Senior Associate Director, National Country House Department
Offering imposing examples of the “prodigy houses” famed throughout the United Kingdom, the Jacobean architectural period took Classical design and reinvented it for the reign of King James I. Learn how to sensitively restore this type of property in our guide to Jacobean house restoration.
The Jacobean house style, so named for King James I of England (also known as King James VI of Scotland), was a brief period of architectural design ranging from 1603 to 1625.
Though properties of this style are rarely on the market, these opulent and richly textured homes are beautiful examples of British history, and worth the investment.
The Jacobean house movement
Despite King James’ relatively short reign, the members of his court focused on creating elaborate properties, or “prodigy houses”, in a style that came to be known as Jacobean.
These properties became synonymous with grandiose wealth with architects drawing on Classical design quirks to create sumptuous, palatial buildings in which courtiers could reside.
Though influenced by the preceding Elizabethan style of architecture, this period saw the greater influence of formal design. External flourishes, uniform in design, were de rigeur, with internal décor matching the impressive, but fanciful, exteriors.
How to recognise Jacobean property
England’s dominance over Europe, established under the previous Tudor reign, along with its growing trade sphere, which now incorporated the New World and the Islamic countries, and the political stability brought by the first joint king of England and Scotland, led to a brief renaissance in English art and architecture over the Jacobean period that favoured Classical elements with a continental flavour. At the same time, the upper classes found themselves flush with cash thanks to relatively low taxation and took advantage by building themselves new stately homes.
Jacobean homes therefore spared no expense. Soaring ceilings, sprawling floorplans, and striking stonework bordering on gaudy were all in fashion at the time. Less country home and more rural mansion, these properties are glorious examples of British lavishness; refined, but also ambitious.
Many of these properties were palaces in all but official title. Expansive on the inside, Jacobean houses often feature columns or pilasters, arches and archades to create a sense of grandeur, while on the outside their feature windows, parapets and intricate stonework make the building itself feel like a work of art.
Jacobean properties can occupy anything from individual castle-like buildings, to terraced houses built behind a single, magnificent façade. What unites them all is their emphasis on excess – though some architects chose to use fewer external flourishes, the enormous size of these properties is usually consistent.
Where to find Jacobean property
Though the Jacobean style has been imitated in urban areas, the home of this style is indubitably in the country. What would a Jacobean house be, after all, without good grounds to surround it? These properties can therefore often be found in the most extravagant and picturesque parts of the countryside, where they provided rest and relaxation for King James I’s courtiers and peers.
Examples of gorgeous Jacobean properties include Knole Hill, in Sevenoaks, Kent; Hatfield House, Hertfordshire; and Audley End House and gardens, Essex. Though rare, there are city-based Jacobean properties; Charlton House in Greenwich, London is one.
Things to know before buying a Jacobean house
Given the scarcity of this type of home, it is likely that the properties for sale will only form one part of a much larger Jacobean estate. Several Jacobean mansions have been transformed into luxurious apartment properties, featuring arcing ceilings and impeccable square footage – even as apartments, they provide more than enough space and bedrooms for large families.
Authentic Jacobean properties are not only extremely limited in number, but likely to be in need of some restoration. Buyers who are fortunate enough to snap one up therefore, should be prepared to put work into maintaining these properties, acting as custodians of history.
In order to accomplish this, special planning permission may be required before any work is undertaken, as original Jacobean properties are likely to be Grade I or Grade II* Listed, given their historical significance and rarity. These “special interest” properties require sensitive amendments to be carried out by approved contractors, who understand the special care that must be taken when dealing with the antique aspects of a property.
This might include the provision of original materials, or to hire craftsmen trained in ancient arts such as stone carving. Homeowners may also be responsible for ensuring the preservation of the original aspects of both the interior and exterior of the building.
However, these efforts will not be in vain. While they may require some work, Jacobean properties are generally tough and built to last. They also have an increasing value thanks to their growing scarcity, and are more than likely to pay back any investment down the line.
Common issues with Jacobean homes
Generally, Jacobean construction provides excellent bones for creating a beautiful period home. Just remember, there are particular features that will need attention when renovating a property of this type.
For instance, the plaster used in these homes can be extremely delicate and prone to weathering. Care should be taken when undergoing any work that may disturb decorative details such as covings, cornices or ceiling roses. Exterior plasterwork, such as stucco fascias, may require some care.
The benefits of restoring a Jacobean home
A Jacobean home is a statement addition to any property portfolio, with stunning features both external and internal, and an awe-inspiring design. The benefits of restoring a Jacobean home can be enjoyed both privately and publicly, given this architectural period’s historical significance.
Restoring a property of this type is likely to require considerable dedication and commitment, but the splendour of a restored Jacobean home is like none other.