A style to suit the time of day

Reclining mermaid on one of a set of four sofas supplied by John Linnell to Kedleston Hall in 1765. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Looking at images of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, I was struck by the differences between two pieces of furniture, both made by the same cabinetmaker.

One of the sofas in its Drawing Room setting. The blue damask is meant to reinforce the maritime theme. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The magnificent sofas in the Drawing Room featuring supine mermaids and sea gods were made by John Linnell in 1765 to suit the maritime theme of the room.

Design by John Linnell for a state coach, c. 1760. ©National Trust/Richard Holttum

Linnell was working to a design by Robert Adam, but also incorporated elements of his own designs for King George III’s coronation coach.

Chinoiserie porcelain cabinet by John Linnell, in the Wardrobe at Kedleston. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Linnell also supplied a chinoiserie porcelain cabinet for Kedleston, using the ‘pagoda’ roof motif that he also deployed in the famous Badminton bed, now in the V&A.

The chinoiserie bed made for Badminton House, Gloucestershire, probably by John and William Linnell in about 1754. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

These very different pieces show how cabinetmakers like Linnell were able to switch styles with ease when required.

'Are we feeling maritime or Chinese, my dear?' The 1st Lord and Lady Scarsdale as portrayed by Nathaniel Hone. ©NTPL/John Hammond

It also tells us something about the different social associations of the classical/rococo style and the chinoiserie style: whereas the former was always chosen for the most formal and grand spaces of a house, the latter would appear in the more informal, intimate rooms.

13 Responses to “A style to suit the time of day”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    Hey! I remember that blue damask. In real life it is the most beautiful duck egg colour – with a hint of green that the photos don’t capture. I was lucky enough to get some off cuts when the Trust had it woven to restore that suite of rooms – I’ve probably still got some somewhere. I forget who wove it, which is annoying.

  2. style court Says:


    Looking at the stunning Badminton bed as the V & A has installed/photographed it here, with the lighter, simpler undecorated bed hangings, I’m struck by similarities to a bed used in a fairly recent L.A. designer showhouse (also, a while back, Michael Smith did a bed directly inspired by Linnell’s design). Anyway, is the plain fabric used here mainly because the original chintz hangings didn’t survive or to play up the architecture of the bed? Like using muslin on a chair? I think I read that later in the 19th century it was hung with heavier, more ornate fabric.

  3. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    What a great post dahhling! simply loved the chinoiserie cabinet!

  4. Simply Grand Says:

    Compared to the flounces of billowing yellow silk that this bed once wore, its current hangings look almost like simple cotton underclothes, but Edwin Foley’s “The Book of Decortive Furniture: Its Form, Colour & History” of 1911 took the disrobing even further, showing the bed au naturel, with only the skimpiest of coverings to hide its charms. Beauty like this doesn’t need to be gussied up.

  5. Margaret McAvoy Says:

    Dear Emile:
    I can practically hear the rustle of Lady Scarsdale’s silk dress! That deep mustard color reminds me of all the hues of fallen leaves in the Autumn.
    The grandeur of those Linnell sofas is hard to get past: they must be spectacular in person! When I had read a bit about them, I learned that they were of an original set of four. Do you know the fate of the remaining two?
    And I wondered if you and/or your readers might help me to understand something to which you allude, somewhat, here, of which I’ve not yet looked into. The way I understood it to be, at a certain point in history, the more formal pieces would have been used in the bedrooms, as this was where company would be received. Yet, it seems that social propriety at that time would have dictated otherwise, and that it would have entirely contradicted entertaining friends in so intimate a room. And now, even when propriety is seemingly the last thing on the mind of popular culture, people would likely not invite their friends to tea in the bedroom. Again, I really want (and need!) to read up on this, as I was just watching the Sotheby’s Introduction to Antiques (will never tire of looking at those pieces!) and pondered the “why” again, when she was discussing company in the bedroom. Goodness, sorry for the long post, and many thanks!

    With kind regards:

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, I think the reason why the hangings are plain is that they are not sure what the original hangings were. Their shape was copied from contemporary furniture pattern books. Personally I wish the V&A curators would have gone further in guessing what the original fabric might have been. One can understand their concern not to falsify history, but ironically these supposedly ‘neutral’ hangings give the bed an almost Art Deco, Syrie Maugham look.

    HRH, thank you.

    Simply Grand, that photograph you link to is fascinating – it shows that the way we see the past is always evolving, doesn’t it? It is also interesting that at that point they thought the posts were supposed to be black and gold rather than the red and gold they have been restored back to now.

