Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Palladio’s Distant Legacy: Bellamont House, Ireland

It is one of the most elegant and fascinating classical Georgian residences in Ireland. After an artful and painstaking twenty-year renovation, restoration, and refurbishment by my dear friend, interior designer John Coote, the house is superbly and proudly itself once more.   

It’s now for sale. Here’s the story. 

I first met international interior designer, John Coote, when he was working on a project in San Francisco in the late eighties. 

He’s a charming man, often described as ‘larger than life’ for his wit, expansive charm and ebullience, and his extraordinary knowledge of design, architecture, travel, people, and interiors. 

He is the best raconteur, and has superb taste and style. In the field of design he’s admired for his in-depth understanding of design and architecture history. Coote is also the owner of the divine Bellamont Forest estate in Ireland. Come along with me for a visit. 

Historic Bellamont House, set in expansive grounds, Ireland. 

Coote grew up in outback Australia on his father's sheep station (farm), and was always fascinated by style and design. He studied interior design at RMIT University in Melbourne and after completing his course, went on to work in design workshops to learn detail and craftsmanship. At the tender age of 20, he started as an assistant designer for Décor, one of Sydney's major interior design firms. Today he works on projects in London, New York, Asia, Paris and Australia. 

International interior designer John Coote restored his house after a century of neglect, and is now selling this historic residence in Ireland. 

Bellamont House is situated in rolling countryside amidst beautiful old trees, an hour from Dublin. The noble brick residence is considered by purists and architectural historians to be one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in Ireland, and was said to be inspired by Villa Pisani. 

The estate is set in the drumlin landscape of rounded hills and lakes dotted with wooded islands. The estate has more than 90 acres of land, including five large lakes, and extensive hunting and fishing.

Bellamont House was built of red brick with elegant contrasting Doric limestone portico and pediments over the windows. Architectural beauty, symmetry and balance are signatures of the house. 

The entrance hall offers dramatic black and white marble floors and marble busts of Roman emperors set in round niches high on the walls. 

Coote’s attention to detail and focus on correct historicity are evident throughout. 

The highly elaborate drawing room plaster ceiling is dominated by a bold circular wreath. By contrast the library and dining room ceilings are coved and coffered in geometrical patterns. 

Bellamont was originally built in 1725 for Colonel Thomas Coote, Earl of Bellamont, a judge, by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, a year after the architect’s return from an extensive study tour of Italy. It has recently been offered for sale through the real estate agency Knight Frank. 

In this recent image of John Coote’s son and daughters, Amelia is in white. She works between Europe and Melbourne in fashion. She is the buyer for the chic Le Louvre fashion house, Melbourne. Angus is a banker who lives in Sydney, after stints in Hong Kong and London, Charlotte in red, the youngest, is an interior designer who has her own business in Melbourne. She spent two years in London working with Future Laboratory and then three years gaining experience at Coote & Co. 

In this shot, Amelia is standing in front of the Reynolds portrait of her ancestor Charles Coote, the Earl of Bellamont. 

John Coote, whose design firm Coote Bernardi is based in London, founded Coote & Co, based in London as an offshoot to his design work. The collection includes fine reproductions, all very authentic. 

"I found I couldn't get furniture made to my satisfaction, so we went into manufacturing,” noted Coote. 

Coote & Co is very much a family affair. His daughter Charlotte, who runs her own design company from Melbourne, looks after quality control, This frees up John to do what he likes best -- spending his time with clients to discuss design work. Pieces range from €650 up to €13,000. 

Coote & Co also offers hand-woven rugs made in India, chandeliers crafted in Brussels, and many larger pieces of furniture, which are handmade in Australia. 

"My life is spent endlessly traveling," said Coote with a sigh, "but I find it very inspiring." 

In the estate kitchen, Bellamont chef Ben Folkman prepares lunch. 

A recent spring lunch at Bellamont: John Coote, and Australian landscape designer Paul Bangay, with dark-haired artist Robert Doble who painted the contemporary works in the sitting room. Coote’s butler is Nicola Orsi. 

A chat with international designer, John Coote 

DDS: You grew up in remotest Australia. When did you inherit Bellamont? 
JC: The estate had been gambled away by my grandfather’s cousin, so it was out of the family for 100 years. I bought it back in 1987. I was living in Australia at the time. 

