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The architecture and interiors of Robert Adam


If you’re anything like me, you love a good Jane Austen movie. Who hasn’t seen the stunning Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightley, or laughed over Gwyneth’s perfect interpretation of Emma? But besides the costumes and the romance, a major supporting character in many of these films are the colorful interiors. Recently, I learned that the style of interiors so commonly seen in Jane Austen’s time can almost all be attributed to a Scottish gentleman named Robert Adam.

So who was Robert Adam? Robert Adam, along with his brothers James and William, was a well-known and very well-respected Scottish architect and interior designer from around 1760 through the end of the 1790s. The Adam style of decorating is very recognizable and often associated with Jane Austen’s time; this is mostly because they were the first to design rooms that coordinated everything, from ceiling, to paint color, to carpet to furnishings. Building off roccoco and baroque, the brothers sought to simplify these styles while still keep things elegant and refined. As things often go in history, however, Robert Adam became the most famous of the brothers, and projects he worked on with his brothers often seem to be credited to only him.

Common features of Robert Adam designs: pastel paint colors, LOTS of plasterwork on the walls and ceiling, painted ornamentation on the walls (think of those plaster tied ribbons you always see), and also the use of domes and curved walls.

Here are some classic examples of Robert Adam work:

Note the use of the dome and the symmetry of the entrance to Kedleston Hall. Robert Adam based this design on the Arch of Constantine in Rome.

Hopetoun House

These next few images are all from the interior at Home House in London. They are CLASSIC Robert Adam and give you a good idea of just how influential their style was. These rooms would be perfect for any Jane Austen set!

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Here are some more Adam designs:

One thing you might’ve noticed in these pictures is how the furniture coordinates with the walls, which coordinates with the ceilings, and so on. Robert Adam would plan these details out meticulously. Below is a drawing of coordinating furnishings, light fixtures, paneling and ceiling design for Derby House in Grosvenor Square.

Robert Adam also designed furniture (naturally — the furnishings had to match everything else so I’m sure it was easier for him to do it himself versus always commission someone else to do it for him!).

He even designed a sedan chair for Queen Charlotte! Can you imagine if Kate Middleton showed up at Westminster Abbey in something like this? I have to say, I think the Rolls Royce she’s scheduled to arrive in is a bit more appropriate…:

I’m sure you guys recognize some elements of the Robert Adam style. What do you like most? The shameless use of pea green paint? The crazy attention to detail? Or the head to toe coordination?

{All images from Wikipedia, with the exception of the furniture pieces, courtesy of Museum Furniture. Click through links for image sources}

5 Responses

  1. I LOVE the opulence. I think his work is over the top stunning. Great post!

  2. I’m in interior design school right now and just wrote a paper about Robert Adam! Love love love all the intricacy and pastels.

    • How did I not know you were in interior design school??? Is it nerdy that I totally want to read your Robert Adam paper?? I think the history aspect of these types of things is endlessly fascinating.

  3. Crazy! I’m currently reading At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bryson [which is excellent, by the way], and just last night read about Adam. I was familiar with his furniture but didn’t realize that he was an architect as well.

  4. […] Thee Architecture and Interiors of Robert Adam: info and photos of the work of this famous Scotsman. […]

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