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Historic Decoration Study Days 
in association with Historic Houses Association

HISTORIC DECORATION study days are a series of lectures based at Syon House on the history of British interior design and its interpretation today. 

Historic Decoration was founded in 2016 by interior designer and consultant Caroline Percy and architectural historian Oliver Gerrish.

The aim of these study days is to explain and define the many and varied aspects of the history of British interior design and to explore the options available to assist in the restoration and reinterpretation of the historic interior today.

The speakers are all established experts in their respective fields and will describe the evolution of interiors through the centuries and suggest how this knowledge could be applied when decorating a period home in the context of the 21st century.

For the amateur as well as the professional, for the owners of historic properties and those involved in their restoration and redecoration, these study days provide a forum to offer practical advice amid the magnificent surroundings of Syon House.


'A palace of entertainment in the style of Imperial Rome ‘ 
with Dr. Frances Sands

Friday 9th March 2018

This was the brief given to Robert Adam by the first Duke of Northumberland when he was hired to transform the existing Jacobean house. 

This study day is intended as an introduction to the Adam style and how to use architectural drawings in order to inform the design of harmonious rather than clashingly eclectic Georgian-style interiors.

Morning Session

There will be a talk which will introduce you to Adam and provide a glimpse of his interior decorative work. During the eighteenth century many architects were making designs for interior decoration but none in such a fulsome manner as Robert Adam, who – given the opportunity – would happily provide bespoke designs for everything from the chimneypiece to the door furniture. The famous neoclassical ‘Adam style’ comprised a fusion of earlier forms from across antiquity, the Renaissance and even Adam’s near contemporaries. His work was not stylistically dogmatic in the way that architects of the earlier eighteenth century had been, but his skill was in knowing how to harmonise various forms together without clashing – either aesthetically or iconoclastically. Just as the interior designer today needs a basic grounding in different styles, so too, Adam drew on his understanding of numerous forms to create a cohesive whole. We think of the Adam style as being exuberant in both colour and ornamentation, but we will see that this is not always the case. Adam’s interiors are much admired for their careful balance of tone and detail, as well as the combination of their luxurious ceilings and relatively Spartan walls or their elegant monochromatic chimneypieces and gilded furniture.

Inspiration for an Adam-style interior can be gleaned from visiting surviving Adam houses, but also from the 9,000-strong Adam office drawings collection at Sir John Soane’s Museum. These are available to be seen on the Soane Museum website. We will consider how these drawings were produced, what survives, and how the modern interior designer can use original drawings to improve their own interpretation of the Adam style. Drawings can inform our references to antique and Renaissance motifs, the interaction of architectural space and interior decoration, and the most suitable and historically accurate colour palettes. Furthermore, we will consider some of the common mistakes that are made when consulting historic drawings.


Afternoon Session

We will undertake a tour of Syon, looking closely at each room in combination with printouts of various Adam drawings for the interior decoration. In each space we will consider what Adam had intended as well as what was executed, what was later changed, and what actually survives in situ. This will be the perfect opportunity to explore themes such as colour schemes, the installation of artworks, decorative ceilings, flooring options, window and door surrounds, chimneypieces and the mixing and matching of decorative references from diverse sources. Syon provides us with the perfect case study to consider the neo-classical interior because it contains both original Adam interiors and Victorian rooms which containing good quality Adam imitation interiors.

We will finish with tea in the Green Drawing Room. 

For more information and to book a study day please visit historicdecoration.com