From magnificent mansions to thoroughly modern townhouses, we’ve selected our favourite interiors from the hundreds of buildings owned by the National Trust. Not only that, but we’ve come up with some tips for how they might inspire your own interior design ideas. But which interior is your favourite?...
Choosing only ten beautiful National Trust interiors is, of course, ridiculous. Over 350 of the most important and jaw-dropping buildings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are in the care of that wonderful charity, so selecting a mere ten seems criminally churlish. And where do you start anyway? The spectacular Neo-classical architecture of Kedleston Hall? The Gothic Revival extravagance of Tyntesfield? Or how about the Georgian perfection of the Bath Assembly Rooms, where Jane Austen fanatics from around the world still flock to dream of dancing with Mr Darcy? Well we’ve decided to take a particular angle for our ‘most beautiful’ interiors, by looking at places that might inspire our readers with design ideas for their own beautiful homes. And since – alas – we can’t all live in mansions, we’ve focused on some of the National Trust’s more modestly-proportioned properties: hidden gem houses, city apartments and individual rooms that show British domestic style at its very best. So, after much agonizing, here are Pooky’s Top 10 Most Beautiful National Trust Interiors…
1. Lady Bearsted’s Art Deco bathroom at Upton House
The Art Deco bathroom at Upton House --Above and top ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
Although Upton House dates back to the 1695, the interiors of this Warwickshire mansion are strikingly 20th century. That’s because they were remodeled in the 1930s by Lord and Lady Bearsted – the noted oil millionaires, art collectors and philanthropists – in a vivid Art Deco style. There are wonders aplenty throughout the house, but the most astonishing room is surely Lady Bearsted’s bathroom – a dazzling modernist boudoir of red, black, silver aluminium leaf and streaming natural light. It was designed for her by Morley Horder and, while not to everyone’s taste, the great thing about private bathrooms is that you can decorate them purely to please yourself.
Design inspiration… why should bathrooms be boring… and in fact why shouldn’t they clash wildly with the rest of your home’s décor? Since wallowing in the bath is mostly something you do in private, you can indulge your unique tastes and create something really personal.Upton House and Gardens – near Banbury, Warwickshire. Plan your visit here.
2. The Saloon at Coleton Fishacre
The Saloon at Coleton Fishacre -- ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Lady Bearston’s bathroom at Upton is a high point of what the art critic Osbert Lancaster rather satirically called ‘Curzon Street Baroque’. He meant the style favoured by the Bright Young Things of trendy Edwardian London, so it was a bit like calling something ‘Shoreditch Hipster Chic’ now. But what was once radical and daring can now look classy and timeless – and a prime example of this is the Art Deco interiors of Coleton Fishacre in South Devon. The house was built in 1926 by the theatre impresario Rupert D’Oyly Carte (whose father was the great champion of Gilbert and Sullivan) as a country retreat, and the interiors just drip with Edwardian elegance – particularly the saloon, complete with period gramophone and Bluthner piano. You can just imagine yourself sipping a pre-dinner cocktail while somebody insouciantly tickles the ivories, can’t you?
Design inspiration… With its use of pale walls, layered lighting and strong accent colours, Coleton Fishacre is a lovely example of how a little (but not too much) minimalism can strike just the right note between homely and elegant.Coleton Fishacre – Kingswear, Devon. Plan your visit here.
3. The Entrance Hall at Red House
The Entrance Hall at Red House -- ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie
Before Art Deco there was the Arts & Crafts movement of the Victorian era, and the towering figure of that movement was the designer William Morris, whose intricate patterns with natural motifs continue to influence everything from wallpaper to fabric design. Red House in Bexleyheath was the only house commissioned and lived in by William Morris – and was described by the artist Edward Burne-Jones as 'the beautifullest place on earth'. The National Trust is still uncovering wondrous works of art, hidden or painted over by later owners, to this day. The Entrance Hall sets the tone. There’s an elaborate brick fireplace and a beautiful oak staircase complete with vertical tapered newel posts and oddly (but deliberately) small holes in the wood designed to catch the eye. There’s also the famous settle – a sort of cross between a bench and a cupboard – designed by the house’s architect Philip Webb and decorated with a striking mural by Morris and possibly Dante Gabrielle Rossetti. Talk about statement furniture!
Design inspiration… An entrance hall can set the tone of your interior design. And if you have your eye on a statement piece of furniture but worry about it dominating a room, the entrance is often a good place to put it.Red House – Bexleyheath, London – Plan your visit here.
4. The Burges Room at Knightshayes Court
The ornate bedroom Burges bedroom at Knightshayes -- ©NT/David Garner
Another great William of Victorian design and architecture was William Burges, and the National Trust has in its care one of his most notable works: Knightshayes Court in Tiverton. But although we look back on Burges as a brilliant figure now, he was actually fired partway through the build, so many of his grand plans for Knightshayes never came to fruition. However, the National Trust, in conjunction with the V&A, has created one room based on his original design to show how the house might have looked had Burges been given free reign. It’s a stunning mix of aristocratic elegance and Victorian decorative overload, with the lovely bird-patterned walls linked with a rather exotic ceiling motif.
Design inspiration… Why not just go for it in at least one room in your house regardless of the risk? And could it be time for ceiling decoration to make a comeback?Knighshayes Court – Tiverton, Devon. Plan your visit here.
