Category Archives: Architecture

Frederiksborg Castle: Renaissance in Knitting Needles

Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark is a riot of Renaissance elegance. A recent exhibit featured a jaw-dropping collection of hand-knitted ensembles based on the costumes in royal and noble portraits in the castle.

I love the idea of knitting, but I’m terrible at it. A simple scarf from my hands turns into a lumpy mess. So I was in awe.

The source portraits were hard to identify in Danish, so I gave up and just enjoyed the knitted versions of the costumes. How about an artfully ruched sleeve on a simple gray sweater?

Or an elegant dress based on two portraits from the 1500s? I’d cheerfully wear this if I had an occasion fancy enough.

Perhaps an elaborate lace collar?

I’d wear this dress too, if the artist knitted me one in a different color combination. Maybe subtle blues and purples?


The same goes for the pantaloon-turned-skirt number, based on a portrait of one Captain Sir Thomas Dutton. I’ll take one in grays and blues, please.

Two of my favorite colors, and an Elizabeth vibe…

A peplum number in deep blue.

Textures and colors fit for a long-ago princess…


I’m not sure of the inspiration for this creamy white wool coat. It kind of looks like a gentleman’s long-sleeved undershirt, lovingly sewn by his lady. Whatever. Just ring it up. I’ll wear it home!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, past and present, of Europe and the British Isles.

Jugendstil in Helsinki


The island of Katajanokka, just outside the center of Helsinki, might have more Jugendstil buildings per square mile than anyplace else on earth.


It seems that in the early 1900s, when industrialization was drawing rural Finns into Helsinki, there must have been a building boom.


Builders must have raced to create castles for the common people: fanciful and beautiful apartment buildings with turrets, towers, interesting windows, and beautiful decorative elements.


We stayed in one of them, and I’d have cheerfully stayed longer. I could see myself living in beautiful, friendly Helsinki. The city is known for its style. Now I see why!

Helsinki Jugendstil Doorways


For some reason, I expected Helsinki to be a  rough-around-the edges modern industrial city. Instead I found a city full of delightful architecture, much of it dating from the early 1900s. This was the heyday of the worldwide Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movement.


I’m stopping constantly to snap a picture of yet another inviting, witty doorway. I’m loving Helsinki!

Doorways in Kalmar

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First impression of any building: the front door. A well-chosen one is unique and inviting. This one looks like a face, don’t you think? Maybe a friendly cat?

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The Swedish town of Kalmar has a lot of unique doorways. Kalmar was once an important strategic town, on the old border between Sweden and Denmark.  It still have a wonderful historic castle. Where there’s a royal castle, people always go to the trouble and expense of putting up fine homes and grand public buildings.

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Some Kalmar doors are beautiful in their simplicity.

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Some are  a little more elaborate.

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Beautiful shades of red, blue and green are favorites everywhere in Sweden.

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Sometimes flowers add color, even at the very end of the way-too-short Swedish summer.

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How about some classic geometrics?

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Sometimes a door invokes the past.  This one is on a grand seafront building, right next to an inviting beach.  I’m thinking “Bad Hus” means “bath house.” How about a swim?

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Not today. It’s early September. Leaves are changing and the days are getting cold in Sweden. We’ll have to wait for summer! I hope to be back.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Parham Park: My Favorite Long Gallery

This is Parham Park, built in Elizabethan times for a wealthy old family fortunate enough to acquire the land in 1540, when King Henry VIII was busy dismantling monasteries.  The land at that time passed from the Monastery of Westminster to the Palmer family, who began building their grand house in 1577. In about 1597, the Bishopp family bought the house and estate, and held it for about 325 years. In 1922, the Pearson family bought the property and found it in sad repair. They set about renovating, very conscientiously. The quiet but luxurious country life lived in this beautiful house has been about the same for centuries. It appears that over the years, the families who lived here were able to steer clear of the dangerous (and often lethal) political turmoil of their times.


The house is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, close to the southern coast. After the excitement of hosting troops during World War II, the family decided they liked having people around and opened to paying visitors in 1948.

The matriarch (think of her as the equivalent of Lady Violet on Downton Abbey) used to enjoy sitting in the Long Gallery, pictured below, as tourists filed through. She stayed anonymous and had a great time fielding  questions and chuckling at inane comments. She especially liked it when complete strangers claimed that they had been guests of the family before the war–when she would have been their hostess.

According to a friendly docent on a recent visit, the house has the third longest remaining Long Gallery in the country. These galleries were built in Tudor and Elizabethan times to showcase the family’s treasures. Just as importantly, family members used the gallery to take long walks when it was pouring rain out in their gardens and woodlands.


Sometime in the 1960s, the family at Parham tired of the plain white ceiling of their Long Gallery. They had repaired and replaced the roof decades before, but the Gallery was beginning to bore them. So they hired an artist to add vines and branches. And some wildlife! A little owl perches on a branch in the panel above.


