En Avant: Pugin’s Grange Has Been Saved and Restored Antiques & Auction News August 18, 2017 “I shall not erect a Grecian villa but a most substantial Catholic house, not very large but convenient & solid.” It was thus that Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) announced his plans to build a house in Ramsgate, on the coast of southern England.  At the time, in the early 1840s, most detached middle class houses were built in the Classical style. Pugin, however, was a Gothic architect.  Since adolescence, when he designed furniture for Windsor Castle, he had been working in the Gothic style. He was not the only architect to look to the Middle Ages for inspiration.  The taste for ogee arches and fan  vaulting dated back to the mid 18th century. But these early manifestations were playful and decorative.  Pugin was the first to reattach the Gothic heritage to religion. Classical art was, he emphasized, pagan and Gothic art was Christian. His zeal for applying the truth and integrity of Gothic to 19th-century living is reflected in the  family motto: “En Avant,” which translates as “Forward.” The Grange was the name for the house Pugin was building for his second wife Louisa and their children.  Although the construction took less than two years, the house was intended to look as if it had been pieced  together over many years. It has three ground-floor reception rooms centered on a double-height entry hall. Upstairs are the bedrooms and nursery. The most distinctive feature—and the one that probably set the gossip going in Ramsgate—is the Catholic chapel that  was built at the east end of the house. Pugin had converted to Catholicism in 1835, and his faith was central to his life and work. Pugin was not notably disciplined about costing his work for aristocratic patrons, but he had to keep expenses down when decorating the Grange, which was, after all, a family home. Thus the pine paneling on the ground floor was stained to look like mahogany.  The fireplaces are another example of the prevailing economy. For country-house commissions Pugin designed monumental mantelpieces. There is nothing so grand at the Grange. The one in the library is typical: a carved white marble surround embellished with enameled coats of arms.   For Pugin the medieval interior was about color. He knew that those cavernous, sparsely furnished castles had been hung with tapestries. It was with wallpaper, a more frugal medium that he brightened up the Grange. The rooms owe much of their cheer to the wallpaper, with the reds, greens, and pinks standing out against the dark paneling. For the ground floor, he used the “En Avant” pattern, which depicts the family motto and Pugin’s  personal emblem, the black martlet.  The foliage and heraldic emblem are represented as flat and stylized, which was unusual for the period. The established taste was for naturalistic patterns. It is a vivid instance of how Pugin adapted Gothic motifs to avant-garde theories of design. Sadly, Louisa died before the family moved to the Grange in 1844.  She left behind a lonely widower and an  unruly brood of six.  The “dismal solitude” was unendurable, so four years later, Pugin married his third wife, Jane Knill with whom he had two more children. Accounts of those days suggest a bustling, chaotic life. At full occupancy the house counted more than a dozen habitants plus the comings and goings of friends and associates. Pugin worked in the library, which was  separated from the sitting room by a curtain. “Living in a pig market is less terrible,” he wrote. The library was cluttered with antiquarian fragments and drawings. His desk was in the bay window, which looked out to the  sea. A good day was, in Pugin’s lively idiom, a “Jack’s alive day.” It started early in the chapel, and there were  regular breaks for prayer. He was a fast worker.  “He poured out fifteenth-century detail like a conjuror,”  remembered his assistant. During his accelerated career, Pugin designed dozens of churches, houses, and  schools. Punch magazine ran a mock advertisement for his services: “Designs for cathedrals made in five and forty minutes.” Despite his fame and energetic goodwill, the residents of Ramsgate were mistrustful. Pugin was probably more indifferent than flauntingly disrespectful of decorum.  Still, his impetuosity and hectoring playfulness were at odds with the genteel conventions of a provincial resort town. Anti-Catholic prejudice was another problem. Although there were no longer any economic or political penalties in England attached to being Catholic, it was widely regarded as an alien faith.  Certainly, there was much at the Grange to provoke the less ecumenical townspeople.  The chapel was clearly recognizable from the outside.  The reception rooms, likewise, were fitted with stained-glass windows of the saints.  Visitors would have seen the large statue of the Virgin Mary and Child that was hanging in the hall, and an invitation to dinner meant sitting beneath a frieze of Saint Augustine in majesty. Even benevolent gestures, like inviting foreign sailors to come worship at the Grange, were apt to be misunderstood. A child of the Regency, Pugin never really adjusted to the seriousness and austerity of early Victorian society. He installed a stove in the chapel because, as he remarked, “Most people pray better when warm.”  Holidays were celebrated with feasting and merrymaking.  Pugin liked to send out jokey ostentatiously formal invitations, so the snug dining room must have been crowded. Nor did the guests always disperse the next day because, when it came to Sunday travel, Pugin was a strict Sabbatarian. Pugin lived at a time of far-reaching changes. By the mid 19th century, more than half the population was living in cities and more than 6,000 miles of railroad track connected once distant places. His passion for the Middle Ages was, probably, in part a reaction against the horrors and rootlessness of the early industrial age Yet far from romanticizing manual labor, he saw the possibilities of applying mass production to historic design.  He supported, for example, the use of the steam-driven carving machine, and he worked closely with  manufacturers. In addition to wallpaper, he designed ceramics and metalwork.  Especially influential were his tile designs.  Pugin collected and studied samples of medieval encaustic tiles. In collaboration with Herbert Minton, the ceramic manufacturer, he revived their use for modern interiors.   Significantly, Pugin did not think that the new tiles were necessarily inferior to the old—quite the contrary, in  fact. One batch that he designed was, he wrote Minton, “vastly superior to any ancient work.”  At the Grange, Pugin’s tiles (some depicting the ubiquitous martlet) are in the hall and chapel. Pugin died at the age of forty, weakened by exhaustion and large doses of mercury, the prescribed remedy for poor eyesight. The Grange remained in the family until the death of his last surviving son in 1928.   It was then converted into a school, and its colorful interiors were transformed into drab academic quarters. In 1997, the Grange was bought by the Landmark Trust and restored to its original polychrome splendor.  Best of all: it is available as a holiday rental. Appropriately, in light of Pugin’s sociability, it has been furnished to accommodate eight guests. 
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