Video: The Adam interior
Robert Adam was one of the most celebrated architects of his day. In 1768, he was commissioned to refurbish part of Saltram House in Devon, and he created a suite of rooms in the Neo-classical style to update the house.
As one of the most influential of the architects at the time, it was he who introduced the Neo-Classical style to Britain in the late 1750's. He combined a brilliant talent as an architectural decorator with active self-promotion.
Adam was particularly skilled in the design of ornament and in the use of colour. He worked with a limited range of small classical motifs taken from ancient Roma and Renaissance sources. He used them to decorate walls and ceilings and adapted them for furniture, carpets and silver.
From 1773 he published his designs and those of his brother James in four volumes. Other designers and manufacturers took up the style in competition with Adam, maintaining it as the leading British design for more than two decades.
The rivalry of Robert Adam & William Chambers
Robert Adam and his architect rivals often designed furniture and other objects, not only for their architectural clients but also for general production by manufacturers. The distinctive style of Sir William Chambers, based in part of French prototypes, can be seen in many of the objects.
The early Adam style was based on a system of densely applied ornament, but a trend towards a simplicity of ornaments and a purity of form had begun by about 1780. Ten years later this was seen in all fields, from architecture to household objects.