Bonomi – Architect to the Regency

” ‘I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them.’ ”

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen (1811)

So says Mr. Robert Ferrers, a secondary character in Austen’s novel. His oft-quoted ode, following a discourse on Gray’s toothpick cases, forms a particularly odious lecture given to Elinor, the heroine. Odious because he clearly imagines his patronizing speech will inspire her to feel fortunate in her much-reduced circumstances after his sister forces her and her family to move out of their home, Norland Park.

“..a cottage… calculated for the convenience of persons of moderate income.” Designs for Elegant Cottages and Small Villas, E. Gyffard (1806)

He positively presses Elinor on the advantages of building a cottage, going so far as to relate to her, in his self-important way, that he advised no less a personage than Lord Courtland on the matter.

” ‘Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi’s. I was to decide on the best of them.’ “

 

Rear view of cottage showing servants’ entrance to the kitchen and extension of a veranda

Joseph (born Giuseppe) Bonomi came to England in 1767 at age twenty-eight, to work as a draftsman at the invitation of the Adam brothers, innovators of Neo-classicism in Georgian design and architecture. Bonomi also worked with Thomas Leverton, the famed English architect who had the distinction of executing a triumphal arch commemorating American independence for a British nobleman.

From these connections, Bonomi took his native foundation in Roman antiquity to design country residences for the ton. He was known for adapting classicism to suit practical needs. As an example, classicism demands an even number of columns, but Bonomi would made their number odd, if that suited the proportion and function of a building. He took the classical portico and extended it, to protect arriving and departing carriages from inclement weather.

The Royal Institute of British Architects calls Bonomi the creator of the porte-cochère.

Roseneath House, designed by Bonomi for the Duke of Argyll. Note the fifth column, put there so folks wouldn’t confuse the carriage way with a grand entrance. — from Papers Read at the Royal Institute of British Architects (1869)

A Bonomi-designed country house was the sign of marked distinction during the Regency. Even his drawings were on display at the Royal Academy. Yet Robert Ferrers destroyed Lord Courtland’s set, boasting:

” ‘My dear Courtland,’ said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, ‘do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.’ And that, I fancy, will be the end of it.”

One must surely choose a cottage over a mansion, after such a masterful demonstration of preference (and destruction!) We do not learn of Lord Courtland’s eventual course of action, but Robert Ferrers lives on as perhaps the most-quoted person on the desirability of cottage-living.

I daresay his brilliance has quite cast poor Elinor in the shade. Her reaction to his conceit, ever sublime, can scarcely be remembered:

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

 

 

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