Adelaide businessman, dog judge and breeder David Roche AO (1930 – 2013) purchased a ‘Federation’ style house in a good position on Melbourne Street in North Adelaide in 1954.
It was sited just a few miles from the original grid pattern of streets and squares within the city’s so-called ‘square mile’, and in an area acknowledged ‘as part of an early example of enlightened city planning’.
When he arrived David Roche decided to remodel the façade of the building so that it would give the impression of a house in the neo classical taste, which worked well with the antiques and art collection he was now forming.
Today Fermoy House, which he named for his French-Irish grandparents, houses just part of one of the greatest decorative arts collections in a private institution in Australia today.
The collection represents two centuries of design development.
David Roche’s treasures were a magnificent obsession, which he left in trust for the Australian Nation.
Managed by The David Roche Foundation (TDRF), established in 1999, the main focus is on objects collected from the English Regency and French Empire design periods, inspired in part by the bitter rivalry between two well-known rulers of taste George IV (1762 – 1830) and Napoleon 1 (1769 – 1821).
Over the nearly sixty years he lived there, the interiors of the house evolved to cater to David’s fads, fashions and passions and to provide an environment for an intelligent man, one who valued his privacy.
He made a number of additions, including one of his favourite spaces for living, which became known as the Roman Room.
Stretching right across the rear of the house it became a showroom for his favourite sculptures and a sitting room where he spent time with friends while enjoying a view overlooking the swimming pool, pavilion and garden. He set up a number of rooms to sit in dependent on his mood, the time of year and the art and objects it contained.
Recently Roche’s trustees led by Director Martyn Cook and Curator Robert Reason have not only added a contemporary gallery to accommodate thematic displays, but also formed it around an inner courtyard replacing the pool and garden.
This peaceful space now links the new trio of spaces to Fermoy House, which will be presented in the opulent manner David Roche so enjoyed.
They have also given Fermoy House a facelift, ready to cater for the crowds when this fabulous house museum complex re-opens to the public on Tuesday June 7, 2016.
Arriving into the ‘Roman’ reception room where red stucco walls superbly reflect the brilliance of the three incumbent white marble statues by Charles Summers (1825-1878), after Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822), will be a very special experience.
From there visitors for the opening exhibition will enjoy visiting both Fermoy House and the trio of contemporary galleries recently built. The displays showcasing in Gallery 1: Neoclassic: The Spirit of Antiquity, in Gallery 2: Rococo: Graceful Exuberance and Gallery 3: David Roche: Kennels and Collecting will be sure to intrigue.
The TDRF website is now on line and tickets can be purchased for the opening Exhibition guided tours from June 7, 2016.
Must admit to admiring David’s Drawing Room, where the lovely image of Mrs Reynolds painted by Francis Cotes in 1768 looks down over a glorious French clock on the mantel into a room decorated with rich yellow silk damask on the walls, striped ice blue silk curtains on the bay windows and a stunning ‘contemporary’ Savonnerie-style carpet
This is before you add in the stunning collections it contains.
The splendid writing table has been attributed to carver, gilder and cabinetmaker Robert Hulme the Younger (1808-1840) who is known to have made impressive furniture for some of the most celebrated collectors of the age including King George IV, novelist William Beckford and the Ambassador to Naples William Hamilton (1730-1803), best known for his love of antiques.
David Roche loved Chinoiserie, an eighteenth century design style that combined flirtation with fantasy, frivolity and folly.
Chinoiserie had a complete lack of pomposity and used clear bright colours, which had both amusing and fantastic qualities and displayed a preference for asymmetrical design.
This aspect offered everyone a rest from the formality and relentless perfection demanded by the classical repertoire of ancient Greece and Rome. It became popular because it was about having fun.
David had a Chinoiserie themed bedroom and bathroom, lavishly fitted out with bespoke wallpapers. The bedroom was his favourite; with delicious oak-garlanded wallpaper it housed many of his most favoured items, including fans in special cases on the walls.
Fans at the French Court in the eighteenth century were used for flirtation expertly; their decoration often became an exposé of the times.
They perfectly reflected the femininity associated with the frivolity of the Rococo spirit and the French mistresses and consorts of the Kings of France and their friends used them constantly.
They’re would have only been a few women who did not open a Chinese fan on a hot summer evening, especially at a ball.
In the Chinoiserie bathroom the walls are papered with Scalamandre’s celebrated ‘Shanghai’ pattern and a faux-bamboo framed mirror from the celebrated Brighton Pavilion, George IV’s favourite fun palace at the seaside is on the wall.
The Russian Room is a new addition, although David did order its wallpaper and carpet ready to fit it out. It contains many of his favourite ‘malachite’ objects and a wonderful piece of Russian furniture; St. Petersburg a city of the Enlightenment and an integral part of Europe. (1703-1917) was one of David’s favourite places to visit during the last decade of his life.
The Military Room is lined with red silk and if we had to choose a colour that epitomised the period of historical events that encompasses the time span of the romantics and revolutionaries period David so admired from 1760 – 1830 red would be it.
This space will engage the man in your life for hours, examining the plethora of portraits it contains reflecting an age when the colour of passion not only symbolised romantic love but also revolutionary blood.
By way of contrast is the Green Room or David’s Den, which is themed as an English gentleman’s study.
English gentleman of the eighteenth century abandoned convention and embraced informality.
Since an Englishman’s roots were essentially with the land, a riding coat, a much more informal mode of dress portrayed this image to the world at large admirably.
It was eagerly taken up throughout Europe as reflected in Maud Earl’s c.1900 oil on canvas of A Pointer in a landscape at sunset.
The piece de resistance for many I believe will be David’s Kitchen, which was the central focus of his home.
He turned it into a place of great charm; enchantment and wonder by putting in place a collection of ‘kitchen wonders’, some of which are aesthetically beautiful while yet others are occasionally mechanical and amusingly whimsical.
The design and contents of houses from country houses to cottages during the time period David gathered his collection reflects the changing attitudes, the ideals and tastes of each society in their age.
Today David Roche’s collection showcased at Fermoy House and its new contemporary gallery by The David Roche Foundation Trust Museum, forms an important aspect of the evolution of our Australian cultural heritage.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Tuesday to Saturday
10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm
Confirmed tour booking only
Enquiries P: +61 8 8267 3677