DDS: It is one of the classical Georgian jewels of Ireland. 
JC: Yes, it is considered the most dazzling. It compares with William Kent’s Chiswick house in London. Desmond Guinness, The Knight of Glyn and founder of the Irish Georgian Society considers it to be one of the most important early eighteenth-century houses in Ireland, 

DDS: Please tell us some highlights of the interior decoration. 
JC: Endless rooms on the Piano Nobile have the most beautiful plasterwork and exquisite detailing of joinery. All the existing fireplaces are original and intact, which is most rare to find in this day and age, I have cleaned all the original stone floors and dry scrubbed the Baltic pine floorboards. The house is very comfortable to live in, not massive in scale. You walk around admiring Edward Lovett Pearce, the architect, for his great skill in achieving perfect proportions. 

DDS: This was Palladio-inspired? 
JC: The architect spent three years in Italy in the early eighteenth century. He toured the Veneto and Palladio’s villas, such as Pisani and the Villa Capra, but I think La Rotunda was his great inspiration. The exterior concepts and proportions have a similar harmony. 

DDS: What do you love most about Bellamont? 
JC: It sits in a thousand acre park on a rise. Throughout the year, the light quality is wonderful. It’s an estate, so there are fish-stocked lakes, wonderful deer herds, pheasant and duck. It is escapist and glamorous and really like living in the eighteenth century.

DDS: Will you be the last of the Cootes to live there? 
JC: Yes I will be. The family has owned the estate since 1660 even before the house was built. My son, who is a banker, has moved permanently to live in Sydney, Australia. He has indicated to me he has no interest in living at Bellamont, and wishes to spend the rest of his life in Oz. I have moved to London, and I work from my office there. I would like to do another house in Italy. I feel I have achieved what I set out to do, which was to save this most important estate. It had been forgotten for such a long time. It is satisfying and fun seeing it made very visible and important again.

DDS: I am sure you are in the middle of beautiful projects and houses. 
JC: My company (www.cootehillbernardi.com) works on large ultra-private houses around the world, from architecture to interior design / decoration. We have just completed the interior of a mega-yacht, which is now in the waters off the South of France. We also work on hotels, restaurants and office buildings, in general a very exciting array of projects. I’ve had a wonderful experience with the house, and now it is time for others to enjoy it. I will be sunning myself in Florence, meanwhile, in my new villa.

The above images where taken by John Coote after lunch--and after a most festive ball for friends from all over the world. The images were from from a helicopter as he took off back to London, his family and friends waving farewell.

All photographs of Bellamont Forest estate courtesy of John Coote. Published here with express permission.
Location: one hour from Dublin Airport, Irish Republic.

Coote & Co, Bellamont Forest, Cootehill, Co. Cavan. 
Tel: 086 345 5024 or 0044 7748 703 589. 
For bespoke furniture and accessories, see www.cooteandco.com

For reference: 
Bellamont Forest is listed by Knight, Frank, www.knightfrank.com.
The American agent is Howard Margolis at Douglas Elliman, New York.

The asking price is 7.5 million euros.

The property is on the edge of the town of Cootehill, northeast of Cavan town, 25 kilometres west of Monaghan, 70 kilometers east of Enniskillen and 110 kilometers north of Dublin. 


Ashfield Hansen Design Inc. said...

A fine example of Palladian architecture indeed!
The setting for the building is divine.
Thank you for your introduction to Mr. Coote and his incredible family home.

David @ Ashfield Hansen Design

Brillante Interiors said...

Impressive property, the pink in the living room is quite unusual, art is stunning and the kitchen is a dream. As usual an interesting interview with a brilliant man. I recently published a post on another Villa Pisani, different time and style but nevertheless stunning as this one.

Reggie Darling said...

Exquisite and sublime. I am all astonishment! I shall come back to this post again and again, to revisit, ponder, and fantasize . . .

Concrete Jungle said...

Breath taking... houses and people this week! Thank you

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi David Yes, I agree. Lovers of Palladio find here a rather unknown house to examine. The connections with Palladio are obvious, but this house is in chilly Ireland, not the Veneto. The brick is handsome, especially in this rolling countryside of old oaks.

Hi Albrarosa--Yes, it is a vast house, and the art has to be bold for the room dimensions. The downstairs rooms are decorated with a certain austerity and simplicity and they are used for entertaining. Imagine a grand dinner and a ball in this house, with dancing in these large wood-floored rooms.

Hi Dear Reggie-Thank you for your comments. The setting of the house is truly dramatic. There are lakes...with swans. John takes guests out in his vintage craft on the lakes. There is also hiking and other country pursuits. Imagine the fires lit in winter. A cheerful sight.

Heather in Phuket--Great to hear from you. This house must look almost wintery to you...far from your lovely tropics. So pleased you enjoyed this story of renovation, remodel, bringing the house back from ruin and destruction.
Cheers, dear friends, and do stay in touch, DIANE

columnist said...

