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Inside an 18th-century grand English country house

Wolterton Park, a grand Georgian house in Norfolk built for Horatio Walpole in the 18th century, had been uninhabited for almost 30 years when its new owners, Keith Day and Peter Sheppard, took it on in 2016. The couple has been steadily restoring and redecorating it ever since, bringing the state rooms back to their original glory and creating beautiful, practical living spaces on the other floors. In 2022 their work on the house was recognised when they won The Georgian Group’s Architectural Award for the Restoration of a Georgian Country House, and were named joint winners of the Historic Houses Restoration Award. In this episode of Design Notes, Peter and Keith take us on a tour of the house and explain how they live in the Palladian rooms of the piano nobile, from the State Bathroom with its alabaster-panelled bath to the Saloon that looks out on 500 acres of parkland, with grazing deer and sheep, a walled garden, and a magical lake for wild swimming. They also show us the more informal rooms in the house, including the kitchen, fitted out in a design Peter created for Smallbone of Devizes, and the damask-lined library where the pair sit down to watch TV.

Released on 02/03/2023


[birds tweeting] [wind blowing]

[lively music]

We have been together in business

for a very long time and part

of our interest was doing up old houses that were unloved

and restoring them and we've grown from there.

We lead on the piano nobile of a palace in Venice,

which was great fun, but it was a passion.

We bought Wolterton about six and a half years ago.

We bought it from the Walpole family

who had owned it for 300 years.

When we arrived, the house hadn't been lived in,

so it had been shuttered up for nearly 30 years

and it was absolutely thrilling to open all the shutters,

let the light in and reorganize the furniture.

[Keith] The house had had a fire here in the '50s

and it had all been decorated after the fire.

And it was left in those '50s colors.

It was a very dreary interior,

full of potential but hideous.

And one day I saw Keith where there was this sort

of Barclays blue carpet all the way down the main staircase.

I saw him tossing the carpet down in through the well

onto the ground below.

And you know, suddenly you could sort

of feel that Palladianism coming back again.

[tranquil music]

In the boudoir, I like to sit here

in the afternoons because it's very enjoyable being here.

We have this beautiful sofa which we bought

from the Walpoles, which is one

of the most comfortable sofas we've ever sat in.

Well, when we arrived, the walls were covered

with a green hessian.

It had been up for years and I took the whole lot down

and was amazed to see the paneling behind it.

And of course, while the paneling was never meant

to be seen, that was in the 18th century,

our tastes have changed and we've decided to leave it

as it is rather than recovering it.

And it's got all the imperfections

of pinholes where the previous tapestries were hung.

While this is a Palladian house,

we've brought some things, our Tudor house,

and there's the John the Baptist, the carving

and there's the Madonna and Child.

[tranquil music]

So this is the saloon, which is the largest room

in the house and actually the grandest.

And this is where we have all our best parties.

The room was actually decorated

with these enormous Brussels tapestries,

which are 18th century.

The carpet in here was given to Princess Mary by a maharaja.

And of course, all the state rooms

have these incredible fireplaces which were carved

by Richard Fisher of York.

And even if we're having a dinner party,

we'll have champagne in here

'cause it has has a fantastic view

overlooking the lake over there.

And you can walk out onto the balcony.

[tranquil music]

These portraits of the Walpoles were all over the house

and we decided eventually to buy them.

But on the condition that we'll have them

if they can be put into one room.

We've hung them according to how attractive they are.

So the better looking Walpoles

are at the second level and least attractive

are on the lower level.

Like Harry Potter's headmaster study,

we've got all these portraits together in the same room

and we feel they'll talk at night when the lights are out.

[tranquil music]

Managed to find this extraordinarily beautiful

glazed wool fabric which came from Strawberry Hill.

This enormous portrait of the whole family

Horatio, Mary Magdalen Lombard

and his eight children was painted

in the early 18th century.

And it's rather curious

'cause they all look about the same age.

[tranquil music]

This house was inspired by Andrea Palladio,

the 16th century architect who worked in Venice.

What he did to revive the idea of using classical buildings

like temples and public buildings they'd used

in ancient Rome for domestic use.

So these aristocrats suddenly had

these incredibly grand buildings

with columns and plasters.

Everything had to be symmetrical.

You couldn't have a single door,

you had to have a pair of doors.

And there is a particular thing which you'll see,

which is the Palladian window.

And it allows this enormous amount of light to come

into this room 'cause it fills the entire west wall.

The walls in here we decided to cover

in this beautiful gold fabric, Renaissance fabric,

which comes from Watts,

which completely, it feels like sort of summer every day.

