Designer Spotlight

London Design Firm Albion Nord Bravely Transformed an 18th-Century Neoclassical Manor

Since its construction, in 1775, Benham Park has been through some unusual incarnations. Designed by nobleman William Craven, who enlisted the help of English architect Henry Holland and acclaimed gardener Capability Brown (Holland’s father-in-law) to realize his vision, the landmarked property near Newbury in Berkshire was commandeered during World War II as a army base and later remodeled as a call center in the 1980s. 

Fortunately, garish office carpets and yards of cables are a thing of the past, thanks to Albion Nord, the interior design and project-management studio charged with the restoration of the 30,000-square-foot, four-story manor. “The estate stayed with the Craven family for many years, was periodically sold off and sat vacant for a long time,” says Albion Nord cofounder Anthony Kooperman. “It had been extended both vertically and horizontally, and in 2012, the then owners demolished the entire commercial aspect, including a 50,000-square-foot wing. What was left was a beautiful neoclassical house in the middle of the grounds, which is what we’ve been fortunate enough to restore.” 

Albion Nord staff
Albion Nord restored Benham Park, a 30,000-square-foot, four-story English Estate. The firm’s founders are, from left, Ben Johnson, Ottalie Stride, Anthony Kooperman and Camilla Clarke (portrait courtesy of Albion Nord). Top: To keep the focus on the architecture, the designers used a natural palette and traditional furnishings, as seen here in the hall. All photos unless otherwise noted by Kensington Levine

It’s the kind of project the firm relishes. Before establishing Albion Nord, in 2017, partners Kooperman, Ottalie Stride, Ben Johnson and Camilla Clarke had worked together in various design studios around London (“Albion,” a literary term for Britain or England, represents the four British directors, while “Nord” is a nod to Kooperman’s Nordic heritage). Based in London’s Fitzrovia, the firm now boasts a 12-member team that counts Vincent Van Duysen, Billy Baldwin, Elsie de Wolfe and Jasper Conran among its design heroes, according to Stride, while the firm’s ethos focuses heavily on marrying the traditional and the contemporary to create comfortable, luxurious interiors that delicately sidestep pastiche. 

Benham Park exterior
Benham Park was designed by nobleman William Craven, who worked with architect Henry Holland and gardener Capability Brown to realize his vision.

“We have such great respect for historic design. And there’s a similarity to many of the projects we work on, in as much as the bones are very old, but as a studio our aesthetic is quite fresh,” she says. “Our palettes tend to be light and feature natural materials, which is something we’ve focused on at Benham too, but we also worked very closely with specialist heritage consultants to ensure that our proposals were in keeping with the original property.” The consultants included experts on plaster, fireplace and flooring, and where necessary, those vital elements were restored, repaired or carefully replaced. 

fireplace and armchair
In the hall, an Edward Wormley wingback chair (one of a pair) is positioned next to the fireplace, which was brought in from Buckinghamshire’s Stowe School in 1922.

The manor’s majestic portico opens into a truly breathtaking hall with floor-to-ceiling windows. “The architectural details are amazing,” says Stride. “But much of the plasterwork here and in the formal reception room was heavily gilded, which made it feel overly ornate. We pared the palette right back, which allows light and shadows to dance. It also makes things feel calmer and more contemporary.”

The designers wanted to keep the focus on the architecture, so they used a natural palette and traditional furnishings. Cheap pine flooring was removed and Portland stone reinstated, and painted over the gilding on the fireplaces brought in from Buckinghamshire’s Stowe School in 1922. Flanking the fireplace are a pair of Edward Wormley wingbacks. “They have a sense of a gentleman’s smoking chair,” explains Stride. “So, although they’re not in a mid-century environment, they speak beautifully to the setting.” 

seating in front of a fireplace
An enormous Georgian-inspired custom sofa sits in front of a live-edge oak table. The artwork is one of several commissioned from American artist William McLure.

In contrast to the hall and its neutral tones, the library has deep green walls that reflect the rolling parkland outside, as do the oak leaves that make up the bespoke chandelier by Richard Taylor Designs. This atmospheric space leads directly to the dining room, where more pale hues draw visitors through. “These rooms had been opened up to create a vast ballroom,” says Kooperman. “But when we looked at the history of the property, we discovered they had once been separate. It felt appropriate to reinstate the lost joinery, so we worked with Atelier Gooch architects and RW Armstrong builders to get the proportions perfectly accurate.” 

Blenham Park library
The library is home to a bespoke sofa based on a Georgian Chippendale design and a barrel-back armchair. The lights on the bookcase are by Collier Webb.

Grandly proportioned like most of the communal spaces, the library called for a large-scale bespoke sofa, which is based on a Georgian CHIPPENDALE design. In the dining room, a custom 26-seat table crafted by Sussex-based furniture maker Stride & Co. holds pride of place. A chandelier echoing the one in the library creates continuity, while neat pelmet boards and simple curtains allow the focus to fall on the terraced gardens and stone staircases outside. “Lady Craven loved hosting big theatrical parties and would stage plays at the back of the house while guests watched from the terraces,” explains Stride. “So, we designed the window treatments to act as a frame.”

dining room
The custom 26-seat table, crafted by Sussex-based furniture maker Stride & Co., is flanked by a pair of antique console tables.  

