If you think of the Edwardian era merely as the nine-year bridge between Victoria’s death and the Great War, think again. Peace and prosperity during Edward VII’s brief reign fostered “a richly creative era of British domestic architecture” that lasted until the onset of World War II, explains cultural and architectural historian Clive Aslet. In his book The Edwardian Country House, antique photos and original blueprints illustrate the English estate’s odyssey from economic powerhouse to bankrupt icon, from Victorian embellishment to Arts and Crafts ease.
The Smart Set and the Romantics
From 1890 to the mid-1930s, British architects built two kinds of Edwardian country houses for two kinds of homeowners, which Clive Aslet has dubbed “the Smart Set and the Romantics.” Here’s how you can tell these homes apart:
The Smart Country House
The homeowners: Whether among the lingering aristocracy or the nouveau riche, these homeowners clung to the “rather old-fashioned attitude to land ownership as a means to social advance,” Aslet writes. Just a short train ride from London, “the purpose of the smart country house was principally social,” he writes, “and the pace was set by the hosts and hostesses vying to entertain the Prince of Wales (Edward VII).”
See for yourself: The most famous country-house architects of the day, Ernest George and Harold Peto, transformed William Dodge James’ West Dean Park, Sussex, from an 1804 James Wyatt Georgian mansion into an opulent collection of state rooms with a 300-foot pergola. Now the home of a conservation conservatory and fine arts college, West Dean Park’s garden and fine Victorian glasshouse is open to visitors.
Get the look: These homes included winter gardens, grand marble ballrooms and (depending on the decade) Art Nouveau or Art Deco décor that boasted the latest “scientific wizardry” and London trends.
The Romantic Country House
The homeowners: Both the “aristocratic intellectual elite” and London’s street-savvy bankers, factory owners and railroad tycoons aspired to the simplicity of the country house. Such Romantics chose to live in rural areas and wanted to preserve the crafts and customs of what they saw as a disappearing social order, Aslet explains.
See for yourself: Built by Oswald Milne in 1914 with a gray brick façade adorned with red trim, Merrow Mount received a modest renovation in 1933 for motorcar mogul William Morris. Renamed “Nuffield Place,” the house remains almost untouched to this day.
Get the look: From working Arts and Crafts farmhouses to fanciful Tudor-inspired castles, these homes had orderly floor plans, oak or walnut furniture and wide-open windows, often incorporating beadwork or screens to hide modern conveniences, like cast-iron radiators. As Neville Lytton wrote in 1925, the Romantic Country House was tailor-made “for the comfort of those who live most of the day out of doors in the muddy fields.”
by Elaine K. Phillips