T ARCHI TEC TURE
he country estate has long been a subject of fascination. Literature is filled with handsome examples, from Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to the Buchanan Estate in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby . More recently, the television series and film of Downton Abbey have reminded us of the enduring appeal of this unique architectural offering. Beyond the pages of books or celluloid, many a country estate is entwined with major figures, and even scandals, of history. Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, built in the 18th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the birthplace and ancestral home of British wartime prime minister Sir Winston Churchill. Palladian-style Cliveden in nearby Buckinghamshire is where government minister John Profumo met Christine Keeler, sparking the infamous Profumo Affair that helped bring down the British government in the 1960s. And at California’s Hearst Castle, magnate William Randolph Hearst entertained the Hollywood stars, politicians, and writers of the 1920s and ’30s, from Greta Garbo to George Bernard Shaw. Defined by its substantial size, a country estate has traditionally been a showcase for influence, power, and money. In Britain, the trend for large architect-builtcountryhouseswithgardensaswell as fields and forest for hunting and shooting began in Elizabethan times, the landed gentry keen to tempt Queen Elizabeth I and her retinue to visit them during her tours of the realm. Across the Atlantic, the American Country Place Era saw estates created from around 1895 to The Great Depression. Financial empires built on banking, shipping, oil, and other Industrial Revolution industries created new entrepreneurs keen to create an escape from the city and enjoy their wealth. Members of the Vanderbilt family, John D. Rockefeller, and others commissioned
the most sought-after architects of the day, among them Richard Morris Hunt and firms such as McKim, Mead & White, to design and build grandiose properties surrounded by gardens and beautiful views. The style was inspired by England, France, and Italy, often with decorative pieces such as mantelpieces and staircases shipped over to give a sense of history. These estates still exist but are rarely in private hands. Taxes and high maintenance costs led to many being turned over to historical societies or government organizations to run. In England, many fell into disrepair and were demolished. ENVIABLE LIFESTYLES Today, however, the country estate is once again in high demand. “Millennials and Baby Boomers are seeking experiences rather than possessions, and while a country estate is a possession, it is one that supports a lifestyle,” says Zackary Wright, Executive Director Asia Pacific and Western North America for Christie’s International Real Estate. “This lifestyle could be recreational, such as equestrian activities, or it could be gastronomic, like winemaking. Two striking examples, both of which we are representing, are Green Gables, a 74-acre (30 ha) forested estate in the heart of Silicon Valley (see page 50), with beautiful gardens, horse trails, and a house designed by brothers Charles and Henry Greene, renowned architects of the Arts and Crafts movement. Then there’s Whitehall Estate (see page 48), which covers more than 20 acres (8 ha) in the heart of the Napa Valley and has vineyards and a contemporary home with cutting-edge design.” Another noteworthy estate, this time in New Jersey, is Darlington, a 58-room home modeled on an English Jacobean mansion. In Britain, there is a high level of demand for estates around the £20-million ($25.7m) price
Ancient and modern: Flint House won the RIBA House of the Year Award in 2015 and is currently used for staff of the Rothschild Foundation .
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