Fota House was originally a modest two-storey hunting lodge belonging to the Smith Barry family. The family lived in Britain, coming to Ireland for fishing, shooting, hunting and yachting. In the 1820s, John Smith-Barry (1793 – 1837) decided to make Fota his home. He commissioned the great Irish architects Sir Richard Morrison and his son William Vitruvius Morrison to convert the hunting lodge into an elegant residence.
Initially it was proposed that the design should reflect the current fashion for Tudor revival, but a more elegant Regency style was ultimately executed. Two new wings were added and a handsome Doric portico made an elegant entrance. The interior was opened up with fine scagliola columns, leading to a handsome stone staircase. The ceilings of the library and drawing room were decorated with great delicacy in the French style.
The house has over 70 rooms, ranging in size from the more modest servant rooms to the large and beautifully proportioned principal rooms. The curious ‘dummy’ windows, which occur on the exterior of the building, were added to enhance the aesthetic balance of the house. The style is classical throughout and the decor reflects continental trends in the gilt, marble work, painted ceilings and magnificent plaster detail throughout.
Since the re-opening of the house in 2009 after restoration, people can now visit the upper floor of the house for the first time in many years. The glorious neo-classical architecture and innovative designs for which Morrison was renowned can now be fully appreciated, as well as a fine collection of paintings and furniture – which have been returned to the house.