It is great to see the restoration of such a jewel. The house is tempting in so many ways, but you need a large family to justify it, (and a large staff to keep it running smoothly and comfortably).

As you note, the weather is also a factor, when it's divine in summer, but a bit of a trial in winter. (And from my experience of living in a similar house, sometimes it's difficult to know that it IS summer!)

The house was written up in July's House & Garden, but it's nice to have your more personal article too.

Daniel Hale said...

Great house. Have always been intrigued by the graphic/object nature of houses like that sitting in the landscape; severe and sculptural, amazing detailing.

TSL said...

I am in absolute heaven, the images take my breath away.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear CC--(It must be lovely and warm where you are now...not Irish in feeling at all)...yes, you are right that the restoration, over 20 years, was superbly polished and diligent. Can you imagine the house, neglected for 100 years, when John Coote took it over. He was certainly a fine steward of the house and the land.

Daniel-Hello-yes, you are right--house in severe landscape. There is nothing frou-frou here (that would be totally suburban)...it is wild country and he has kept it that way, with lawns mowed by tractor, wide swathes of green. I love it in the early summer--and in the summer on late evenings, larks ascending.

Tina--Hello--Yes, thank you. A note: the family portraits are by Snowdon. (Lord Armstrong-Jones...).

cheers to all, DIANE

Unknown said...

An exquisite breath of fresh Irish air in all its Palladian splendour. Superb, thanks Dianne.

the.neo.lifestyle said...

What a house and what a post. Your fantastic!!!



Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Gaj- LOVELY to hear from you. I missed you. I am so pleased you enjoyed Bellamont. Be sure to watch for next week...when we take a visit to a chateau in remote north-eastern France.

Hi David--so pleased you liked this story. I am happy to report that several of my friends, design fans, will be visiting Bellamont in October, on a study tour. They're having lunch with John Coote, the owner...and they are thrilled. cheers, DIANE

Karena said...

A fabulous estate that is mesmerizing. The works of art are perfect for the home.

Diane your interview with John Coote is very insightful.

Art by Karena

mary said...

Being Irish, this house has truly touched my core. It's beauty and simplicity are a true marvel. Thanks for the great interview. (Is that an Irish wolfhound in the background of the "picnic" photo?)

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Good Morning, Karena-

Thank you for your lovely comments. In profiles and in interviews I want to dig deeper and ask questions that reveal creativity, ideas, insight, dreams, inspiration, contrast, and life happening, life going forward. I am so pleased you enjoyed this 'chat'.

May--Good Morning--Yes, it is an Irish Wolfhound--just the perfect dog for this property. He must love it there, with all the land to roam on. So pleased you found this story. Be sure to visit often.

cheers, DIANE

Theresa Cheek said...

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.....and you let me be one! The scale! The scale is so perfect throughout! I love the statement the art makes in each room.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


So glad you enjoyed Bellamont.
I love to take my readers along with me...to experience and visit and observe and enjoy rare and wonderful places.

Yes, it is the balance and the scale--from exterior to interior--that give Bellamont its grace and harmony.
Many readers have commented on the contrast/juxtaposition of the classical interiors and modern art by Robert Doble. I think it enlivens the rooms and stops them from looking too serious and 'period'.
cheers and do stay in touch, DIANE

cotedetexas said...

oh Diane this house was on the cover this month of British HG and I just fell in love with it! That sitting room with the orange,pink, and blues! I was going to write a story about it - but now.....who can compete with this???? YOu are amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing has impressed me as much as that room in a long long time.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Joni-

Thank you much for your visit and your lovely comment.
I was fortunate to meet John Coote, the present owner of Bellamont, when he was in the process of acquiring it (it had been out of the family for 100 years).
If you have Desmond Guinness's book IRISH CASTLES AND HOUSES it check that as Bellamont the first residence in this wonderful and informative volume. It was published in 1971.
The portraits of the family, John just informed me, were taken by Snowdon (Anthony Armstrong Jones, Lord Snowdon...I will now add that credit, which I did not have earlier).
So glad you liked this feature. I love the private family photos, the daughters and son dressed for a ball--the lunch out in the garden in spring rather tells you everything about living in an historic country house like this.
Palladio lives on!
fondest to you, DIANE

JMW said...

Ireland - one of my favorite places on earth. I went there on my honeymoon. If only I could afford the house - I would buy it in a heartbeat!

Luke White photography said...

It is an amazing house that John has restored with great refinement, and with a great deal of passionate labour to it's original splendour.
See more pictures


Philip Bewley said...

I had the pleasure of meeting with John Coote a number of times in our galleries, he he lovingly described this place...I was looking for more information today when I found your excellent post. Thank you,