October 3rd, 2013
Local children nicknamed this seventeenth century folly ‘Mustard-pot Hall.’ It stands on the edge of a field in south-eastern England. ALAN DODD has lived here since the 1980s. I was a guest here one weekend about a decade later and I was smitten, and have been ever since.
Dodd (as he calls himself) is a painter, trompe l’oeil artist and muralist. His London home in the Caledonian Road (the second episode featured on the bibleofbritishtaste) is perfect too, but he loves and tends his country house far more assiduously. He has been saving up to rebuild its tall chimney, with salvaged hand-made bricks, for years now. While Caledonian Road has the sootier, Dickensian charm of long occupancy, his Suffolk house grows more and more beautiful.
Just before the sale of his house was completed, there was a fire here. Dodd has spent years restoring it, using his skills to repair plaster mouldings, ceilings and walls. The kitchen is in a single storey flat-roofed extension built in the 1960s. Dodd has enhanced it with chinoiserie-lattice windows salvaged from a local stable block that was said to have been designed by James Wyatt.
He is a very good cook. Greed is a factor, he says.
He is an inveterate collector of ‘good’ china. Everything gets used, there are no ugly plates or chipped mugs at his table.
The spine corridor linking the seventeenth century with the 1960s is hung with a printed linen designed by George Gilbert Scott for the Houses of Parliament. There is a compartmentalised, oak-grained ceiling that alludes to Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Romantic’ interiors at Abbotsford. His taxidermy collection pre-dates the current vogue by decades.
The principal room in the older, main house is now the Dining Room.
Dodd’s masterpiece used to add Magic Realist glamor to the staircase at Caledonian Road. Now it hangs here, Fonthill Abbey, after the Cattermole print, (1974).
This is the best guest bedroom. Dodd designed the bed to frame the embroidered seventeenth century needlework panel.
It grazes the ceiling, inside it is like a beautiful tent.
Dodd’s Regency bedroom has manly stripes, with ebonised and mahogany furniture. Since I first clapped eyes on him I have admired his sartorial style, worn tweed jackets and jumpers, occasionally with a waistcoat on top, and a full beard.
He is good at symmetry.
More of the bathroom. He put up the Soaneian cornice using turned wooden balls from a Camden Town hardware shop.
The upper room of the seventeenth century house, Japanned furniture, cloisonne work, Ostrich egg and long views over the flat Suffolk countryside. Alfred Suckling’s History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk (1846) describes this ‘small but curious edifice of red brick… its upper floor commanded a view of the German ocean.’ Dodd keeps his telescope up here.
There are no conventionally ‘comfy’ chairs. If guests want to relax, they might be told to go to bed.
Box room and abandoned painted chairs in the attic oubliette.
A huge archive of hundreds of his designs, many of them stored on top of and under a wardrobe, is slowly being photographed and catalogued. So far we have done about 10 per cent, here are a few.
Last week at the Rex Whistler show (now just ending at Salisbury Museum and Art Gallery) I wondered whether RW hadn’t been Dodd’s first and most significant influence. They share the same decorative language and motifs. If Whistler had lived and had not become too grand, he might have taught the young Dodd as a student at the Painting School at the Royal Academy. But Dodd says that tho’ he much admires Whistler’s Tate mural and those at Plas Newydd and Mottisfont, he finds some of his other work creepy and camp. His own work is more an extension of the architecture of the building, and an attempt to regain the traditions of the past, he says. I think that this design, and the one below, are two of the five large architectural capricci he designed for the Painted Room at the Victoria & Albert Museum, commissioned by Roy Strong in the 70s. Dodd is also responsible for the trompe l’oeil decoration on the Vardy staircase at Spencer House and the Pompeiian ceiling decoration in the New Picture Room at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
‘Gothick’ is probably what he does best. His latest canvas is the entire outside wall of a house in Eye in Suffolk.
There is a ragged topiary garden behind the house that looks just right.
Day of rest – Saturday morning breakfast outside with the papers amongst the mole hills.
[All images : copyright bibleofbritishtaste.com / Alan Dodd ]