Archive for the ‘Retro folly’ Category

The light shines out of me grotto jupiterartland june 2012

The Light Shines Out of Me, Amethyst grotto, Jupiterland, Scotland

The Light Shines Out of Me is a new grotto/art work, conceived by Scottish artist Anya Gallaccio for Robert and Nicky Wilson at Jupiterartland, their home near Edinburgh in Scotland. It was completed in June 2012.

Discussing the work, Gallacio told the Times newspaper:“I wanted to make a contemporary folly or grotto, a nod to the great 18th century tradition of British landscape gardening.  This is a sculpture but it is also part of a garden”.

The grotto was excavated 5m into the ground and consists of a 3m square chamber lined with Brazilian amethyst. It was assembled by two dry-stone- wallers. The amethyst cube is framed by a rectangle filled with 10 tons of obsidian glass, from Oregon and enclosed in a hornbeam hedge.

It took nine months and a large team to construct. By 2013 it will be covered with the ferns, which will have grown back so that the fencing will be almost invisible.


the light shines out of me closeup

All the best grottoes lure you in with an equal measure of awe and wonder and The Light Shines Out of Me, will be no different. Gallacio says : “I would like it to be unsettling- and people to question whether they should enter or not. Then when they come into the space, it is very formal, grandiose but also intimate, a quiet place for one or two people.

The healing properties of amethyst are also a reference to Robert Wilson’s family company, Nelson’s [homeopathic remedies]. The Jupiterland estate has many commissioned art works and sculptures and is open to the public in the summer months. www.jupiterland.org

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Jonathan Denby, owner of the Newby Bridge hotel in the English Lake District, has built a classical style folly in the grounds of his hotel. Here it is. It is intended for weddings and even has a secret wedding night bridal suite with  a hidden bed, which comes down from a wall; a secret door to a concealed bathroom and a TV which drops down from the ceiling. You can lie on the bed and look at the stars through the glass domed roof.

On his website


Jonathan describes how he was inspired  to build the folly by a Victorian gentleman, Alexander Brogden, the owner of Holme Island in Grange (also in the North West corner of England) who, when he had finished building the Furness railway, built a circular Temple of Vesta in his garden.

Jonathan explains: “ I came across a photo of the temple while I was doing some research on Grange in the Barrow Records Office and was immediately captivated by it. You get a good view of Holme Island from the Prospect Tower in my garden, and you can see that unfortunately it’s now a ruin. It’s also completely inaccessible on private land.

When I first saw the photo of the temple I thought how wonderful it would be to create something as beautiful. The idea stayed with me, and when I had the chance to buy the land behind the Newby Bridge Hotel, I thought that would be an ideal spot for it. The land, which had at one time been part of the ornamental gardens for Newby Bridge Mansion (as the hotel was formerly), had become completely overgrown, but it was in a commanding position overlooking both the lake and the hotel.

I was told that there was no possible chance of the National Park planners giving me permission to build a modern folly, but, with the thought that the Victorians wouldn’t have been daunted by such a detail, I drew up some plans and put them in. The doubters were wrong and the plans were passed, albeit with the unnecessarily sarcastic comment that it was “more Las Vegas than Lake District”.

It has taken several years, but the building is now finished. I think it’s rather lovely. I’ve called it The Rotunda. It isn’t a folly as such but has a practical, and of course commercial, purpose as a wedding chapel. A licence has been granted for couples to get married in the chapel, but they can also spend their wedding night there, as it can be magically transformed into a bridal suite.  Perhaps the planners did have a point after all when they mentioned Las Vegas.”

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Visit wondrous and curious places on Obscura Day – 9 April 2011. Lots of unusual,hidden and intriguing places to visit worldwide. Check it out at http://obscuraday.com

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The new Mogul style folly at Rushmore in Dorset, England 

Don’t know how this slipped through our net – but better late than never.  Here is the splendid new folly William Gronow Davis built on his 1700 acre Rushmore estate in Dorset, England  in 2009. The gardens of his Rushmore home are sited in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and parts it are Grade II listed. Even so the 65ft high structure was given planning permission. The reason was the the folly was originally planned to incorporate five mobile phone masts and to be funded by mobile telecoms company O2.  

