Friday, 1 June 2012

M/M THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE From the archives of Country Life

Image © THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE from the archives of Country Life by
Mary Miers, Rizzoli New York, 2009

Review by the Editors of Manner of Man Magazine

The English Country House: From the Archives of Country Life is an overall beautiful book. It is nice to see a cloth hardbound volume, with sewn laid-in articles on smaller fine paper, booklets by noted architectural writers and authors between reproduced wallpapers that appear full scale. It all makes for one handsome custom looking volume, very nice touches, especially in a day and age when so many are questioning or rejecting Asian product for the Western markets,  this is a Rizzoli printing done in China yet remains very much an English book.

While this is a great book there are two faults in our view. Unfortunately, we are seeing this occur in a number of fine volumes lately pertaining to the tone at times of language used, either on the jacket or in the content, and more often than nought, odd inclusions. The language starting with the book cover we found unnecessarily mass-market in tone with use of common climber phrases.  It was a turn-off to us as often unjustifiably haughty, and at the same time hilariously condescending. It ran just a tad much at times with aspirational phrases and overly colourful words starting on the dust jacket calling the volume “This exquisite book offers…” down on to the phrase, "The book provides an entré (spelt with one e) into the houses to which Country Life has had privileged access…” (As if the main reader does not know the meaning of exquisite or that the purchaser and reader of this book is both ignorant of these properties and should feel honoured to view them, both cases highly unlikely.) It makes one cringe and certainly does not influence those who are going to be purchasing a book on the English country houses in the first place. That language in no way added to the fine content, in fact for us it took away from it. On the other hand, taking the above into consideration, we are compelled to mention two significant visual pauses, which we found even more disturbing, the first is minor, sharp yet still appropriate, the other we found abrupt and jarring.

The first Modern property in the volume, known as High and Over 1929, is presented in a small photograph. The house has a strong Modern International Style to it, and while nearly an antique at this time, it is a bit odd. It is shown as a valid contrast to another property with a minor explanation for its inclusion. There is only an explanation at that juncture that such properties have been limited in the book as essentially strong representation of the avant-garde would, "be discordant with the general tone and appearance of the book." We could not agree more, and did not expect another. Nonetheless, they decided to include another structure, (one of very different structural volumes and architectural proportions than the previous,) in a full-scale spread, this one is called Baggy House. Presented over pages 452-459, it made us literally stop in our tracks. We found it too unexpected, and entirely discordant. While discourse is made working to explain the history and design of inclusions, in the end, it was as though the book was slapping one in the face visually. Baggy House is sandwiched in the book between rich, grand and historically important traditional architecture, houses that are representative solely of what one associates with historical English traditional design evolution and traditional distinction of what customarily one expects in such a volume focused on the country houses dating mostly up to the Edwardian era, (a sole reason we bought the book to review, and include in this issue.) We do not understand the reasoning for inclusion of Baggy House, which to us too strongly stands out in this volume, and not in a good way.

So overall, our impression is that this is indeed a beautiful and valuable resource. Frankly, overall this is a stunning publication that will fit well in a gentleman's library, filling an important niche on a significant period of English architectural history.  The publication provides excellent information and is without question filled with glorious photography from the Country Life archives, including beautiful more recent colour photography. The volume is essentially a stunning collection of older and some largely unseen images of the finest country estate properties of England, and includes collectively great scholarly insights by the respected authors involved. 

Highly Recommended.

From the archives of Country Life
By Mary Miers

With contributions by Jeremy Musson, Tim Richardson, Tim Knox, Marcus Binney, John Martin Robinson, and Geoffrey Tyack

THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE takes a look at the architecture and interiors of sixty-two stunning houses in a range of architectural styles spanning seven centuries—from the medieval Stokesay Castle to the newly built, Lutyens-inspired Corfe Farm—brought to life through the world-renowned photography library of Country Life. More than four hundred color and black and white illustrations provide an insight into the architecture, decoration, gardens, and landscape settings of these houses, which are set into their architectural and historical context by the accompanying text and extended captions.

The book provides an entre into the houses to which Country Life has had privileged access over the years, many of which are still private homes, often occupied by descendants of the families that built them. Punctuating the book at intervals in the form of booklets on rich, uncoated paper are six essays by leading British architectural historians that set the English country house into its social context and chart the changing tastes in decorating and collecting, the development of ancillary buildings, gardens and landscapes, and finally, its influence in the United States.

About the Author and Contributors: Mary Miers is architectural writer, arts and books editor for Country Life. Her previous career was in architectural conservation, and she established and ran Scotland's Buildings at Risk Register in the 1990s. Her books include The Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide and American Houses: The Architecture of Fairfax & Sammons. Her home is in the Highlands of Scotland. Marcus Binney is an architectural journalist well-known for his work in the British conservation movement. Tim Knox is director of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. Jeremy Musson is a former architectural editor of Country Life. Tim Richardson is a former garden’s editor of Country Life. John Martin Robinson is the author of several books on British architecture. Geoffrey Tyack is the director of the Stanford University Centre in Oxford.