The Adam style: Created by three Scottish brothers and popular during the 18th-century

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Verica Sitnik
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The Adam style, also known as Adamesque, is a neoclassical style of architecture and interior design from the 18th century. The style is named after its creators, the three Scottish brothers of whom James Adam (1732–1794) and  Robert Adam (1728–1792) were the most widely known. John Adam (1721–1792) is the third oldest brother, but he never achieved the level of glory in architecture as his younger brothers did.

“Style of the Adam Brothers” was maybe the first integrated style for architecture and interiors, designed as a single uniform scheme. The Adam brothers themselves designed interiors and architecture such as ceilings, fixtures, fireplaces, carpets, walls, and furniture.

In the late 1760s, the style was introduced by the architect Charles Cameron, in Scotland, England, and Russia and found its niche in middle-class and upper-class residences, but it was superseded by the French Empire style and Regency style around 1795.

Interior and ceiling of Home House in London, designed in 1777 by Robert Adam. Author: Rictor Norton & David Allen. CC BY 2.0

During the 18th century, Britain experienced a boom in the architecture, and many designers and architects were hired. A large number of new houses, shops, offices, factories, and cultural places like theatres were built within rapidly growing towns. Modernisation was highly pointed, new regulations so were made to clean up the streets and improve street lighting, also the use of stone and brick became widespread, promoting better fireproofing of the buildings.

Interior of Syon House by Robert Adam. Author: Charlotte Gilhooly. CC BY-SA 2.0

London, Manchester, and Liverpool were the cities that experienced the most significant expansion during the Industrial Revolution; their populations tripled between 1760 and 1800. Old medieval cities such as Chichester and York had their buildings re-fronted in new façades in modern and elegant style, with new windows added to give the impression of modernity. Even new towns were constructed such as Bath.

Home House stairwell designed by Robert Adam in 1777. Author, Rictor Norton & David Allen. CC BY 2.0

With the “new age” coming, the Neoclassical style was fundamental, and the work of the Adam brothers became part of global modernisation in the latter half of the 18th century. They traveled in Dalmatia and Italy in the 1750s, taking inspiration from the ruins of buildings of the classical era. On their return to Britain, the brothers aimed to simplify the previously fashionable baroque and rococo style and to bring more elegance and lightness in their style. The strict mathematical proportions in Georgian rooms were replaced with curved domes and walls, decorated with plasterwork in Adam style using mixed color schemes such as lemon, red-brown terracotta, sky blue and pea green. The Adam style was profoundly influenced by frescoes found in Herculaneum and Pompeii and classical Greek architecture.

Adam designed bookcase 1776, exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

The style is identified with flat grotesque panels, decorative motifs such as dancing nymphs, arabesque vine scrolls, vases, urns, and tripods, pilasters and framed medallions. Many buildings the Adam brothers worked on, designing the interior, fittings, and furniture, are described and illustrated in “The Works in Architecture”.

Portrait of Robert Adam.

Robert Adam rejected the Palladian style, but he never stopped drawing inspiration directly from classical antiquity, and he developed a new style of architectural decoration. Kedleston Hall is an outstanding example of “modern” architecture designed by Robert Adam in 1761. Adam applied the concept of movement by decorative schemes and his style of interior decoration was described as “Classical Rococo” by Pevsner. Robert Adam suffered from stomach and bowel problems for a long time before he died on 3 March 1792. He left nearly 9,000 drawings by himself and his brother James, and today they are placed in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.

Portrait of James Adam.

James Adam came out of the shadow of his brothers after Robert’s death and designed individual buildings in Glasgow such as the Torn Kirk (1794) and Assembly Rooms, also built in 1794 but demolished in 1890. James Adam also designed the Portland Palace. His glory didn’t last long; he died at his home in London on 20 October 1794. During their lifetime, the brothers Adam published two volumes of their designs, and the third one was released posthumously.

 The Adam brothers’ decorative designs, Derby House in Grosvenor Square.

In the late Edwardian and Victorian eras, the Adam style was revived once again. “Regency Revival” styled furniture, which was closely linked to Adam revival style, was very popular in the middle classes between the 1880s and 1920s. The revived Adam style continued to be popular with the Arts and Crafts style in Britain up to the 1930s. However, the Adam and Regency revivals were replaced by Art Deco in modern taste, after the first World War.