When the company pulled out of the deal, Mr Gronow-Davis decided to go ahead with the folly, which by then had valid planning permission.

It is build in Indian Mogul style to reflect the fact Mr Gronow-Davis was born in India. It is built from concrete, rendered in lime and sections of the four pillars have been washed in red ochre lime. The base is made out of Turkish limestone and has the family’s crest coated on it along with the four points of the compass. It is surrounded by a ha ha (a sloping sided ditch.)  The five copper domes on the roof are capable of housing the phone aerials in the future.

Mr Gronow-Davis, a descendent of General Augustus Pitt Rivers, who inherited the estate in the 19th century, said: “It is unusual and looks so beautiful from my house. From my drawing room you look out onto the gardens along an avenue of trees and fountains and about a mile away is the folly. It is wonderful and just finishes the garden off.

“The telephone company was going to pay for it but that all fell through. By that time I decided I wanted the folly and so I paid for it. I would say that 99 per cent of the feedback I have had has been positive. Natural England has said it enhances the landscape.”

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Stumpery cave by Phil Game dec 2007 2

The Stumpery  – a driftwood cave by Phil Game

Follies echo the zeitgeist of their time. In the 18th century follies were the playthings of rich men and often built to flaunt their wealth and education in a showy display of conspicuous consumption. Shell grottoes are a good example of this, costing thousands and taking years to create.

Today when every concerned citizen is trying to save the planet and minimize their carbon footprint what better statement than a grotto made of recycled materials? Pictured above is a cave constructed entirely of drift by garden folly builder Phil Game.

Built for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2006, the  cave was 8 metres long x 3 metres wide and 3 metres high  – all made from driftwood stumps. Inside is a long bed bench made from one piece of oak and dressed with hops and lavender. The Stumpery now belongs to former Beatle Ringo Starr.

Phil can be contacted at Pure Folly

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Teatubed John Radford

Often today it seems the line between follies and works of art in public places, is increasingly blurred. With fewer opportunities to build permanent follies, in urban environments, artists and architects are constructing temporary sculptures and fanciful buildings which reference the past and the future to stir our imagination.

One such artist is the Auckland based “tactile archivist” John Radford,  a man haunted by the ghosts of destroyed buildings. Radford has made it his occupation to document the buildings of old Auckland just before the bulldozers move in. The spirit of these old buildings are evoked in TIP, a sculpture/folly/ruins collection in Ponsonby’s Western Park which was his initial response to the redeveloped city. TIP comprises replicas of details of three buildings demolished in the Eighties, embedded in the ground.

But even there things are not what they seem. The installation includes Teatube,a “hidden interior work” located within VIC, the sculpture closest to the park’s  northern corner on Ponsonby Road.  Through a 2 inch window viewers can glimpse the Sky Room inspired by the tea room at the top of the  Milne & Choyce Building, a department store demolished in 1984. “It was the most lavish interior that Auckland has ever had.”

Disembodied bits of Auckland city sit within this mythic interior and replicas of an aged elevator engine sit in the tunnel alluding to floors below or above. 

Find out more about John Radford and his work at http://www.johnradford.co.nz/index.php/Artists-CV.html (To find out more about Teatube look in the heading “Interior Interior Works”).

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philsstonefolly from reclaimed church standstone

If you fancy a modern garden folly, but lack the imagination or time, to build one, you can always consult the folly designer Phil Game. Phil’s work has recently been brought to my attention by Shedworking and includes some very cheerful and eccentric sheds. But his scope is wider than that. Pictured above is a  folly tower, Phil’s Folly, built  from reclaimed church sandstone.  I have cut and pasted the blurb about Phil from his web site Pure Folly (hyperlink below) which has some interesting designs and is worth a visit.

“About Phil Game

I attended Hornsey College of Art in the late ‘60s – a great time to be an art student in London – where I specialised in graphic design.

After working in London agencies for a couple of years, I went freelance in 1972. In 1974 I set up a publishing business, and in 1980 I set up my own design studio. At the same time I moved to a derelict old barn outside Cambridge which I converted myself over the following years, thereby acquiring the practical building skills that are necessary to construct safe follies. I built my first folly in my own garden, from stone reclaimed from an old church.

