History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

09 October 2012

The Problem with Younger Sons’ Domiciles

My current WIP needs a house. A very particular kind of house. Something less than a Pemberly and more than a Longbourn if you know what I mean. I need a Nertherfield. Planning great estates for my characters’ families is easy. There are numerous books on the great estates of England and almost every great house has a website of its own. Floor plans are fairly easy to come by, and so many BBC productions pay loving attention to them. Planning something on a lesser scale for my younger sons however can be something of a challenge.

I poured over a bunch of books this weekend looking for inspiration, since this is going to be a house book. It has to be right. It’s going to be character in and of itself. And the heroine has to love it. Most of my books were not at all useful. To focused on the grand houses of the era. But The Georgian Villa showed promise. It has floor plans for more modest houses. I settled on two that looked promising and had floor plans in the book, Shawfield Park (1711) and Hawkhill (1757).

Hawkhill interior
Shawfield is a Palladian house which is described as “a modest seven-bay house with a pedimented and slightly projecting centre-piece, hipped roof.” It has a belvedere on top for added interest and a nice long, open terrace running along the entire front. It is two stories over a basement with small garret rooms for the servants (so four stories effectively) There is a full article with minute descriptions of the layout and rooms on JSTOR for $14, which I held off buying.

I also looked at Hawkhill, which was built designed by Adams. I’ve been in several of his houses, so I know what to expect of the interiors. Hawkhill was torn down in 1971, but I still managed to find pictures of it which confirm that though a far more modest house than Osterly Park, Hawkhill shared the same design flair.

In the end I think I will go with a combination of the two. Hawkhill for the principal floor and Shawfield for the others (Hawkhill has a horrible layout on the first floor where the bedrooms are, no windows on the entire back side in what must be the servants’ quarters).


Blogger CZEdwards said...

I use property listings to find my inspirations. Grade II listed generally have had some modernization, but not enough that the bones aren't visible, and unlike Grade I properties, most grade IIs were lesser residences and have stayed residences. I'm particularly fond of Orford Hall in Ugley (property listing PDF here: http://www.humberts-leisure.com/uploads/media/48509_Orford.indd.pdf) since it was built by a subsequent son of a subsequent son (Edward Russell, who became Lord Admiral, but the house was built whilst his family was in disfavor and he was out of a job). I think it shows a sense of ultra-modern design for the time of construction (1680s) given the half-round salon, the large windows and Kent stairwell. Even with later alterations, it still gives a sense of the class divisions inherent in the Netherfield+ category. 

Property listings are also really useful for London, especially when I know which neighborhood. Bloomsbury and Russell Square were new in (respectively) the Regency and Georgian periods, and things like stairs, cellars, chimneys and plumbing are difficult retrofits, so they are usually in approximately the same place as when new. Ergonomics and aesthetics don't change much because the human body hasn't changed much. Given a floor plan and Google Sketchup, I can build functional 3-d models and get a sense of what living in the space was like. 

6:12 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Awesome suggestion. I hadn't thought to use the grades that way! Because the houses are important in each of the books, I’ve had to put a bit of effort into finding the right inspirations (and I like to have a mental map, if not a physical one, so I don’t get lost in the house when writing).

7:34 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

OMG, that is a great house, and now I'm shoppoing for Grade II houses! This is the best trick ever!!!

7:37 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I too struggle to find examples of houses that aren't "great houses" whether in London or the country. Love CZEdwards's suggestion!

2:30 PM  

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