    Margaret, altough they are not shown here, the other three sofas from the set of four are all in the Drawing Room at Kedleston.

    Your question about the use of bedrooms as what we would now call a ‘sitting room’ is very interesting. Mark Girouard’s book ‘Life in the English Country House’ is an excellent source of information on the changing significance and use of rooms in English houses. One factor is that in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century houses it was not the bedroom, but the ‘closet’ or ‘cabinet’ that was the most personal and intimate room of the house. The bedroom was sightly more formal and public, and so was an appropriate space to receive certain friends and acquaintances in at certain times of the day. And then bedrooms gradually became more private and drawing rooms correspondingly more intimate, and their decoration changed with it. But it is a quite complicated subject, so I would recommend reading Girouard’s book, which is very entertaining as well as informative 🙂

  7. Margaret McAvoy Says:

    Dear Emile & Company 🙂
    Many thanks for suggesting Girouard’s book, as well as the recommendation of Simply Grand for Foley’s book: I’ve requested both through the library and they should be good reading! I think that I (mistakenly) assumed that the bed dressings on the chinoiserie bed were an interim measure, as it seemed to be missing a fabric panel, and the plywood platform beneath and the protective paper on the floor led me to believe that the space was in transition. So is the bed always covered this way?? Again, many thanks for your expertise!

    With kind regards:

    PS: Did you present your lecture yet? If not, best of luck, and if so, then I hope that all went well!

  8. style court Says:

    Emile, I see what you mean about the Maugham vibe 🙂

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Margaret, yes the V&A image seems to have been taken when the display was still being finalised and the final floor covering still needed to go in. But the white hangings and bedclothes are still there today, an they are an example of a certain curatorial approach whereby it is thought to be wrong to add anything that there isn’t historical proof for. So because they didn’t know what fabric and pattern the original hangings and bedclothes were in they left them in this ‘abstract’ white.

    I seem to remember that the cabinet next to the bed is also from Badminton House, but the wallpaper samples and the overmantel mirror came from elsewhere. The wooden planking underneath is a recreation of an eighteenth-century wooden country house floor.

    So the display as a whole is a mixture of a traditional didactic museum display where disparate objects are shown together and linked by an art-historical narrative provided throught text panels, and an ‘atmospheric’ recreation of what a particular room may actually have looked and felt like (i.e. the way many National Trust houses are displayed).

    I think these displays are very beautiful and instructive, but, as I said to Courtney above, I think it also demonstrates how it is almost impossible to create a ‘neutral’ display: even a neutral, intellectually honest look is, in effect, a look, and as such is an artifical construct.

    Interestingly, David Mlinaric, the expert on historical decoration who has worked at a number of National Trust houses (as well as having a distinguished career as an interior designer) advised on these galleries at the V&A – I think his hand can be discerned in the subtle backround grey colour, as well as possibly in the recreated country house floor. The V&A displays feature in the fascinating career-spanning book ‘David Mlinaric On Decorating’ (http://amzn.to/ApgrXw).

    So this display says ‘Linnell’ and ‘mid-eighteenth-century English bedroom decoration’ and ‘chinoiserie’, but it also says ‘V&A c. 2000’ and ‘David Mlinaric’ – and perhaps even ‘Syrie Maugham’ 🙂

  10. Margaret McAvoy Says:

    “…says ‘Linnell’ and ‘mid-eighteenth-century English bedroom decoration’ and ‘chinoiserie’, but it also says ‘V & A c. 2000’ and ‘David Mlinaric’ – and perhaps even ‘Syrie Maugham’ “…this would take a rather sizable gallery plaque, no? 😉 I don’t disagree with the traditional-museum-display concept, I just think that my perception of the photo makes it seem more disjointed than I suspect that it is in person. And truthfully, the bed could be dressed in potato sacks and still be stunning! Many thanks for such good info!

    With kind regards:

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Margaret, it shows the difficulty of capturing all the ‘discourses’ around objects on museum labels, doesn’t it? But I think it also shows the potential of blogs to tease out some of those meanings, through conversations such as this one 🙂

    The Badminton bed dressed in potato sacks… very ‘shabby chic’ 🙂

  12. Margaret McAvoy Says:

    Say it isn’t so!!! Did you actually just use the words “shabby chic” on a National Trust blog?? Do you hear the collective groan from your readers? 🙂

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Oh dear, have I been caught out? 🙂 Is shabby chic irredeemably out of date now? I have seen the term ‘rough luxe’ mentioned here and there – is that the new shabby chic? Do enlighten me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: