Total Inspiration…Claydon House

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A wonderful carving of a Hoho bird. The Hoho was a symbol of good fortune and longevity in Asia. This was carved by Luke Lightfoot ; one of the great wood carvers of the rococo period in England.

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A look at the Chinoiserie room at Claydon including door surround, mantle and mad alcove. ( this photo not taken by me but pulled from guide book)

“The effect in sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects, and especially of brilliancy of color is hardly at all appreciated” – Florence Nightingale

I start with this quote from Florence Nightengale because I feel that her point of how beauty has such a positive, uplifting effect on mankind, even the sick, is one of the great truths of life. She also was the sister- in- law of the owner of Claydon house and had a room there where I saw the above quote.

To be inspired by beauty, be that from mother nature or by the beauty created by man is a marvelous gift for all and one that I treasure everyday. As most of you know I am a classicist at heart. My love for classic architecture, classic design is pretty evident in my style. But I also love many other periods. For years I had planned to buy and restore an 18thc. house in France; in which I dreamt of doing a Chinoiserie room. Alas there is no house in France but I still longed for the possibility to have my fantasy room. I had already collected the first pieces pieces of furniture for that room and so decided that in Charleston I would create a pared down version of my French dream. After all, Blue Canton china had been flowing into Charleston for centuries and so why not push this connection a bit further?
In my travels a favorite stylistic theme has been the architecture, rooms, paintings, whimsical decorative motifs found in Europe in the early 18th century expressing the ” style chinoise” The goods made in China for the European market and the fantasy that inspired the decoration of some of the most magical rooms fill me with joy, wonder and have inspired what will be my own little chinoiserie fantasy at Chisholm House.

I have seen SanSouci, the Oranienbaum, I even own a chinoiserie painting by that great decorative painter Pillament but until this June I had never seen the great English house called Claydon with it’s unbelievable Chinese room crafted by the brilliant carver of most of all the rococo designs at Claydon; Luke Lightfoot. With what skill, charm and flights of fantasy he crafted some of the most memorable rooms created by man. As I look around at so much of what is built today I wonder what happened to that sense of whimsy, imagination and the ability to create awe in the beholder. I know, here are exceptions; and that time, money, skill, the interest in this type of decoration seems limited. If I had an endless budget I would just let it go wild in at least a couple of rooms. I am so endlessly bored by empty cubes. Sorry….I digress…

So here are photos from Claydon house with a few beginning snapshots of my Chinoiserie “lite” room for my home in Charleston. As an aside these are not great point and shoot camera could not capture the scale and the enormity of size and detail. As I had not found a good book on Claydon I was madly snapping away just to get details. Maybe a interior photographer withe the right equipment, such as the talented Massimo Listri should rectify that!


The door and the corner of the mad bed in the famous Chinoiserie room at Claydon


The detailing just on the side of the alcove in the Chinoiserie room.


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Detail of chinoiserie mantle at Claydon house


Carved detail


This is the top of the romantic, mad alcove…


The” bed-sofa”

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This is one of the great rococo rooms of all time….the only annoying thing to me are the wooden chairs lined up on the wall distracting from the beauty of the room, they are so wrong and sorry a tourist walked through this photo but it seems it was the only one I had…we will just ignore the silly plant in the fire box..

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Although this appears to be plaster it is actually carved wood.

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Isn’t this Hoho bird amazing — and notice the mad griffin on the left. ..a perfect blend of a classical fireplace surround mixed with the Rococo bird and niche surround.


For me this is one of the great niches in a house with this extraordinary carving around it. I adore the green interior of the niche, the yellow walls and the chalk white painted wood carving with the marble bust. Rococo at it’s best!!!!!


This is the fabulous ceiling in the great hall… notice how the green of the inside of the niches is picked up by the ceiling…

One of the conundrums of restoring an old house; especially one in the historic district of a place like Charleston, is how true does one be to the original essence of a house. I appreciate the point of view of maintaining a visual dictionary to the past for the future understanding of a time and place. But we must remember that the great houses evolved with time and fashion… sometimes for better and sometimes for the worse. So when I decided to do my chinoiserie room I struggled with this dilemma. Do I take out the original ( I think; tho not sure) moldings to create my special room? Even in Chisholm house I know the Victorian coal burning fireplaces were not what was originally in this Greek Revival house. In the end, more because of costs then anything else, I decided to restore and not change the, what I have been told, are unique moldings in this room. But I am definitely getting rid of any Victorian elements, such as the fireplace and replace that with a over mantle and surround inspired by the doors at Claydon House. In my research I discovered a man who’s family has carved furniture for four generations and is as cray about all this stuff as I am. I shall do a story on him alone in the upcoming months. Pictured below is the drawing for the mantle and surround.

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This is the design of the fireplace surround and over mantle that is being carved in England, based upon the door surrounds at Claydon. The space between the wood panels will have antiqued mirror and there will be a shelf for a piece of porcelain.

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The door surround which is the inspiration for the mantle in my Charleston chinoiserie room

As this post is already so long I shall follow up with more about Claydon house and the schematics for the Chinese room Chisholm House….stay tuned cr



3 thoughts on “Total Inspiration…Claydon House

  1. Carolyne –
    Your plans for a Chinoiserie room at Chisholm House are an excellent idea. I have discovered that Oriental decorations are at home in any scheme. And can I assume that you intend to plant — at last! — some gorgeous blue or lavender hydrangeas?

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