Saturday, April 14, 2012

One of the Great Homes: Eaton Neston

From Architectural Digest:

Visitors to Leon Max’s country house in Northamptonshire, England, might be forgiven for thinking that George I still rules the sceptered isle. Gilt-wood consoles in the manner of William Kent gleam in a dining room. A majestic canvas from the school of Sir Peter Paul Rubens depicting a mythological boar hunt graces a salon swathed in silk damask. Marble busts representing the seasons populate a gallery where a vast arched window frames an ornamental canal glittering in the verdant distance.

“The English countryside is one of the most agreeable places in which to put down roots,” says Max, a Russian-born, California-based fashion entrepreneur who launched the popular women’s-wear label Max Studio in 1979 and opened its first London boutique last November. “Guys on Wall Street are killing themselves to have a place in the Hamptons,” he continues with a smile, “but this is a much better idea.”

This is Easton Neston, the 1702 masterpiece by Nicholas Hawksmoor, an ingeniously inventive architect who also had a hand in Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. From its stone lions marching along the roofline to its wildly attenuated windows, the ashlar building represents the domestic high point of the English Baroque, a flamboyant style that flowered briefly before Palladian stateliness became all the rage.

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner called it “perhaps the finest house of its date” in the nation, adding that the edifice, commissioned by Sir William Fermor, first Baron Lempster, “combines grandeur with urbanity to a degree rare in England and perhaps only matched at Chatsworth,” the 297-room seat of the dukes of Devonshire. Easton Neston, however, works its magic on a much smaller scale. Though the 36-room dwelling, about an hour northwest of London, appears to be only two stories high, it is laced with mezzanines that provide four levels of living space, totaling about 32,000 square feet.

Despite the gilded Fermor motto carved above its main entrance—Hora e Sempre, Latin for “Now and Always”—Easton Neston was imperiled by the time Max arrived on the scene in 2005. That year, financial pressures forced the third Baron Hesketh, a Fermor descendant, to unload generations of Georgian family portraits, Gobelins tapestries, and more at Sotheby’s. (The sale brought $16 million.) He also put the house and 600 surrounding acres on the market, declaring that the annual upkeep, which amounted to about $3 million, was too steep to bear....MUCH MORE, including slideshow
Also at AD: "The Real Downton Abbey"