In many ways, I view the country house as a silent character in my books. Although its role is often relegated to the background, the country house represents different things to different characters. For Amara Claeg in Tempting the Heiress, the family’s country house, Arras Green was a tragic reminder of Lord Cornley’s violent assault. In A Lady Mischief, Foxenclover was both a prison and sanctuary for young Maddy, while it represented a reclaimed birthright to her brother Tipton. Lady Fayre in Wicked Under the Covers viewed Arianrod simply as her beloved home, whereas in my current release, Scandalous by Night, Lord Everod was banished from Worrington Hall. The house became a symbol of all that he had lost.
Once I’ve locked down the plot and characters for a new story, I set to work on creating the various country houses and London town houses that will be featured. This is a great deal of fun for me because it mixes history with my imagination. It also has given me a chance to set up at least a half a dozen dream houses. Most of what I design never makes it into my books. This step is mainly a personal tool to help me visualize the setting. What’s relevant to the characters does go into the book, since I am telling the story through their point of view.
For fun, I’ve selected three country houses that have exteriors and interiors that never cease to inspire me. The first one is Chatsworth House. With four hundred and fifty years of history, the country seat of the Dukes of Devonshire and the family are both worth studying. Its extensive gardens are renowned throughout England. Chatsworth was used as Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. The house also makes an appearance in Keira Knightley’s new film, The Duchess.
Levens Hall is a manor house located in the county of Cumbria. The original house was built by the Redman family in 1350. The Bellingham family added to the house during the Elizabethan period. Additional renovations were done in the 17th and 19th centuries. One of the more interesting features of Levens Hall is its topiary gardens. The gardens date back to 1694, and are some of the oldest in the world.
Another one of my personal favorites is Stourhead. The 2,650 acre estate is located in Wiltshire. The Palladian mansion was designed by Colen Campbell and built by Nathaniel Ireson circa 1720. The house was gutted by fire in 1901, but the Hoare family rebuilt the house in its original style. The natural landscape gardens are breathtaking.
Do you have a favorite English country house, castle, or garden? Has a book ever inspired you to decorate your own home in a certain style or design a garden?