Belsay Hall, a Greek revival house built in the early 1800s which, in recent years, had been emptied of its contents and quietly decaying, has been completely refurbished with 200 examples of the best contemporary furniture, ceramics, glass and textiles.
The scheme was conceived as a vast commissioning exercise by Northern Arts, the Crafts Council, Northumberland County Council and sponsors Classic FM and Phillips the auctioneers; it comes to a climax next Saturday when the entire contents fall under Phillips's hammer on the premises.
It is a country house sale with a difference, featuring the best of contemporary British furniture and design.
Well-known furniture makers represented include John Makepeace, who has contributed two items, including a single "Rhythm" chair (estimate pounds 1,500- pounds 1,800), while Tom Dixon's 22ft-long dining-room table coated in distressed steel and copper is pounds 7,000-pounds 10,000.
The richly-coloured geometrically patterned rugs which have been gracing the vast library floor are by Sally Greaves-Lord - a former creative director with the fashion designer Issey Miyake. They are valued at pounds 1,500- pounds 2,500.
But the event includes much newly-discovered talent, such as the slashed shreds which pass for curtains by recent art-school graduate Asta Barrington and the whimsical television cabinet in maple by Adam Taylor and Jon Lewis (pounds 500-pounds 800).
"People today furnish their houses with antique furniture, and they forget that when Chippendale and Sheraton first made their furniture it was contemporary" says Timandra Gustafson, the craft development co-ordinator for Northern Arts when the idea was first mooted in 1993, and now an organiser for the Belsay event. "These are the antiques of the future."
Belsay Hall, 14 miles outside of Newcastle, had been steadily decaying away for years until English Heritage stopped the dry rot, taking over its guardianship in 1980. During the post-war period, the hall's contents had been dispersed at auction by its final resident, Sir Stephen Middleton, who died in 1993.
Believing that the house had come to the end of its natural life, Sir Stephen banned in his will the introduction of any more furniture, preferring to leave his hallowed hall hollow.
Visits to the house - a splendid copy of the Temple of Theseus in Athens, massive Doric columns and all, and built in the early 1800s by Sir Charles Monck, who had just returned, inspired, from his two-year Grand Tour of Europe - tended, therefore, to have poignant undertones. With part of the premises derelict and floorless, the exercise was one of regret for the passing of England's glories, until Northern Arts hit on the idea of refurbishing Belsay with contemporary work.
More than 70 British designers were sought out in a commissioning blitz not unlike the one enjoyed by Sir Charles.
Professor James More, head of design at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, and an organiser, hopes the event will inspire the public to "become more themselves rather than clones" and discover the delights of acquiring these works - or even, like Sir Charles, commissioning further items for themselves.Reuse content