And we found these amazing day beds,

which are by James Wyatt.

And they came from Powderham Castle.

And covered them

in another Watts fabric, which is called Bellini.

There is this wonderful bass relief

of Our Lady holding the child,

a bit like a sort of Michelangelo tondo.

We had the panel behind painted in porphyry,

which is of course the most important imperial marble

from ancient Rome.

[tranquil music]

I always think it's really funny to have a state bedroom

when your friends come and stay.

This room was covered in vinyl wallpaper and we replaced it

by a design by Bodley, which Watts produce,

which is a hand-printed linen

because we wanted a nice background

for these Antwerp 17th century tapestries here.

The bed itself uses the fabric that was actually used

for the state bed and was hanging

in panels in what is now the portrait room.

And we found this amazing corona,

which was in pieces from a local antique shop

and we had it regilded and put together again in a dome

and Keith managed to find the crest of the Walpoles.

So we put that little shield on.

[tranquil music]

It did actually present quite a big challenge

to make a room this size into a bathroom.

You know, it's not conventional, is it to have a bath

of this size, but we had to have a really big bath in here.

What we managed to do was to get some alabaster panels,

which are used up the end of the bath.

We managed to buy six of them

and then we cast another 10 in plaster,

painted those to look like the alabaster

and I think it slightly fools your eye.

And we got these extraordinary Victorian taps,

which we then nickel plated.

And we had to have a double-ended bath

'cause it's gotta be very romantic

so that you can look out the window at the view

or look into your lover's eyes.

[tranquil music]

We wanted a contrast

so we kept the main piano nobile,

which are these eight state rooms

in kind of quite traditional style.

But then on the ground floor,

we've introduced more modern furniture.

This is quite a nice mid-century modern sort of bedroom.

It has an homage to David Collins,

the famous restaurant designer.

This is his carpet and this is one of his chairs.

And this is a chair, one of my favorite designs ever

by Peter Churner, an American designer.

And actually, the kitchen is a design we did

for Smallbone about 10 years ago, which we actually got

from our old house because it was free standing

and that's much more contemporary.

That actually won Kitchen of the Year Award

with Historic Houses two years ago.

You know, we don't actually ever have a kitchen table

in our kitchen

because we would never actually move away from it.

So we deliberately make it difficult.

But we do actually have chairs in front of the fire

and every part of the kitchen has its own function.

So there are two islands here,

one which has a six burner hob

and the other has a teppanyaki and a grill.

And then, of course, you've got the sink,

which has got its plate rack above.

And then you have various works stations around.

That's the whole fridge and freezer zone and wine cooler.

And this is the, unusually for a country house,

we don't have an AGA.

we actually have a big Gaggenau oven.

One of the principles that we really feel strongly about

in kitchens is that you shouldn't hide away beautiful things

like copper pans and saucepans, frying pans and glasses,

plates, all these things are are lovely.

And even fruit, eggs, things that you use every day

should be on show

because they're part of the environment of a kitchen.

[tranquil music]

In the main room, on the ground floor,

which is our everyday living room,

and we've got seating areas here for the fire.

And this was the Walpole's library,

which we bought from them.

We bought all the books.

The Watts wallpaper is a sort of big Baroque wallpaper

and it's sort of dark brown and printed in gold

and gives the impression of being like embossed leather,

which we thought went very well

with the books and the library shelving.

And the ceiling was nicotine brown

because Lady Walpole and Lord Walpole used

to sit here all day smoking.

I always ask people in the library here,

which they think is our favorite shelves

and they think we can't answer.

And I say, well, the first one is this shelf

because it has all the aperitifs in.

And this is our second favorite

because it has all the digestives.

[tranquil music]

Well, we're still on the ground floor.

And we refer to this as the picture room.

My collection of paintings started

with a Duncan Grant and a Vanessa Bell

when we lived in a house in Fitzroy Square

that had actually been the Omega Workshops,

which was started by Roger Fry,

and it was the basis of the collection.

And I've got all sorts here, works of art

by celebrated painters and junk shop finds.

They're all together.

A 20th century collection of paintings.

[tranquil music]

When we arrived here, the house was covered in a layer

of gelatinous lichen over the whole bricks, the stonework.

And we cleared it off with a high pressure water gun

and this amazing structure was underneath,

beautiful, beautiful red brick and Portland stone.

The outside sort of reflected its sadness

for not being being occupied for so long.

And so it's sort of a sign to the world

that Wolterton was back in business.

[tranquil music]

Starring: Keith Day, Peter Sheppard

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