearby. It’s interesting to see how they compare.

The centrepiece of the house is the Medieval inspired great hall. Although the medieval and Elizabethan influence is clear to see – half timbered, it even has a small “minstrel’s gallery”- there are many “Art Nouveau” style features – the peacock frieze on the upper part of the wall at the end nearest the dining room, the copper lampshades, stained glass and the magnificent fireplace in it’s  “inglenook”. Inglenooks are recessed fireplaces almost forming a small room within a room. These must have been a speciality of Baillie Scott as these are exceptional features in all the main downstairs rooms. He incorporates windows and seating and they must have been very cosy places to sit and read or talk on a cold damp Lakeland day.

The design of the fireplace in the hall and in the dining room is a blend of modern and traditional. The surround is very modern with interlocking dark and light stones which slot together like pieces of a jigsaw, but he has used Delft style tiles to surround the grate.

The dining room has a very dark decor, which reminded me very much of those in Rennie Mackintosh’s reconstructed house at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and his “House for an Art Lover”. Besides the fireplace, the other outstanding feature was the hand printed hessian wall covering. It’s amazing that it is still in such wonderful condition after all these years.

My favourite room was the white drawing room at the west end of the house. This is a very “modern” rather than traditional room – very “Art Nouveau”. Light floods in and there is a magnificent view over Lake Windermere and the Coniston fells. There’s another beautiful recessed fireplace and I particularly liked the ceiling and the spindly columns with the decorated capitals, which all seemed to be different.

I found the following picture of the fireplace in the drawing room on Wikipedia.

File:Blackwell - White Room Fireplace - geograph.org.uk - 546780.jpg

Picture source: geograph.org.uk via Wikipedia (The copyright on this image is owned by Rob Farrow and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

I thought there were many similarities with Rennie Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover which we visited last year

and also his Hill House (now owned by the National Trust for Scotland)

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with the vernacular style exteriors and with a very similar approach to interior design.

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8 thoughts on “Blackwell, Arts and Crafts House

  1. I’ve said it before…you do get around!
    I love Blackwell, we went just after it had been restored and I think another visit is now in order.
    xxx

    • Hi Lyn
      Yes I have been getting around and about a bit lately. I took a few days off work and used them to visit a few places – the decorating can wait!

    • I’m sure quite a few visitors will think it inappropriate but I liked it. It added an element of interest to the house and I didn’t think that it spoiled it. It seemed to grow out of the building.

      Interestingly, although on photos taken from the terrace, and when viewed from there, it looks like one continuous object. Actually it was in 2 parts – one on the wall of the house and one in the garden. But they were positioned cleverly to create the illusion that they were one piece.

      I saw something similar a couple of years ago at Tatton Hall during the last biennial where an artist, Kate MccGwire, had created an organic work (from feathers in her case) that “flowed” out of the stove in the kitchen.

  2. As per comment above I went soon after restoration and haven’t managed to go again. Bailiie Scott is one of my favourite architects. You are right in comparing it with Hill House, another favourite!

    • Unfortunately I’ve never been to Hill House, but I’ve seen plenty of pictures in books and on web. It’s on my list of places to visit.

      I have been to the “House for an Art Lover” though and thought there were a lot of similarities between the dark dining room and white drawing rooms in both houses

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