Since then I have used my designer skills on many individual garden buildings and structures. I have successfully collaborated together with one of England’s best-known garden designers, Marney Hall, for several years now.”

And below is a splendid shed for our shed fanciers: Moulder’s Cabin.

You can see more of Phil’s designs on his website Pure Folly. They will also feature in : ‘Shedworking: the alternative workplace revolution’ to be published in July 2008 by The Friday Project. Look out for it.

Moulder’s Cabin

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Hurlstone large

Hurlestone Tower, Lilburn, Northumberland  

Several new folly towers were put up to commemorate the new Millennium in 2000. This tower, at Lilburn in Northumberland is again, not really a folly as it is designed as an observation point and a venue for conferences and meetings. (There are even, whisper it, kitchen units inside.)

Nevertheless it is very handsome and built in the style of a folly tower. It won a building industry Oscar from the Federation of Master builders when it was erected in 2000 for its owners Lilburn Estates (the owners) by builders David Appleby Builders from Rothbury in Northumberland .

Judges were impressed by the high quality of stonework around the arched windows and in the conference room.

“The attention to detail by the builder is clearly demonstrated by skirting boards and kitchen units which were cut to suit the curvature of the wall. The builder’s joinery skill is shown by the quality of the arched main front door. ”

Hurlstone andn folly of same name

The tower is aligned with the Hurlestone standing stone nearby after which it takes its name: the Hurlestone Tower.

Just in case you fancy one too, it cost £100,000 in 2000.


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Alster Tower Boldt Castle September 2007

Alster Tower, Boldt Castle, St Lawrence River, September 2007 

 OK so it isn’t strictly a modern folly but it is a nineteenth century one which, after over 70 years of dereliction, started to undergo a major restoration in 1977. And the transformation has been remarkable.

At the turn-of-the-century, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full size rhineland castle in Alexandria Bay, on picturesque Heart Island in the St Lawrence river in upstate New York near the Canadian border.  The grandiose structure was to be a display of his love for his wife, Louise.

Beginning in 1900, Boldt’s family shared four glorious summers on the island in the Alster Tower while 300 workers including stonemasons, carpenters, and artists fashioned the six story, 120 room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, and a dove cote. Not a single detail or expense was spared. Alster Tower has a shell shaped ceiling on the first floor.

In 1904, tragedy struck. Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately “stop all construction.” Louise had died suddenly at the age of 45. A broken hearted Boldt could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved. Boldt never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love.

For 73 years, the castle and various stone structures were left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow and vandals. When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977, it was decided that through the use of all net revenues from the castle operation it would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

Since 1977, several million dollars have been applied to rehabilitating, restoring and improving the Heart Island structures. It can be reached and visited by boat from Alexandria Bay. In the summer the blue water sparkles and the castle and follies are enchanting to visit.

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Arthur Shapiro’s botantical labyrinth in his LA garden

 After LA antiques dealer Richard Shapiro created a Palladian folly in his Holmby Hills garden in Los Angeles, (see previous blog post “Palladio in Hollywood”), he decided to enhance its setting with a maze.

Thumbing through a magazine, shortly after completing the Palladian pavilion, he came across a photograph of the Chateau Marqueyssac in the Dordogne region of France, that featured an elaborate garden labyrinth made from topiary boxwood.

In a garden already filled with palms, Italian cypress and bamboo and fragrant with lavender, chosen for the color of the foliage rather than the sweetness of the flower, Shapiro embarked upon a botanical folly.

“I spent five days deciding where to plant 480 mature boxwoods and spent several hours a day for the next month trimming them,” he says. “This is not a complaint; I’m obsessed with doing it.”

The result was well worth it. Adjacent to a stone patio decked with gray spray-painted wicker chairs from Pier 1 Imports, Shapiro’s boxwood maze is a series of rounded undulating forms traversed by curlicue gravel walkways — an Alice in Wonderland garden as photographed by Tim Burton.

Shapiro considers the $25,000 he spent “a great bargain. It’s such a singular thing,” he says. “It’s of the same ilk as the other folly.”

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