5. The Kitchen at Cragside
The Kitchen at Cragside -- ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
Industrial and retro-style working kitchens are very much in fashion at the moment – in restaurants and bars as well as homes – but few could rival the kitchen at Cragside, Northumberland. It’s the real thing. Cragside was a wonder of the Victorian age, combining Arts & Crafts aesthetics with ingenious practical technology. The kitchen has a perfect balance of form and function, with exposed brickwork and iron, range ovens and multiple light sources. There is plenty of natural ambient light from the tall windows, plus wall lamps and pendants to provide task lighting (the house was the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity).
Design inspiration… If you fancy the industrial style, you can’t go wrong by visiting an original. (And you can find tips for lighting and décor in an industrial style kitchen here.)Cragside – Morpeth, Northumberland. Plan your visit here.
6. The Spiral Staircase at 2 Willow Road
Winding staircase in 2 Willow Road, London -- ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Number 2, Willow Road was acquired by the National Trust in 1995 and, being one of the charity’s earliest modernist properties, it caused some controversy. But then it also caused controversy when it was first built by the architect Ernő Goldfinger in 1939. As a concrete block of flats, it was strongly opposed by local Hampstead residents including the novelist Ian Fleming (who allegedly named his James Bond villain Auric Goldfinger after the architect). But it’s now recognised as a modernist masterpiece, making maximum use of space to create three stylish family homes. Number 2 is where Goldfinger lived with his family (numbers 1 and 3 are still in private hands), and at its core is this beautiful spiral staircase designed by Danish engineer Ove Arup.
Design inspiration… You can do surprising amount with staircases, from quirky runner carpets to stainless steel fittings (just take care before ripping out your existing staircase, they can be terribly difficult to put back!)2 Willow Road – Hampstead, London. Plan your visit here.
7. The Study at The Homewood, Surrey
The Study at The Homewood designed by Patrick Gwynne -- ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
If modernist masterpieces are your thing, then you should definitely book a tour of The Homewood. Architect Patrick Gwynne poured all of his creativity into this unique luxury villa in the Surrey countryside. It’s a vision of glass, light, angles and geometric harmony – all the more remarkable when you think that Gwynne was just 24 when he began work on it, in 1938. The whole house is beautiful, but the study is a particularly good example of a mid-century modern or futurist aesthetic, with its picture window, bare walls, black and metallic furniture and flat surfaces.
Design inspiration… If you love the modernist look, a study is an ideal room to experiment, since desks, office chairs and armchairs really lend themselves to the mid-century style. Plus, there are plenty of original and replica options readily available to buy.The Homewood – Esher, Surrey. Plan your visit here.
8. The Dining Room at Peckover House
The Dining Room at Peckover House and Garden -- ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
The Peckover family lived at this beautiful Georgian town house from the end of the 18th Century until it was presented to the National Trust in 1948. They were staunch Quakers, but they also made a fortune from banking – and you can see influences from both aspects of their lives in the décor: the Quaker ethos of simplicity, combined with an expensive taste for fine paneled rooms, elaborately carved fireplace over-mantels and ornate plaster decorations.
Design inspiration… If you’re aiming for pure elegance, be inspired by the beautiful dining room at Peckover House: the bare floorboards, simple green and white colour scheme, wooden furnishings and twin mirrors reflecting the natural light by day and the chandeliers by night.Peckover House and Gardens – Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Plan your visit here.
9. The Landing at 575 Wandsworth Road
575 Wandsworth Road has intricate fretwork in wood throughout the interior -- ©National Trust Images/Cristian Barnett
575 Wandsworth Road is a true hidden gem. A modest terraced house in Lambeth, it was bought by the Kenyan-born poet, mathematician and civil servant Khadambi Asalache in 1981, and over the years he turned the property into a unique work of art. It’s full of beautiful handmade furniture and objects, but is most notable for its walls. Virtually every wall, ceiling and door in the house is covered in Asalache’s intricate decorative fretwork patterns, hand-carved from reclaimed pine doors and floorboards that he found in skips around London.
Design inspiration… Aslache began attaching carved wood to his walls because he needed to disguise persistent damp in the basement dining room…. Which just shows that every architectural problem offers a potential design opportunity!575 Wandsworth Road – Lambeth, London. Plan your visit here.
10. The Drawing Room at Standen
The Drawing Room at Standen, West Sussex -- ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
Well, given our love of lighting we had to pick one interior just for the lamps! Standen House and Gardens is another of the country’s best examples of Arts & Crafts workmanship, complete with Morris & Co interiors. But it also has some really lovely light fittings. There are pendants and lamps by the famous WAS Benson throughout the house, and the drawing room boasts these gorgeous copper and glass fittings by the house’s architect, Philip Webb:
Philip Webb light fitting in the Drawing Room at Standen, West Sussex -- ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie
Design inspiration… Lamps are vital in interior design because lighting determines the mood of a room (see tips for layering lighting in the home here.) But don’t forget that lamps and light fittings can also be beautiful decorative objects in themselves, as these examples prove.
So there you have it – the 10 Most Beautiful National Trust Interiors – at least, according to our particular view of things. From Georgian elegance to ultra-modern design, they’re all unique, all inspiring and all saved for the nation. But have we missed your favourite? Let us know…
We'd like to thank the kind people at the National Trust for their help in supplying the images for this post - in particular Alison Dalby, who actually wrote a terrific book along these very lines: ‘Design Ideas for your Home, with the National Trust’. And if you enjoyed this post, check out our list of the 10 Most Beautiful Pub Interiors in London.