Farnborough Hall (Warwickshire): judging a house by whether I want to live there

I visit houses because I enjoy them: good architecture makes me happy and satisfies my intellectual and aesthetic tendencies at the same time

However, ever watched a property programme and heard the would-be-buyers say ‘it (doesn’t) feel(s) right‘, regardless of architectural merit or how much it’s going to cost to keep it in good repair?

It’s that je ne sais quoi that frustrates property finders.  Lets call it chemistry.

With an historic house one certainly benefits from chemistry and/or family history – owning a period property is not the cheap, straightforward way to own property.

I felt that chemistry at Farnborough: so much so I had to go into some rooms twice (only three downstairs rooms, the stairs and the entrance hall are open so it’s not as extreme as it sounds).

William Holbech lived at Farnborough and in 1720 he went on the Grand Tour.  He filled his house with busts and art, including Canalettos.  Of course (!), his 1680s house needed refashioning (in the 1740s) to suit Palladian fashions and so you’ll note false windows on the exterior, to create symmetry.  A light well was also included above the stairs, involving the raising of the first floor so the bedroom windows now start below the floor.  Niches were added to the walls of the low-rising stairs to display the best sculpture.

Don’t forget to look up at any point because the ceilings at Farnborough are rather elaborate.

The dining room was remodelled to house the Canalettos but sadly the originals were sold in 1929 – I’d had my fill for the day at Woburn (21 in one room), so I was content to accept the existence of reproductions here.

The Holbechs still occupy as tenants and their kitchen is off to the left of the entrance hall.  They use the original dining room as a sitting room (with the reproduction Canalettos) and the duller morning room now houses the dining table (owned by the NT).  To the right hand corner of the house is the music room/library, where the piano (which I tried to play) was badly in need of tuning.  One the Holbechs had recently celebrated a birthday, leaving a couple of hats adorning two of the busts on the top of the fitted bookcases.

The room now housing the dining table once endured a leak from above and in the early 20th century a tenant whitewashed the ceiling.  In recent decades the paint was removed, revealing a delicately painted ceiling, which we’re told the family hope one day to restore.

The Holbechs brought ideas of Italy back to Farnborough and outside to the rear the mainly lawned garden leads up to a 1 mile vista.  However, D was waning so I never got up that hill.  There’s also a couple of ponds and a turning circle to the front.

The house has no cafe but during our visit the Trust and the local village hall were working in tandem, the latter providing tea and cakes and the former making sure guests could find their refreshments.

Due to the house being tenanted, Farnborough Hall has limited opening houses, but due to it being tenanted I think it is one of the more successful National Trust houses I’ve visited.  I do wish more NT properties would have live-in custodians.   I remember when visiting Hatchlands Park thinking ‘good on him’ when I saw Alec Cobbe’s TV and comfy chair in front of the fire in the library.

Farnborough may not be the grandest, the largest, the most elaborate house I’ve visited but it is somewhere I would certainly move in.

Aaah, bliss.

When visited: 2011

House * out of 5: ***

Garden * out of 5: **

Website: click here

Theme tune: Joe Cocker’s ‘You are so beautiful’

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