When I was reconnoitring a ‘Country Houses of Wiltshire’ tour some years ago, I was particularly kindly treated by Nigel Tuersley, who was then coming to the end of his magnificent renovation of James Paine’s Wardour Castle, near Tisbury.
Nigel has a distinctive career-trajectory – ecologist turned property-developer – with a particular love of Georgian architecture. He took over this 75-room Georgian house, that had previously been used by Cranbourne Chase School and was built in 1770-1776 for the 8th Lord Arundell, and converted it into ten apartments, the biggest of which, in the rustic and piano nobile floors of the central block, he occupied with his wife and two children.
To resolve the dilemma of decorating and furnishing the vast rooms with their 24-foot ceilings designed by the most understated of Georgian architects, Nigel Tuersley commissioned the minimalist architect John Pawson to design his apartment.
When Nigel gave me free rein to photograph the place I had to use ambient light, simply because I couldn’t find the light switches. When subsequently he allowed me to take not one but two groups of Nottingham University adult-education students to visit, he challenged us to find them. They were concealed in the architraves of the doorcases.
Pawson’s intention, throughout the house, is to retain the smooth lines of Paine’s classical minimalism. Bathrooms are grand rooms within grand rooms, and the kitchen contains everything you’d expect to find, though not necessarily where you’d look for it.
As Nigel Tuersley remarked to Victoria O’Brien [‘No-frills Georgian’, The Sunday Times, February 22nd 2004], at the time the house was commissioned and designed “it was considered inappropriate…to show your wealth in any sort of obvious way”. It’s easy to make cheap jokes about minimalism but Nigel, whose development company is called Classical Order, says, “Minimalism is not a fashion or passing phase. It’s as enduring a design aesthetic as classicism, and (at Wardour Castle) the two work seamlessly together.”
Nigel Tuersley has now moved out of Wardour Castle, and it belongs to Jasper Conran, who comes from a noted design dynasty. The house, which Nikolaus Pevsner described as “the most glorious Georgian interior of Wiltshire”, attracts a succession of careful owners.
Wardour Castle is private, and is not open to the public.
Wardour Castle is one of the houses featured in Mike Higginbottom’s lecture English Country Houses – not quite what they seem. For further details, please click here.