78 Derngate

To Northampton to visit the only non-Scottish interior designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was commissioned in 1916 by a Northampton notable, W J Bassett-Lowke, for himself and his new wife. The house itself is Georgian, but Mackintosh had it extended by 6 feet at the rear – thus giving him two bays and two balconies to play with. We welcomed and made the most of the guided tour.

The house is built on a slope, so the basement kitchen is light and surprisingly modern for its time. (Bassett-Lowke was said to have vetoed anything in his house that was older than himself.)


The entrance hall/reception room is simply astonishing. Mackintosh changed the orientation of the staircase and used decorative glass to lighten this north-facing room . . . and then proceeded to paint it black.

The walls are covered in a forest of stylised, geometric trees painted mostly in yellow. (Bassett-Lowke was said to be colour-blind, but yellow was one colour he could appreciate.) The effect is bewildering and rather wonderful; the only hint from outside that this is behind the front door is in the small inset lights (here seen from inside):


It’s all very geometric with not a flowing rose to be seen.  The other rooms suggest that Mrs Bassett-Lowke had a say in their decoration (definitely easier to live with, but far less dramatic), but she must have admitted defeat in the guest bedroom:


The Gesamtkunstwerk to give you a migraine

Bassett-Lowke sounds like a bit of a tartar and also a real trail-blazer. When circumstances permitted, he had a new house built by Peter Behrens in 1926, and he left a tangible public legacy by supporting modern architecture for the new civic centre in the 1930s. So much for the idea of small-minded provincialism!

But I mustn’t give the impression that 78 Derngate was the only interesting sight of the day. Oh dear me, no. It has a rival in the establishment over the road:


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One Response to 78 Derngate

  1. Sue says:

    Lovely post. Yes the front room was extraordinary being mostly black and yet not claustrophobic. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!


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