Just like Highclere Castle, known to millions of fans as Downton Abbey, Mount Stuart is a most fanciful neo Gothic country house located just over 1.5 hours from Glasgow. Still the private home of Lord Bute, the family graciously opens the house to public visitors between April and October. It’s one of the best kept secrets in Scotland so I hope not to get in trouble for letting it out of the bag!
The Butes are as old a Scottish family as you can find, being descendants of King Robert II of Scotland and the great hero Robert the Bruce. The family even provided the United Kingdom with a Prime Minister during the reign of George III. Located on the Isle of Bute, the house was built in the late 1870s and enjoyed all the modern conveniences of the day. It was the first home in Scotland to be lit by electricity and was the world’s first home with an indoor heated swimming pool. But what visitors to the house will find most interesting is the chance to see what life was like for the 1% during the last century.
The great Marble Hall and adjoining staircase are a fitting entry to such a grand house. Like a Medieval palace, the red, grey and white marble rises in great pointed arches to a towering 80 ft. ceiling fitted with cut crystal stars which along with the stained glass windows bathe the space in colored light. British Prime Minister Lord Roseberry once commented: “rumours point to it as something beyond the Arabian nights”. Imagine the receptions and parties this space has hosted.
The phenomenal dining room is an homage to food and family. The table is lavishly set with silver, porcelain and crystal as if awaiting the next banquet. We can’t all live like aristos, but we can eat a civilized meal so looking at this magnificent table is a good reminder to use your “good” silver and porcelain everyday at home. What are you saving it for?
And from the walls surrounding the room, awesome portraits of the family painted by the likes of Reynolds, Ramsay and Gainsborough keep an eye on the evening’s events. The Bute’s private collection of art is one of the finest in the UK and there is nothing better than to see it en situ.
The delightful drawing room presents a perfect respite for the family to relax and entertain close friends. The ceiling is a riot of foliage set with heraldic crests, while the walls are hung with a portion of the family’s Italian old master paintings. I love the neo Gothic details! They’re not kidding when they say that Mount Stuart contains more marble than any other house in the UK!
Perhaps the treasure of Mount Stuart is the marvelous Marble Chapel. A heavenly vision in gleaming white Carrara marble, this is the perfect place to reflect on all you have seen on your visit. The floors are inlaid in a Cosmati style reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel.
As with many of these great houses, work started in the late 1870s, but the chapel was only completed in 1998. How wonderful to have the foresight to create something so beautiful for future generations. Too often homes are built and decorated seemingly overnight leaving the finished product void of life and personality. We don’t all have 120 years to see through our own home construction, but it’s a great lesson in waiting for perfection to find you, rather than rushing through a project.
And lest you think Mount Stuart is the only Bute house to see, never fear! You can also visit the imposing Cardiff Castle in Wales and the marvelous Dumfries House an hour south of Glasgow. The latter was featured in Architectural Digest last year.
image credits: with thanks to Lord Bute; Mount Stuart, Scotland
PS: Thank you for stopping by and reading my feature today. I love what I do as an interior designer and art advisor, and it’s my hope that through these blog posts I’m enriching and heightening your aesthetic sensibility towards art, design and fabulous interiors in some way ~ Richard Rabel (a.k.a. the modern sybarite)
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