James Wyatt & Robert Adam
- Original design
- James Wyatt & Robert Adam, 1776
1773 James Wyatt was commissioned by Elizabeth, Countess of Home to build a house at No. 20 Portman Square.
Elizabeth, Countess of Home was a formidable woman, popularly known in 18th Century London as the ‘Queen of Hell’. She was then in her late sixties, twice widowed, childless and very rich. She had been born in Jamaica, at Vere, where her father, a wealthy West India merchant resided. She first married James Lawes, son of the Governor of Jamaica and inherited a large fortune when he died in 1734. She then sailed to England and married William, 8th Earl of Home in 1742. He deserted her shortly afterwards and died in 1761.
The immensely grand Countess of Home now began a somewhat raffish existence as the pivot of a social group, many of whom, such as William Beckford and Simon Luttrell, had West Indian Connections.
When her step-niece, Anne Horton made a brilliant marriage to King George III’s brother, Henry, Duke of Cumberland the Countess began plans for a suitably palatial home to entertain Royalty as well as her other glittering friends.
The north side of Portman Square was only just beginning to be developed and was not far from the Pantheon, near Oxford Circus which was the most fashionable venue for balls and other elaborate entertainments in the 1770’s and 80’s. Not surprisingly, the Countess selected the young architect of the Pantheon, the rising neo-classicist James Wyatt. It was he who designed the sober South façade in London stock brick, enhanced with bands of Coade stone as well as panels decorated with swags and paterae.
1775-1777 James Wyatt was sacked and his competitor Robert Adam appointed as architect
Although the house was built by James Wyatt, George III’s architect, he was dismissed as principal architect in 1775 and replaced by his Scottish rival, Robert Adam. It is the special triumph of Adam that he was able to convert a shell of a house into one of the most sumptuous neo-classical interiors in London.
The Northern façade is one of the most remarkable examples of a light and airy bucolic style of architecture, with its tripartite pediment windows and colonnaded entrance facing the garden which, in the 18th Century, looked out over fields and gardens towards the gently rising slopes of Hampstead.
As a concept, Home House is more than a domestic family Town House, it is a sophisticated Pavilion – like the Petite Trianon at Versailles or the Villa Albani in Rome – designed purely for enjoyment and entertainment.
The interior is conceived as a series of very grand reception rooms, starting with a typically austere hall leading to one of the most breathtaking “tour de force” in European architecture. The rose and gold imperial staircase rises through the entire height of the house to a glass dome revealing the sky and clouds above.
On the ground floor are the eating rooms, decorated with symbolic paintings of banquets and the harvest by Zucchi, the husband of Anglica Kauffman, which lead onto the gardens. On the first floor are located the Ante-room, the Music Room and the Great Drawing Room and finally, one of the most original rooms in England, the Countess’s Etruscan State Bedroom, whose pagan decorations derive from the excavations of Pompeii.
1784 On her death, Home House was left to her nephew, William Gales
The most notorious and colourful of all Countesses of Home died in 1784 and the house and contents, as well as her West Indian estates, were left to her distant relation, William Gale of St. Elizabeth’s in Jamaica. As he was a schoolboy the house was let.
1785-1787 Home House was let to Mrs. Walsh, an aunt of William Gales
1788-1795 Occupied by the Marquis de la Luzerne, the French Ambassador
The house served as the French Embassy during the tumultuous years of the French Revolution.
1795-1798 John Tharp lived in the house
John Tharp was responsible for its re-decoration and in 1796 for commissioning John Tasker to add new stables (now the mews house at the rear of the property).
1798-1808 Occupied by the 4th Duke of Atholl
1809-1820 Occupied by Charles, 2nd Earl Grey
Another famous resident in the 19th Century was the 2nd Earl Grey of ‘Tea’ and the Great Reform Bill. During his occupation, a third floor extension was added enlarging the existing attic.
1820-1861 Thomas, 3rd Duke of Newcastle
1862-1919 Occupied by Sir Francis Goldsmid
Sir Francis was the first Jewish barrister in Great Britain and a notable philanthropist.
1919-1926 Occupied by Lord and Lady Islington
Lady Islington was one of the handful of pioneer lady interior decorators in the inter-war years and she redecorated much of Home House, removing the heavy accretions of the 19th Century with great flair. She employed Philip Tilden to install modern bathrooms, as well as decorating her bedroom with exotic 18th Century Chinese Ch’ien Lung wallpaper, a silvered cornice and mirrored doors.
1927-1932 Occupied by Mr & Mrs Samuel Courtauld
To ensure that the famous Courtauld Art Collection could be seen to greatest advantage, further works were carried out during this period. These included the re-decoration of fine rooms.
The eccentric fascist cavalry officer, the Marchese Malacrida, designed the splendid marble bathroom, created on the second floor and carried out further decorations with assistance from Lord Snowdon’s talented uncle, Oliver Messel, with murals by John Armstrong. During the second World War an incendiary bomb fell into the bathroom but was luckily speedily dowsed in the bath.
1932-1989 Occupied by the Courtauld Institute of Art
During this period the infamous spy, brilliant art historian and Master of the Queen’s Pictures, Anthony Blunt was director from 1947 to 1974. It was in his set of rooms, high above the gardens, the Philby, Burgess and Maclean mingled with academics, politicians and members of the Establishment, whilst a secret listening device was concealed by MI5 in the connecting wall between Home House and No.21 Portman Square
31st December 1996 – Home House acquired by Berkeley Adam Limited
Brian Clivaz and a group of supportive investors acquired the property and began the meticulous restoration of the Home and its transformation into a glamorous and exciting Members Club. Once again Home House will be devoted to the arts of entertainment and fine cooking, as was first envisaged by the great – if unusual – 18th Century patron, Elizabeth, Countess of Home, ‘Queen of Hell’.