Northern Ireland

Mount Stewart House restored in £8m refurbishment

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Media captionThe house is tucked away in acres of forest near Strangford Lough in Newtownards, County Down, which Donna Traynor explores

It's been the film set for a number of Hollywood movies, the home to some of Northern Ireland's richest people and now, after an £8m refurbishment, Mount Stewart House has been fully restored to how it looked in its glory days.

Decorating the grand house has been no easy feat, taking three years to complete.

The final touches are still being put to the house, with every inch of it lovingly remodelled ahead of its reopening to the public on Monday.

The house once belonged to some of the most powerful people in the UK, the Marquesses of Londonderry, but it has been in the hands of the National Trust since 1977.

'Pristine self'

The furnishing comprises a mixture of pieces from different periods, including marble vases, carved lamps and oak tables, as well as collections of art from around the world.

However, in recent years the house had been slightly neglected, with chairs and sofas left threadbare.

Image caption Every single item in the house, right down to dining chairs, were cleaned, reclothed and repainted

Thanks to the investment, it has been completely rewired, repainted and transformed to look like it did in the 1950s when it belonged to Lady Edith, the seventh Marchioness.

Her family has lived at Mount Stewart since the 18th Century.

Her grand-daughter Lady Rose Lauritzen said visitors to the house could expect to be "totally wowed".

"A lot of them come back often and know and love the house," she said.

"It was all what I call shredded, and it needed a lot of care and attention. Now it's back to its glamorous pristine self.

"Back in that time, the house was hosting celebrities, royalty and it was a very political family."

Image copyright MOunt Stewart
Image caption The drawing room is now the home of some of the world's finest family portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, who is thought to be the greatest British portrait painter of the early 19th Century

Lady Lauritzen added that her favourite item in the house was the silver display.

'Most significant investment'

"It's where the old gun cupboard was, and it was full of silver and gilt on loan from my cousin," she said.

"But my favourite room is the drawing room, that was always everyone's favourite room."

Image caption The silver display has replaced Mount Stewart House's old gun cupboard

The manager at Mount Stewart, Jon Kerr, said the restoration project had been the National Trust's "most significant investment in Northern Ireland in quite some time".

"It has been a hugely exciting project that brings this family home back to its former glory and truly showcases the history of this special place," he said.

"Combined with one of the top gardens in the world, we have a destination which offers a fascinating insight in to the stories of the Stewart family."

He added that the project had been a "huge team effort", involving hundreds of joinery apprentices and builders to expert conservators and curators to ensure Mount Stewart House was properly looked after.

Image caption Lady Rose Lauritzen said new visitors to Mount Stewart would be 'totally wowed' by the effort that had gone into restoring it
Image caption Every single book in the house was removed from its shelf while the house was fixed up, and then had to be put back in the exact same place

Other highlights that visitors can now expect to see are world-class art collections, refitted stained glass artwork as well as entry to a selection of rooms that have never been opened to view before.

'Structurally sound'

People will now be able to see the butler's silver store, the billiards room as well as family and guest bedrooms.

Northern Ireland's National Trust Director Heather Thompson said it was extremely important to protect Mount Stewart, because of its unique heritage and tourist attraction status.

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Media captionBBC Northern Ireland's Richard Lightbody visits Mount Stewart House in 1977, just before it opened to the public for the first time

"With this fabulous restoration we expect to welcome even more visitors to this very special place over the coming years," she said.

"As well as the many historical items and beautiful represented rooms, the project has ensured that the structure of the building is now sound."

Image caption The house was totally remodelled and refitted from floors to ceilings, with no stone left unturned
Image caption Mount Stewart plays host to 2,500 items of family memorabilia including paintings, ceramics and porcelain brought back from the family's travels

It's a residence that has a place in the heart of many people in Northern Ireland, not just because of its beauty, but because its history is fascinating.

Now that it has been completely restored, new generations of visitors can come and explore the sheer decadence of the place, right down to its crystal chandeliers.

But what does Lady Lauritzen think about tourists taking a nosy around her home?

"It's going to be quite noisy, but now it's just going to be people walking around enjoying themselves instead of builders, and that's pleasant," she said.

"They can't come along my little bit of the terrace, so it's fine and they can all enjoy themselves!"

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