Ferne Park, Dorset
Built by Quinlan and Francis Terry in 2000-02 for Viscount and Viscountess Rothermere, Ferne Park is a serene, dignified, four-square classical pile inspired by Palladio. Built of materials far finer than the brick and stucco which Palladio was obliged to use for most of his villas, Ferne Park is remarkable for combining four different stones which provide a range of subtly varied colours. Two are local limestones, Chilmark stone for the façades, and Portland stone for all ornamental details including the columns, and a sandstone known as Upper Greensand. The fourth stone, the durable York stone, is used for the paving of the south terrace and the flight of steps leading up to the handsome north entrance portico of four engaged columns in the richest of the orders, the Composite.
After living at Ferne Park for a few years with their five children, the Rothermeres, decided that, though imposing externally, judicious enlargement would make the house more convenient internally. Quinlan and Francis Terry responded to this challenging task by adding a wing on each side. They were aware of several successful precedents, including the now demolished wings added by John White in 1788 to Lord Burlington’s Chiswick House of the 1720s, and by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson to the mid-Georgian Pollock House, Glasgow, in c.1904-8. All of these, including those at Ferne, fit happily with the original building which is partly explained by the example of Palladian houses such Basildon Park, Berkshire, built in 1776-83 from designs by John Carr, which was flanked from the start by two lower service wings in line with it. Lady Rothermere has immaculate taste and has been the driving force behind the architecture of Ferne Park. She insists on seeing the historical precedent for every detail which has become standard practice in the office of Quinlan and Francis Terry. For her, these precedents have to be early Georgian for she prefers to see classicism through an English rather than an Italian lens.
Francis Terry made a design for the wings at Ferne of two full storeys over a high basement, but settled on one-storeyed wings or pavilions with a low basement which were built from Chilmark stone in 2011-12. They are connected to the body of the house by slightly lower link wings. The relatively modest scale and beautiful detail of all these additions which root the house to its setting bring a charm and gentleness to both the entrance and the garden fronts which, paradoxically, almost make them seem smaller than before! The wings and the links are fully articulated with rusticated basements, quoins, pediments, and a surmounting balustrade, all exactly as in the house itself. The east and west façade of each wing forms a lively rhythmic composition which rises in stages from its pediment, balustrade, and roof, to the wider and higher elevation behind it of the main body of the house, also with its own balustrade and pitched roof. The twin-armed staircases which lead down to the gardens from windows in the centre of the east and west façades are parallel with the walls of the house because Lady Rothermere did not want curved staircases here, believing they would be fussy in such a position. Both the north and south fronts of the links are cheerfully topped by stone balls on inverted arches, a device on which architectural writers seem never to comment. However, this form was used and perhaps invented by Palladio to cap the long retaining walls of the forecourt and gardens of his Villa Badoer at Fratta Polesine of the mid-1550s. It was taken up by Lord Burlington for the terraces at Chiswick and later by William Kent in the wings which he added on the north front at Rousham House, Oxfordshire, in 1738-41.
The north fronts of the wings at Ferne have pedimented windows with rusticated Gibbsian surrounds incorporating tall voussoirs, while the windows on the south front are of the generous Venetian or Serliana type, designed by Francis Terry with the assistance of Martyn Winney, the associate in charge of all work at Ferne Park. Setting themselves the task of designing the most beautiful Venetian windows possible, they looked critically at the principal precedents at Chiswick, Houghton, and Holkham, and attempted to correct their mistakes: uneven glazing sizes, blank arches, and cut off pilasters. The arched heads of the windows at Ferne have very deep reveals and running below the sills blank balustrades which are slender in the manner of James Gibbs, as opposed to the fat Italian type which the Terrys and Raymond Erith had previously used.
The proportions of these windows were taken from Designs of Inigo Jones … with some additional Designs Publish’d by William Kent, 2 vols, 1727, vol. I; plate 54, ‘Venetian Windows’, which shows them in Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, ‘The second with three-quarter Columns, and a Recess, where the Side Opening is one third of the middle Opening.’ However, Francis Terry and Martyn Winney also made an alternative Venetian window design based on one by James Gibbs which was slightly thinner. Both designs were shown to Lady Rothermere who preferred the chunkiness of Kent.