How about a pair of birds and their nest?


My personal favorite is the monkey, who looks like he’s up to no good.

Parham today is managed by a charitable trust, and the Pearson family still lives in part of the house. If Parham were run by the National Trust or English Heritage, painting vines and wildlife on the ceiling of the Long Gallery would probably never happen. Those organizations rightly insist on historical accuracy. But since Parham was (and is still) privately owned, the family was free to do what private owners of stately homes have always done: make their home exactly the way they wanted it.  The house is part of the Historic Houses Association, which sells a yearly pass that gets pass holders into many properties free, and into others at very limited times when no one else is admitted.

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I’ll cheerfully flash my HHA pass at a house like Parham any chance I get, and I’ll return again and again to savor spectacular historic interiors like the dining room above.

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The Chapel at Tyntesfield

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The chapel at Tyntesfield is a spectacularly beautiful reimagining of a French medieval church, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Tyntesfield is a Victorian neo-Gothic mansion built by the devout Gibbs family, commoners who rose to great wealth through banking, shipping, and bat and bird manure (more on that later).

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The chapel was the last big building project on the property, just outside Bristol, but it was in many ways the one most important to William Gibbs. It is also the first part of the house that the visitor sees on the walk from the parking lot and National Trust visitor center.  It’s a stunning first impression. Arthur Blomfield was the architect and builder.

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When the Gibbs family lived in their Victorian Gothic Revival mansion, the family, guests and servants alike attended prayers twice daily–first in the grand hall, and later in the chapel when it was finished. Beginning around 1842, William Gibbs made his fortune from a simple idea that grew and grew: he imported guano, the droppings of sea birds and bats, from Peru to North America.  Guano was highly prized as a fertilizer. William Gibbs became the richest non-aristocratic man in England. Tyntesfield had 106 total rooms, with 26 main bedrooms plus more rooms for the many servants. The square footage is about 40,000. And this was only their country home.  Most of the time they lived elsewhere, in equally grand digs.

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Naturally, people were envious of Gibbs’s success. An indelicate ditty in London ran, “Mr. Gibbs made his dibs, Selling the turds of foreign birds.” Actually, the selling of fertilizer led inexorably to profiting from the slave trade, a fact which the Gibbs family preferred not to dwell on.  Their shipping business, over time, became a part of the Triangular Trade that caused so much human misery. Ships constantly transported material goods and slaves between Europe, the Americas, and Africa.

Triangular Trade, Creative Commons GNU Free Documentation License

Triangular Trade, Creative Commons GNU Free Documentation License

The Gibbs family donated large amounts of their fortune to various charitable causes, and generously supported churches all over England. Naturally, they wanted their own church.  The chapel was built between 1872 and 1879, to a design by Arthur Bloomfield.

Sainte-Chapelle, interior, image from The Guardian article cited below

Sainte-Chapelle, interior, image from The Guardian article cited below

The inspiration was Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, pictured above. Sainte-Chapelle was built by the devout Louis IV in the 1240s. (He later became St. Louis, giving his name to the American city later still).

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The stained glass at Tyntesfield is beautiful, if not as spectacular as the newly-restored glass at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

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The stonework is lovely and evocative.

Portrait of William Gibbs by Eugene Deveria, circa 1850, Public Domain

Portrait of William Gibbs by Eugene Deveria, circa 1850, Public Domain

WIlliam Gibbs intended to follow the example of aristocratic families and create a family burial vault underneath the chapel for future generations. The vault exists, but it is empty. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, under pressure from local churches, refused to consecrate the chapel. The stated reason was that allowing a consecrated chapel on the grounds of Tyntesfield would detract from local churches. I can’t help thinking that “the powers that be” were also reluctant to upset the social applecart by allowing a family of common birth to put on airs. (Eventually, George Abraham Gibbs was “created” 1st Baron Wraxall in 1928, but family fortunes were already declining by that time).

The chapel at Tyntesfield is the last stop for visitors touring the beautiful mansion. It’s a lovely, light-filled, quiet place to contemplate history. William Gibbs was buried elsewhere, but a cross and inscription from the book of Proverbs memorialize his life: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.” William Gibbs did his best to be both a businessman and a righteous man.  Early in his career, he and his brother Henry worked hard to completely repay the debts that earlier family members had run up.  The family business had gone bankrupt, and there was no obligation to pay. But they did anyway, every penny. It also appears that William Gibbs did his best to remove his shipping business from the slave trade once the terrible abuses were known.

I previously wrote about Tyntesfield and the Gibbs family at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/10/22/high-victorian…at-tyntesfield/

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2013/06/19/tyntesfield-vi…lendor-rescued/

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2013/06/18/mr-gibbs-made-his-dibs/

An article about the restoration of St. Chapelle in Paris is at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/20/sainte-chapelle-paris-stained-glass-window-restoration-completed

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!