Because of Britain’s inclement weather, rooms dedicated to indoor entertainment have long been a feature of English country houses. Now we’re spending more time at home, party rooms are enjoying a revival, says Arabella Youens.
In these unpredictable climes, indoor pursuits are always pretty vital, but with the possibility of lockdowns they are more of a focus than ever. The further north you go, the more essential they become; architects of grander country houses — particularly in the Victorian and Edwardian eras — have long recognised this and incorporated spaces dedicated to fun and games, classically as a billiards room.
For years, these tended to be a male preserve, decorated with low lighting and glowering portraits of ancestors in heavy gilt frames. William Peppitt of Savills remembers selling a house that had a purpose-built billiards room with a small room off to one side that housed a single porcelain urinal. It was, he points out, an architectural expression of male chauvinism. Today, billiard rooms are particularly popular among younger buyers keen to revive the romantic vision of a country house. ‘In some cases, they will simply have to build them,’ William adds.
As are so many aspects of the English country house, from kitchens to guest rooms, the billiards room is evolving. Today, it tends to be a space used for everything from games to entertaining — a move reflected in Sir William Bentley’s precision-engineered designs, which can be rolled over and raised into a dining or banqueting table.
If well planned, the possibilities of these types of entertainment spaces are endless. Angus Gibson, an acoustics and audio-visual consultant who established Juliana’s Discotheque in the 1970s, says it should be a space for socialising, playing snooker or billiards, ping pong, board and video games — both during the day and at night. Needless to say, a state-of-the-art sound system is also an attractive feature.
Henriette von Stockhausen suggests that the space be enhanced with a well-stocked cocktail bar and plenty of comfortable after-dinner seating. The question of screens, however, divides opinion. For some, it’s an obvious home for a cinema-style projector or wide-screen TV. Others maintain this should be screen-free zone with plenty of games.
Layouts in party rooms that perform multiple functions need plenty of thought and planning: if the space might be used for dancing, then the furniture will need to be pushed to one side or removed altogether. Banquette seating helps to make the most of all available room (and trick you into feeling that you’re in a West End club).
It’s important to get the decoration right, too; a very traditional atmosphere might frighten off younger members of the household. Lighting is fundamental, adds Henriette, who advises combining overhead lights, lots of table lamps and picture lights, ‘which gives everything a warm glow, wonderful late in the evening when no one wants any direct lights on them’.
Flooring is another consideration, notes Emily Todhunter. Timber works well, as it’s hard-wearing, but also absorbs sound. Cover it with lightweight rugs that can be rolled up and stored away when the room is in party mode for extra flexibility. Who needs to go to a club ever again?