The windows are flanked by columns, all with Ionic capitals which have angled volutes, the same on each side, as at Quinlan and Francis Terry’s Kilboy House. These provide further evidence of how the Terry office, partly inspired by their clients, has tended to change from Palladio to English Palladian sources, for Palladio very rarely used such volutes though he illustrated them in the Quattro Libri at the Temple of Saturn (which he knew as Concord) in the Roman Forum, describing them as ‘a mixture of Doric and Ionic.’
The form with diagonal volutes adopted at Ferne was that recommended by Scamozzi in his Idea dell’Architettura Universale of which many English editions appeared between 1671 and 1752. Indeed, Francis Terry has perceptively noted that Inigo Jones, Vanbrugh, Hawksmoor, Kent, Gibbs, and Campbell, all used Ionic capitals in this form, though from around the mid-eighteenth century architects switched to the frontal type with a central bolster, notably Robert Adam beginning with the portico at Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, of c.1762. Adam noted in his Works in Architecture (vol. II, 1779), that he had taken the frieze in this portico from that at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum, so it is significant that he deliberately chose not to adopt the diagonal corner volutes of its Ionic capitals.
Each of the two new wings at Ferne is dominated by one large rectangular room, dining room on the east and reception room on the west. These interiors are enriched with a sumptuous display of carved plasterwork, including the open pediments of the doorways in the dining room and reception room which have a large egg and dart moulding from Wren’s Corinthian capitals which Francis Terry measured from scaffolding inside St Paul’s Cathedral. He noted the exceptionally delicate undercutting of the acanthus leaves and the open, free-standing emphasis which Wren achieved in the volutes. Francis was also inspired by the Corinthian order as used at Ditchley Park, by James Gibbs, and at Chiswick House by Lord Burlington.
Each of the links connecting the main wings to the body of the house has a different plan. That on the west, leading to the reception room, takes the form of an octagon in which four semi-circular niches alternate with four arched openings. This room is inspired by a favourite building of Lady Rothermere, the octagonal hall in the Domus Aurea, the Golden House of Nero, in Rome (AD 54-64). This is roofed with a dome that passes from octagonal to spherical without the use of pendentives but the openings between the niches have plain horizontal heads. At Ferne they are given the more charming semi-circular heads adopted in another building inspired by the Domus Aurea, the mausoleum at the Palace of Diocletian at Spalatro (AD c.300-06). This late Roman building was studied and published by Robert Adam in 1764 as a model for domestic design. Basildon Park, the Palladian house with wings which we have already noted, has an octagonal drawing room with a large Venetian window.
The domed, top-lit, octagonal vestibule at Ferne is articulated with a rich Corinthian order incorporating convex friezes with garland and crossed ribbons, as in the Corinthian Halls illustrated by Palladio in Quattro Libri, Book II, ch. ix, 39. These were taken up enthusiastically by Lord Burlington at Chiswick House where the dense plan in which the octagonal tribunal or saloon is linked to the tripartite gallery also anticipates the wings and links at Ferne, as do the doorways with pediments, some broken. At Ferne, one moves from the stone coloured vestibule to the colour and warm of the far larger reception room where the walls are hung with red silk damask, specially made in France. This has also been used for the curtains which, after much consideration, have been hung over the giant Venetian window at the south end. The arch on the outside of the window is duplicated on the inside where fluted pilasters have taken the place of the columns. Nonetheless, an almost trompe l’oeil effect is created inside the room as though we are looking at a reflection in a mirror.
The approach to the dining room at Ferne, in contrast to that to the reception room, is a long groin-vaulted corridor with a stone-flagged floor which is a continuation of the Doric passageway along the south side of the entrance hall in the house as originally built in 2000-02. A vista is thus created along the length of the house, a kind of triumphal way with a drama and a complexity worthy of Lutyens. It is approached through a Palladian archway added by Quinlan and Francis Terry to match the one opposite which they had created to lead to the staircase when the house was first built. The Venetian window in the dining room has been left uncurtained so that all the architectural detail can be admired. All the principal rooms in the wings, as in the main house, have floors of oak boards. The rooms in the semi-basement or lower ground floor below the two wings were designed by Kit Rae-Scott with simple panelling, each containing two spacious guest bedrooms with bathrooms.
Taken from The Practice Of Classical Architecture by Professor David Watkin, Published by Rizolli