One color dominates the Irish countryside: green. And one color dominates the Irish country house: brown. The furniture is brown, so too the walls and art—darkened by centuries of peat burning in grates—as well as the cuisine, in which hearty gravy is a staple, and the occupants' tweed outfits. This monochrome palette is broken only by the occasional glacial blue: a shade found on the faces of visitors unaware that while peat smokes plentifully, it emits little heat.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

But Baronscourt is defiantly different. Nestled amid the verdant landscape of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, the house’s sober porticoed exterior gives no indication of what lies inside: a zesty explosion of hues that range from rich purple to perky yellow. The decor is fresh, funky, and modern. It’s also more than 40 years old.

image
Hamilton in the entrance hall.
Simon Upton

Baronscourt has been owned by the Hamilton family for more than four centuries. The core of the present house dates from the late 1770s, when a Scottish architect, George Steuart, was commissioned to design a new residence for James Hamilton, eighth Earl of Abercorn. Evidently it was not grand enough for his nephew and heir, the Marquess of Abercorn (also known as “Don Magnifico”), who in 1791 invited the great neoclassical architect Sir John Soane to rework the house. Alas, just five years later, almost all this work was lost when fire gutted Baronscourt. Most of what can be seen today dates from the 1830s, when the second Marquess (and future first Duke) of Abercorn instructed the father-and-son team of Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison to redesign the house once again.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
image
The entrance hall’s circa-1730 Italian walnut chairs were covered in a Hicks fabric. The busts are Regency, and the rocking horse is a family heirloom.
Simon Upton

Today, Baronscourt is home to James Hamilton, fifth Duke of Abercorn, and his wife, Sacha. They assumed responsibility for the house in the 1970s and immediately sought assistance from interior designer David Hicks. “My parents came to live here in 1945,” recalls the duke. “They redecorated the front hall around 1964, but other­wise, everything was still very traditional and heavy.” It wasn’t what a couple with young children wanted: “We realized that living in rural Northern Ireland, with its dark winter mornings, would require a regeneration of color. David certainly delivered that in quantity.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
EDC110118_174
The seating area in the gallery of Baronscourt, a Georgian country house in Northern Ireland that was redecorated by David Hicks in the 1970s. The chandelier is William IV, and the portrait at left is by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Simon Upton

The duke recalls that when Hicks first arrived at the house, “he immediately wanted to be left alone with a large glass of port. Within two hours, he’d worked out the palette for the entire ground floor, save for the hall.”

Hicks’s son, Ashley, an architect and designer, remembers his father working at Baronscourt, and how much he enjoyed his time there. “I think it was probably his favorite job,” Ashley says. “He adored both clients, and he loved the architecture and playing with the marvelous contents. What could be better?”

image
Left: A commode in the Yellow Passage is made of tulipwood, amaranth, and marble. In the blue hallway beyond, the prints are taken from architect Sir John Soane’s 18th- century drawings of proposed renovations for Baronscourt. Right: A hallway is framed by a collection of 18th-century prints by William Hogarth and Francis Wheatley. The mahogany clock is George III.
Simon Upton

Still, not every aspect of the proposed decorative scheme initially met with favor. According to Ashley, the duke had reservations about the walls of the great staircase hall being covered in scarlet. “He was leaving for the day, and said a small sample could be painted and then he would decide. He got back that evening to find the whole hall painted. Luckily, he loved it.” Happily, he still does.

EDC110118_177
Hicks painted the walls of the staircase hall a deep red. The William IV center table is mahogany, the Florentine mirror is 19th century, and the gilt-wood chest is early 16th century. The 1644 painting below the stairs is by Jacob Jordaens, and the portraits on the upper level depict the duke’s ancestors.
Simon Upton

Hicks didn’t just bring color to Baronscourt: Together with the duchess, he also took charge of placing furniture and hanging pictures. In the middle of the last century, the long gallery had been partitioned into three spaces by architect Sir Albert Richardson as part of a series of alterations. Hicks removed the dividing walls so that the room, running about 88 feet long and trisected by Corinthian columns, could be admired in all its splendor. In a cozy library, the insides of the bookcases were painted a brilliant red by Hicks, who also lined the upper walls with dark red velvet recycled from old curtains.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
image
Hicks painted the interior of a library’s 19th-century mahog­any bookcases a deep red, and designed custom sofas and a rug for the space. The Chinese lacquered screen is circa 1800.
Simon Upton

Imaginative deployment of color explains why the Baronscourt scheme looks as fresh and exciting today as it did when it was first introduced. After more than four decades, the duke confirms: “There’s nothing we regret or would change. David’s design has tremendous longevity. It has weathered much better than some of the inmates!”

image
The Edwardian furnishings in the master bedroom are originally from Luton Hoo, the Duchess of Abercorn’s former family home in Bedfordshire, England. The marquetry chest is Louis XV.
Simon Upton