The complex history of Montalto, County Down was discussed here two months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/11/25/montalto). The building’s various alterations, additions and eliminations are reflected in its interior, although in recent years this has enjoyed comprehensive refurbishment. It will be remembered that in the late 1830s M0ntalto’s then-owner, David Stewart Ker decided to enlarge his house not by building up but down, excavating what may already have been a somewhat raised basement to create a new ground floor. The entrance hall, with its screen of Doric columns providing access to the Imperial staircase, dates from this period.
As an ambitious politician and major landowner in this part of the country, David Stewart Ker felt driven further to increase the size of his residence and in the 1850s he added a two-storey ballroom wing to the west of the existing house, together with a new service area to the north. These, together with a number of other portions of Montalto, were demolished in the 1950s, thereby almost halving the size of the place. Further parts to the rear were also taken down following a serious fire in 1985. As a result, Montalto was now a more compact and manageable building, but lacked any really substantial reception rooms on the ground floor. The most important space is upstairs, directly over the entrance and known as the Lady’s Sitting Room; dating from the 1760s, the plasterwork on the walls and ceiling here has been attributed to Dublin stuccodore Robert West. It might be thought that because of the room’s location, it originally served as the entrance hall. However, an account of Montalto 1802 refers to a ‘parlour’ the ceiling of which was ‘ornamented with various figures &c. in stucco’ which sounds like the Lady’s Sitting Room. Research in recent years suggests that the house was reoriented in the early decades of the 19th century and that the original front was to the south west. If this were the case, it explains why there is a long gallery-like passage on this side of the house, once the entrance hall.
Montalto’s present owners bought the property in 1994 and for some years they lived in it with their family. However, over a decade ago they moved out of the building and began to consider what alternative uses it might serve. Working with conservation architect John O’Connell they have gradually restored not just the main house but many other parts of the estate, which is now open to the public. Now used for weddings and other functions, Montalto has been very thoroughly refurbished in a more considered and sensitive fashion than is often the case with such properties. The gallery-like passage on the first-floor, for example, has been re-made into an attractive sitting room, as has its equivalent directly below where the walls are decorated with Chinese papers from de Gournay. Montalto today works hard for its upkeep but still retains much of the character and atmosphere of an Irish country house.