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An Introduction to Elizabethan Style

This week we pay homage to 400 years of illustrious playwright and national treasure, William Shakespeare.

Coinciding with St. George’s Day, April 23rd will truly be a quintessentially British celebration. This coupled with Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday this week means there is no better time to celebrate the enduring elegance of British design through the ages. In honour of the great Renaissance thespian, this blog explores the architecture and interior design which characterized Elizabethan England during Shakespeare’s lifespan as well as how the period continues to inspire us.

Image via The Times and Historical Portraits

Shakespeare lived to see London become the great commercial and cultural centre that we know today. As one of our most prolific playwrights, Shakespeare was a leading contributor to the thriving literary and academic scene that flourished under Queen Elizabeth I. It is under this renewed economic stability, which we owe some of the most spectacular examples of 17th century architecture. The ascension of Elizabeth I to the throne saw properties become increasingly grand and elaborate in style; many of these were a direct result of the ‘great rebuilding’ which saw earlier Medieval and Tudor manors remodelled and modernised in keeping with the fashion of the time.

Image via Wikipedia

Elizabethan houses are highly ornamental in style and feature a number of distinctive qualities. The period favoured wood and stonework, with brick suffering in popularity due to the growing influence of the Renaissance. Elizabethan houses also borrow elements of Flemish and Late Gothic design visible in the curved gables, parapets and chimney stacks which adorn the exterior.

Furthermore, the windows reflect the Elizabethan penchant for the decorative, with mullioned and transomed windows proving popular alongside bay and oriel styles. The inherent beauty of these designs was enhanced with the introduction of panes of glass in upper and middle class homes. These replaced wooden shutters, allowing light to infiltrate the home and create a sense of airiness and space.

Image via Pinterest

Step inside the Elizabethan home and the design is equally as opulent. Tapestries and paintings adorn the walls, whilst moulded plaster ceilings in the style of Gothic fan vaulting provide visual interest. Much of this detailing centres around the grand entrance hall, which was reflective of the homeowner’s wealth. A timeless style favoured by the Elizabethans is chequered black and white flooring crafted in marble, which can be observed in the stately Marble Hall at Hatfield House. This is a design with enduring appeal, and one which we have incorporated into our luxury residences to make an instant statement.

Image via Pinterest

Wood panelling was also used extensively inside with intricate carved detail being laboured around the fireplace, acting as an art form within its own right. At Oliver Burns, we take great care and pride in protecting and restoring original period features, such as fireplaces, to their former glory. This commitment to preserving Britain’s glorious heritage saw us presented with the civic award for sympathetic restoration of period properties.

Image via Honey Suckle and Castle

Many of these cherished vestiges of a bygone era can still be appreciated and marvelled at today. One of the finest examples is Hardwick Hall nestled in the heart of Derbyshire. Designed by architect Robert Smythson, the property is upheld as a leading example of the Elizabethan prodigy house. Designed in the shape of the letter ‘H’, Hardwick House exemplifies the period’s inclination towards a symmetrical aesthetic.

The overall effect of the combined exterior features is one of harmony and balance, achieved through thoughtful use of architectural symmetry.  Other examples of the period can be observed at Longleat House with its rich plaster relief and oak panelling and Corsham Court for its classical columns.

Image via Zoffany

Subtle references can be made to the Elizabethan period through contemporary styling as artist Elizabeth White testifies. Elizabeth specializes in murals and hand painted decoration, studying Elizabethan design with a scholarly eye. Her award winning ‘Arden’ collection for fabric and wallpaper purveyor, Zoffany, is based around rare historical papers and fabrics from the Elizabethan period. She has also collaborated with Lewis & Wood to produce ‘Bacchus’; a swirling multivine wallpaper based on an Elizabethan original design. The overall effect is an authentic patina achieved through distressed paintwork weaving a romantic narrative into the modern home.

Image via Pinterest

At Oliver Burns Studio, we believe interiors should go beyond beauty and aesthetics to reflect deeper meaning and values. As Shakespeare famously said ‘the past is prologue’ a statement which resonates today as we thoughtfully design and develop the world’s finest residences in sensitive awareness of the rich heritage of many of Britain’s homes.

Composed by LE