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English Period Room Design

During the period of the English Restoration, the reign of Charles II, oriental, Dutch and French influences were gaining ground in choices made for the furnishing of rooms, and an entry in Evelyn's "Diary" of 30th July 1682 is singularly informative in its description of a home of the period:

Went to visit our good neighbour Mr Bohun (Lea, Kent) whose whole house is a cabinet of all elegancies, especially Indian; in the hall are contrivances of Japan screens instead of wainscot; and there is an excellent pendule clock inclosed in the curious flower work of Mr Gibbons [Grinling Gibbons] in the middle of the vestibule. The landscapes of the screens represent the manner of living, and country of the Chinese. But above all, his lady's cabinet is adorned on the fret, ceiling, and chimney-piece, with Mr Gibbons' best carving. There are also some of Streeter's best paintings, and many rich curiosities of gold and silver as growing in the mines.

Period Living Room
Restoration Period Living Room

There is more than a suggestion of profusion about this sketch of a country home, but Mr Bohun was a rich Spanish merchant given to the collecting of curiosities, so possibly his taste was a trifle exotic. Another description of Evelyn's indicates one aspect of the taste that prevailed at the Court when Charles II and his underfed but greedy lady friends ruled society. The latter part of the entry, dated 4th October 1683, reads thus :

Following his Majesty this morning thro the gallerie I went, with the few who attended him, into the Duchesse of Portsmouth's dressing room within her bed-chamber, where she was in her morning loose garment, her maids combing her, newly out of her bed, his Majesty and the gallants standing about her; but that which engaged my curiosity was the rich and splendid furniture of this woman's apartment, now twice or thrice pulled down and rebuilt to satisfy her prodigal and expensive pleasures, whilst her Majestys does not exceed some gentlemen's ladies in furniture and accommodation. Here I saw the new fabric of French tapestry, for design, tenderness of work, and incomparable imitation of the best paintings, beyond any thing I had ever beheld. Some pieces had Versailles, St Germain's, and other palaces of the French King, with huntings, figures, and landscapes, exotic fowls, and all to the life rarely done. Then for Japan cabinets, screenes, pendulum clocks, great vases of wrought plate, tables, stands, chimney furniture, sconces, branches, braseras, etc., all of massive silver, and out of number, besides some of her Majesty's best paintings.

The writer of that description was keenly sensible to the screaming vulgarity of all the splendour and display that formed the setting of the ladies whom the King delighted to honour. The two sentences with which he ends the entry have something of the Puritan about them :

Surfeiting of this, I dined at Sir Stephen Fox's, and went contented home to my poor but quiet villa. What contentment can there be in the riches and splendor of this world, if purchased with vice and dishonour!

It is to one of Charles II's mistresses that we owe the loss of a wonderful palace, enriched by the workmanship that Henry VIII had encouraged, for in 1671 the King granted Nonesuch, at Cheam, in Surrey, to George, Lord Grandison, and Henry Brouncker, in trust for the Duchess of Cleveland. Although this woman had an annual income of £4700, as well as other sums that she obtained by gifts and by bribes from office hunters, her extravagance doomed Nonesuch, which was stripped of its treasures, the building itself disappearing eventually.

Charles II Interior
Charles II Period Room

In Restoration era period room design we see often rather extravagant luxury, with it probably contributing to a decline in the effectiveness of the Stuarts as a ruling family. Later, there came sobering and refreshing ideas. The Dutch influence was enormously strengthened, and the successor to Charles II, William III, was less interested in ostentation, although he encouraged architecture and decorative art, the results of which can be seen in William & Mary furniture. This type of period room decoration sees ornate displays of extravagance lessen, and the way is made for the growth of the pleasant and simple form of taste that came to dominate the early eighteenth century, Queen Anne furniture.

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