The interiors of Sambourne House
Find out why Sambourne House is a fine example of a 'House Beautiful'.
When the Sambournes moved into the house in 1875, they immediately redecorated the house in the fashionable aesthetic style, installing stained glass windows, and Morris & Co. wallpaper. Decorating the house was a passion of Linley’s and it was mainly he who was responsible for choosing the various wallpapers and furnishings. Throughout the 36 years he lived in the house, he continued to add to it, re-papering walls and purchasing new ceramics and pieces of furniture. Linley was undoubtedly inspired by the grander houses of some of his artistic friends in the Holland Park Circle, such as Luke Fildes, Marcus Stone and Colin Hunter, and was skilled at creating a great show on a limited budget. After Linley and Marion’s deaths, the interiors were largely preserved due to the efforts of their children Roy and Maud, and their granddaughter Anne Messel. As a result, the house today appears much as they left it.
The aesthetic interior
The Aesthetic style was at the height of its popularity around 1880 when the Sambournes moved into Stafford Terrace. Aestheticism was a reaction against mass production and sought to elevate the status of furniture and furnishings as artworks in their own right. Inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and mediaeval art and architecture, aesthetic design included stylised natural motifs, muted earthy colours like green, brown and blue, and an overall harmonious, pared back approach to furnishing.
Sambourne adopted many principles of aesthetic design when decorating his home, painting stylised flowers onto the internal doors, using Morris & Co. and Japanese embossed wallpapers, and buying pieces of aesthetic movement furniture, including a painted and carved sideboard for the dining room. But the house also reflects his own unique taste, with a sheer density of objects that went against the more restrained aesthetic style. An inventory of the house made in 1877, shows that having lived there for just two years, the interiors already contained, amongst many other things, over 50 vases, 70 chairs and around 700 framed pictures.
A place to work
Unlike Leighton and the other Holland Park Circle artists, Sambourne could not afford to construct a purpose-built studio, and had to adapt existing spaces within the family home to suit his requirements. Initially he worked on the ground floor in the morning room which he extended to include a larger window, but he later moved upstairs to the drawing room, where he created a similar extension to accommodate his easel. Working in the heart of the family home suited Sambourne who was of a sociable disposition, and Marion often notes in her diary that she sat with him while he worked. It was only after Maud married and left home, that he was able to have a dedicated space, converting the old nursery on the top floor into a studio.
A family home
While Sambourne was responsible for decorating most of the spaces, the house also reflects the tastes and lives of the rest of the family. Marion would have spent a lot of her time in the morning room, entertaining callers and managing the household staff, and it was probably she who chose the furnishings in here, which include eighteenth-century furniture, and copies of old master paintings. When Anne Messel inherited the house in 1960, she also made some changes of her own, in particular in the principal bedroom, where she put down a fitted carpet, painted the ceiling and reintroduced Morris & Co. wallpaper.