In the formal reception room, the same pale shade used in the entrance hall and dining room tames the intricate plasterwork and brings a sense of serenity. “Windows wrap three sides of this room, so the natural light is exquisite and creates incredible shadow play,” says Stride. Antique bamboo lamps provide extra illumination when needed, as does an upscaled custom chandelier based on a Louis XVI design

living room
A large antique gateleg table, seen at left, features a marble top added to elevate it. The faux-bamboo brass side tables are by Mastercraft.

Also on the ground floor, the whiskey room was conceived as an after-hours nook for post-dinner-party drinks or relaxed fireside reading. A dark heritage wall color provides the ideal foil for handcrafted surface joinery based on a breakfront bookcase. The antique Spanish Martini table was selected to echo the twists on the smart club fender. 

Upstairs, the feeling of calm continues in the bedroom suites, where the design is deliberately restrained to celebrate the lawns and ponds outside. In one of the rooms, a bespoke four-poster bed creates a sense of fullness and grandeur appropriate to the large space. “The desk chair is by Kaare Klint, who referenced Georgian makers as he was designing it, which creates an interesting dialogue” with the room’s more traditional furnishings, says Stride.

Benham Park bedroom
Gustavian chests of drawers used as bedside tables are paired with antique bronze lamps. The desk is by Severin Hansen.

Henry Holland’s influence is evident in the primary bathroom, whose walls gently curve into an oval, a signature feature of the architect’s work. “The contemporary insertion in the center is purposefully dropped away from the line of the ceiling so you can still sense the shape of the room,” explains Stride. “We used tadelakt [a Moroccan plaster finish] on the walls, and the marble is Calacatta Vagli.”  

In the primary bathroom, the elegant hardware is by Waterworks. 

Another space that benefits from an expanse of the boldly veined stone is the family kitchen, which sits comfortably in the basement. Boasting a vast oak-topped island designed to evoke the feeling of a traditional scullery, it is illuminated by a huge decorative lantern by Jamb.  

Benham Park kitchen
The vaulted kitchen is lit by a huge lantern from Jamb and brass wall lights sourced from Soane.

In the boot room, a curvaceous ceiling is the star. “The vaults create a rhythm that draws you toward the gardens. And the reveals were a great opportunity to introduce tongue and groove,” says Stride. Neat built-in benches provide essential storage for postwalk muddy boots. 

In the basement as well is a new media room, which, despite its generous size, has a cozy feel. “Outside is a large stone wall, so light is somewhat restricted,” notes Stride. “With this in mind, we embraced the darkness with color brought onto the ceiling to create an enveloping feel.” Fabric panels soften the acoustics, while the textural and striped cushions scattered over the huge custom-made sofa plus an antique alabaster lamp add both softness and character to the space.

Benham Park basement
The spacious basement feels snug, thanks to a rich palette and textural fabrics. 

The original stone staircase with botanical spindles sits directly beneath the glass-roofed atrium, which bathes it in natural light. “We collaborated with Jamb on the lantern to create something large enough for the setting,” says Stride. “The stairs are dressed with trailing ivy to bring in a touch of life, and the sisal flooring also adds warmth, so it’s a lovely space to travel through.”

Benham Park staircase
Trailing ivy adds life to the original cantilevered staircase and creates a connection to the parkland outside. 

Remarkably, the full renovation of Benham Park, which began in September 2019, took only two and a half years to complete, despite delays caused by the COVID pandemic. “For us, this really was a passion project,” says Kooperman. “So, it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to celebrate it.”

Get the Look

Edward Wormley for Dunbar Wingback Chairs, 1950s, offered by 20CDesign.com
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Edward Wormley for Dunbar Wingback Chairs, 1950s, offered by 20CDesign.com
Live-Edge Knotty Pine Coffee Table, 1970, offered by Fenestella
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Live-Edge Knotty Pine Coffee Table, 1970, offered by Fenestella
George II Palladian Fireplace Mantel, ca. 1740, offered by Jamb Ltd.
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George II Palladian Fireplace Mantel, ca. 1740, offered by Jamb Ltd.
Edwardian-Style Steel Club Fender with Silk Taffeta Bench Seating, 1980s, offered by P.G. Ruskin & Company LLC
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Edwardian-Style Steel Club Fender with Silk Taffeta Bench Seating, 1980s, offered by P.G. Ruskin & Company LLC
Solid Oak Library Ladder, early 20th century, offered by Olde Good Things NY
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Solid Oak Library Ladder, early 20th century, offered by Olde Good Things NY
Late Gustavian Pair of Painted Bedside Commodes, ca. 1890, offered by Maison & Co.
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Late Gustavian Pair of Painted Bedside Commodes, ca. 1890, offered by Maison & Co.
Severin Hansen for Haslev Møbelfabrik Rosewood Desk, 1960, offered by Osted Antique & Design
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Severin Hansen for Haslev Møbelfabrik Rosewood Desk, 1960, offered by Osted Antique & Design
Kaare Klint for Rud. Rasmussen Red Chair, 1950s, offered by Milsted Andersen
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Kaare Klint for Rud. Rasmussen Red Chair, 1950s, offered by Milsted Andersen
Maison Baguès Faux-Bamboo Brass Floor Lamp, 1960, offered by Ed Butcher
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Maison Baguès Faux-Bamboo Brass Floor Lamp, 1960, offered by Ed Butcher
Mastercraft Trio of Faux-Bamboo Brass Hexagonal Side Tables, 1970s, offered by Vintage Looks
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Mastercraft Trio of Faux-Bamboo Brass Hexagonal Side Tables, 1970s, offered by Vintage Looks

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