Stowe's Chinese House Restoration

The Chinese House at Stowe: a small square building with brightly painted patterned walls and a curved roof.

The Chinese House is a tiny little folly in the Pheasantry near the Palladian Bridge at Stowe. It is intricately decorated with Chinese scenes, flowers and calligraphy. Despite being protected in the winter, the paintwork has badly deteriorated in the last few years. Specialist conservators are working to stabilise the paint layers and protect it for the future.

The Chinese House dates from around 1738 and is believed to have been designed by the architect William Kent (1685-1748). Kent was working on several garden buildings at Stowe at the time. The pavilion originally stood on poles in the middle of a pond near the Elysian Fields. (The pond no longer exists). Italian artist Francesco Sleter painted the decoration.

The pavilion was moved to Wotton House in Buckinghamshire until 1959 then went to Kildare in Ireland until 1992. In 1998, after a fundraising appeal and extensive restoration by the National Trust, the Chinese House was returned to Stowe. 

Under attack from the elements

Despite being protected by a canvas awning during the winter months, the condition of the exterior painted decoration has deteriorated in the last few years. The heat from the sun causes the timber structure to expand and contract. The paint is also under attack from wind and rain.

This year, specialist conservators are stabilising the paint layers to improve the surface appearance. At the same time, we’re addressing a range of options to address the long term preservation of the building.

Conservation treatment

Treatment to the exterior includes: consolidation of flaking paint layers, surface dirt removal, reforming of the existing varnish, gap filling, in-painting losses to the decorative scheme and applying a final varnish layer.

There will also be minimal treatment of the late 18th century decoration on the interior, including removing the facing tissue, light surface dirt removal and a trial of varnish removal and re-varnishing of one panel.

See the work in progress

The conservators will be restoring the Chinese House throughout September. Why not go and see them and ask about their work?