Thursday, December 9, 2010

Colonial Savoir Faire

Whenever I am back in Australia for a visit one place I always make sure to visit is Elizabeth Bay House in Sydney.

Built between 1835 and 1839 when New South Wales was but a fledging colony for Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay, the house is a superb example of Regency Style Architecture. I like Regency Style for the amazing paired down simplicity of line that is one of its main characteristics. What detailing that is there is finely incorporated into the overall scheme of the style. I also love the sense of symmetry that is also visibly apparent when viewed as a whole.

The architect of the house is uncertain; however it is assumed that the house was designed by the main colonial architect of the colony John Verge. The whole façade of the house is quite severe, which is apparently because it is incomplete. It was originally intended to have an encircling single-storey Doric colonnade, and the small portico that now exists was only added in the early 20th century.

The house is best known for its central elliptical saloon with domed lantern and geometric staircase, which is the main focal point when you enter the house.

The main axis of the house is aligned with the winter solstice. Though no documents are known to discuss this feature, it is not likely to be an accident. A rear service wing (since demolished) contained a kitchen, laundry and servants' accommodation, and a large stables (also demolished) was sited elsewhere on the estate.

The house has been refurnished in the style of 1839–1845, the interiors reflecting the lifestyle of the Macleays and presenting an evocative picture of early 19th century Sydney life. Largely in the Greek Revival style with elements of the Louis revival, the house's interiors have been recreated based on several inventories, notably an 1845 record of the house's contents and a list of furniture sold to the newly completed Government House, plus pieces known to have originated at the house that is now located at Camden Park or Brownlow Hill (originally the Macleays' country property near Camden, NSW). The large library contains several insect cases and a desk originally owned by Macleay, on loan from the Macleay Museum at Sydney University. Wall colours have been determined from paint scrapes that revealed the original colour schemes. The house also contains a collection of significant early Australian furniture from Sydney and Tasmania.

However it is not this which I like so much about the house. Inside one is confronted with large light airy rooms which take full advantage of the natural light.

Originally surrounded by a 54 acre estate as you can see it is now surrounded by the modern city with hardly a garden left.

So if you ever are down under, pay a visit, it is worth it.


  1. This is a magnificent place!!! I would love to visit here and I was facinated to read the main axis of the house aligns with the winter soltice. My admiration for this kind of ingenuity is beyond words!

  2. thank you for my daily dose of history :)
    <3 Cara
    Lilac and Grey

  3. the house was beautifully designed. like every architect there was much dedication pumped in to this wonderful house.

  4. They way the architect figured out the natural light situation is say the least! Ditto the elliptical entry...breathtaking!

  5. What an interesting post David. As a Sydney girls, I know Elizabeth Bay House ... but have never actually visited.
    The central elliptical saloon is magnificent!

    I am also a great fan of the Regency style ... and have just finished doing a research project on the History of English and French styles from 17th century to present ... I have thoroughly enjoyed it!

    ... and next time I'm in Sydney I will definitely try to visit.
    Have a great weekend and thanks for dropping by ...

  6. Thanks for an interesting post. As a lover of things Neoclassic, I am a great admirer of the Regency period. Yet another reason to visit Australia! ... Mark

  7. I admire historic, official residences like this. Do you know we had a vice regal residence, in French Renaissance Loire Valley style, here in Toronto? It was called Chorley Park, and was in Rosedale. It was very lavish and richly detailed. Unfortunately, they saw fit to tear it down in the 1960s. Good that Elizabeth Bay House escaped such a narrow minded fate. The oval staircase is especially beautiful and it is reassuring to see the restoration of such an architectural jewel.

  8. First time on your enchanting blog, and am enjoying looking around. I am not familiar with this house, which one loves, indeed. Now that I am official "follower" I look forward to further explorations in the land of Savoir Faire. Reggie

  9. Mr SWF, I have heard about Chorley Park and wish that I could have seen it. Luckily Australia still holds onto some of their heritage.

    Reggie, many thanks for your visit and your kind words. I am glad that one loves Elizabeth Bay and am now inspired to some more postings of some other residences you are sure to like


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