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.

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