Palladian design for living

Henbury Hall, Cheshire

Henbury Hall, Cheshire

A very myopic estate agent might describe Henbury Hall, Cheshire, as a six-bedroom detached house with every modern convenience, set in a spacious garden.

An architectural historian would see it as a spectacular modern version of Andrea Palladio’s celebrated Villa Capra (1567-1585), which stands on a hill outside Vicenza in northern Italy.

Palladio’s masterpiece is mounted on a rusticated basement and capped by a magnificent dome. Its plan is a square with a hexastyle (six-columned) portico on each side, and the rooms open from the central hall, allowing breezes in the hot Italian summer, and offering shade at all times of the day.

The British architect Julian Bicknell (b 1945) conceived Henbury Hall as a scaled-down version of the Villa Capra, 56 feet square, with tetrastyle (four-columned) Ionic porticos, and a more intimate interior, appropriate to the colder English climate.

The house was designed for Sebastian de Ferranti (1927-2015), grandson of the founder of the electronics company.  Mr de Ferranti’s father, Sir Vincent de Ferranti, had purchased the Henbury Hall estate in 1957, demolished the existing eighteenth-century house and converted the Tenants’ Hall of 1770 into a residence.

His great contribution to Henbury is the garden, twelve acres of extensive views across two lakes, now restored with its walled garden and Victorian glasshouses and a magnificent Pool House.

The family originated from Venice, and after Sir Vincent’s death in 1980, Mr de Ferranti asked the painter Felix Kelly to visualise a Palladian eye-catcher in place of the lost Henbury Hall.

The result was realised by Julian Bicknell in French limestone with a lead dome surmounted by a lantern, built between 1983 and 1986 over the extensive cellars of the eighteenth-century house.

The interior was decorated by the prestigious designer David Mlinaric (b 1939) with carving by the York master carver Dick Reid.

The ground floor, the “rustic” in architectural terminology, contains the domestic quarters in the Palladian tradition – the kitchen, breakfast room and utilities – and the customary entrance.

The formal piano nobile floor consists of an axial space running beneath the dome from north to south, with drawing room and dining room spaces on the opposite east-west axis to make an open cruciform space for living.  The southern corner rooms are intimate, despite their classical proportions – a study and a sitting room.  The northern corners contain respectively an elegant cantilevered spiral staircase and two lifts.

Above are six bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.

Here is proof that the design for living that Palladio offered his Venetian clients in the sixteen century remains practical 450 years later.

Henbury Hall Gardens are open to the public by arrangement:  http://www.henburyhall.co.uk/visitor-info-2.

Henbury Hall itself is strictly private.

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