A new old design for Avebury

A mock-up of the design for the Antechamber at Avebury (bottom), the stencil (left) and the chalked-up wall (right). ©NTPL/James Dobson

As part of the ‘Manor Reborn’ project at Avebury Manor on of the rooms was recently redecorated with a facsimile of an early English chinoiserie wallpaper.

The look of the design during the process of painting. ©NTPL/James Dobson

The original, dating to around 1700, came from Ord House in Northumberland and is now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The outlines of the design were printed, with the colours added with the use of stencils and the black background painted in by hand. The paper was then varnished, probably to make it look more like East Asian silk or lacquer.

©NTPL/James Dobson

 For the Antechamber at Avebury painter Mark Sands created a version of this design, but here applied directly onto the wall. Mark used stencils to lay out the pattern, which he then painted in by hand, taking care to recreate the slightly naive look of the original.

A detail from the design: a Chinese lady miraculously perched among flowering and fruiting branches. ©NTPL/James Dobson

In the playful spirit of the project, Mark added local wildlife to the scheme, including wild pansies, red admiral and peacock butterflies, great crested newts (whose appearance in the Avebury garden caused a delay to the project, as they are protected) and even a fox.

The scheme nearing completion. ©NTPL/James Dobson

The Avebury project has generated an interesting debate about how far an organisation like the National Trust should go in recreating history with a degree of freedom rather than rigorously sticking to the available historical evidence.

A 'Chinese' parrot, with a 'Chinese' squirrel lurking nearby. ©NTPL/James Dobson

Avebury was chosen for this project as it doesn’t have much in the way of original contents, and there are certainly no plans to give our other, more fully furnished historic houses such a radical make-over. But if you have an opinion about this kind of approach then do leave a comment.

17 Responses to “A new old design for Avebury”

  1. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    I think the effort & the results are remarkable and beautiful… taking freedom in the recreation to me is simply adding a stamp of the present for what will become to new generations a mark of time.

  2. little augury Says:

    So brilliantly talented, to be so! I must say-though thoroughly historically Incorrect I Love the 3rd image down, a more stylized version-this reflects my tendency to living things a little unfinished. pgt

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    HRH, yes our work is at the mercy of our successors 🙂

    Gaye, thank you – your are presumably a ‘wabi’ person rather than a ‘bling’ person 🙂

  4. deana Says:

    I love what they did with the paint… so impressive. Thanks to your wonderful posts, I bought the book… just arrived last week. My biggest disappointment was that there often weren’t completely pictures of the whole room but on the whole it was a fun read. I’ve been itching to re-create the black paper in one of the Harry Potter films… this is definitely inspiring!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Deana, thank you. I agree it would have been nice to have more detailed shots of the finished interiors in the book. I think that one of the issues they had was that the book had to be finalised at the same time as the interiors were being finalised (and filmed) 🙂

  6. style court Says:

    Rigorous authenticity vs. poetic license debate aside, I think this is exquisite. The treatment of the black is just stunning and, like Gaye, I appreciate the unfinished version very much (wabi again!). I even love the ‘chalk-up.’

  7. style court Says:

    Meant to add kudos Mark Sands!!

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, thanks very much. Your comments and those of the others show the importance of the immediate visual impact of the way a room is presented, regardless of how ‘authentic’ it is.

  9. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    What a great posting! I appreciate seeing the work in progress, which gives a good idea of production stages of the original wallpaper. The brushwork of Mark Sands is handsome. too.

    It sounds as though the liberties that have been taken to use some artistic freedom at Avebury are still well within the bounds of historical correctness. I’d guess that the original owners would be delighted, too.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Mark, glad you like it. Yes it is always fascinating to see the artists and conservators at work, isn’t it?

    As you say the work done at Avebury has historical precedents, but those precedents do not necessarily relate to Avebury 🙂 There is a photograph of the 1930s, for instance, showing a Chinese wallpaper with people in a landscape in place in the Antechamber , not an English chinoiserie one with vines/trees.

    So although the scheme as executed is the kind of thing that might have been at Avebury, there is no evidence that it actually was there. It was a deliberate decision to allow the project designer, Russell Sage, to go further in creating a ‘might have been’ scenario than National Trust curators and conservators would normally do.

  11. KDM Says:

    Contemporary taste for color schemes, for level of interior density, for (perceived) expectations of visitors, for accepted light levels, along with an ever changing idea of the past and the exciting new discoveries of on-going research mean all recreated historic interiors, even the most rigorously researched and archeologically correct restoration reflects the era in which the restoration occurred – at least here we are being playful and intentional with it. Brilliant. But of course you already know my John Fowler tendencies. Another example of this aesthetic/historic debate is the change to the Great Hall at Syon House . . .

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes Keith you are right to remind us that all historic interiors are ‘conceits’ (although some are perhaps more conceited than others :)). You must have similar issues and ‘head-scratchers’ at Ten Chimneys. And yes in some ways the venerable John Fowler was just as adventurous at certain National Trust properties as Russell Sage has been here.

  13. Lynne Rutter Says:

    it’s just beautiful. what a great mural and what a great room it makes.

  14. Susan Ashman Says:

    As a Historical Interior Designer I recently had the pleasure of working alongside the owners of Brympton House in Brympton d’Evercy, Somerset. Another hidden treasure bereft of love and attention for many years. I worked with many of the companies mentioned in your series including the amazing achive
    fabric weavers Gainsborough Silk in Suffolk. Russell Sage’s name came up many times, little did we know we would have the delight of sharing his recent project.
    Well done Russell and The National Trust for being so daring at last!
    Susan Ashman Owner of Renaissance Bespoke.

  15. Herts Man Says:

    Watched the programmes on I player, apart a few howlers like that Smoking Room carpet -have you looked at Marion Dorn ?- and the crimson and gold marbling, very 1980s, very Jocasta Innes, the house looks much better. It will be perfect introduction to the NT for children, can’t wait to take my 9 year old !

    Did you find out any thing about the William Nicholson murals at Dyram Park, are they on show?

  16. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Lynne, thank you.

    Susan, how interesting that you did a similar project at Brympton d’Evercy and also used Gainsborough Silk. I suppose both projects are also similar in that both houses are now ‘immersive environemtns’.

    Herts Man, glad you liked it, howlers and all 🙂 Sorry I haven’t got back to you about the Nicholson murals, will try to check tomorrow.

  17. Ana Maria Garrett de Vasconcelos Says:


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