South view of Kenwood, Hampstead.
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Robert Adam was more or less evenly divided between being an architect of country houses and town houses. Although these houses were in different settings, they shared the same purpose in showcasing the wealth and conspicuous consumption of their owners.
Many of Robert's clients wanted to have their homes remodelled rather than being re-built — Kenwood, home of fellow Scot Lord Mansfield, was a typical example. The interiors were renovated in the 'Adam style'. The north front was fitted with a giant portico and the south with the Corinthian columns and pediment shown in the engraving above.
Norfolk House, Northumberland House and Devonshire Houses in London were like country mansions in a town setting. They were a stark contrast to the more humble terrace houses in London — although, through Robert's talents, even these settings could be transformed. An example is Charlotte Square in Edinburgh.
The approach Robert took to creating these residencies prompted Sir Albert Richardson, a Georgian revivalist, to write: 'He could make several frontages look like a single palace and could produce the effect of a dominant idea when called upon to design a house in the midst of others'.
The town house
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Built in 1728 and owned by Edward Stanley, 11th Earl of Derby, Derby House in London's Grosvenor Square was a typical narrow town house. With a drawing room downstairs, two further front rooms (probably used as bedrooms) and another drawing room above, there wasn't a lot that could be changed.
In 1773, Robert was tasked with remodelling it. He moved the two bedrooms to the back of the house and split them over two floors connected by their own staircase.
He set about creating distinct spaces between the public and private and the intimate and formal. His capacity to create space within relatively small buildings set a new standard in movement and informality in 18th century architecture.
His unified interiors — such as the scheme carried out for the Earl of Derby's house — were designed to introduce elegance and a lightness of decoration. Classical motifs, pilasters, painted panels, elaborate plasterwork and a palette of pastel colours all contributed to the 'Adam style'.
The country house
© Mark Percy
Robert took on varied projects in England, Scotland and Ireland. For all his ambition however, he never got to build the country house he aspired to. Instead, his commissions were all for remodelling or adapting the work of others.
Robert's country houses of the 1760s incorporated strong elements of the Palladian villa, a design which was popular at the time. This was a contrast to his earlier designs of the 1750s, such as for Dumfries House in Ayrshire (1754-1759) in which this element of classicism was not evident.
© Elliott Simpson
The grandest of his country houses was Luton Hoo (1766) for the first Scottish prime minister, the third Earl of Bute. Robert incorporated what was left of an earlier building into his neo-classical design. Unfortunately however, the house was never fully completed.
In 1816 it was extensively reconstructed by Robert Smirke, and by further architects later on.