Francis Terry: ‘Architects tend to think if it’s popular, there’s something wrong’

The neoclassical country piles designed by Quinlan Terry and his son Francis are adored by the royals and multimillionaires. Now Francis is striking out on his own

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A sketch by Francis Terry for apartments to replace Basil Spence’s 1970 tower at Hyde Park Barracks
A sketch by Francis Terry for apartments to replace Basil Spence’s 1970 tower at Hyde Park Barracks / © FTandA

In the 1980s the architect Quinlan Terry was a bogeyman to much of his profession. Unbendingly traditionalist, he believed that the classical orders were handed down by God. He saw nothing good in modern architecture. He thought that the stainless steel exo-viscera of Richard Rogers’s Lloyds building needed brick walls and a slate roof. His stance also made him a pinup, in his three-piece suit and all, to those who thought that new buildings should like just like old buildings. In the decade when economics were handed down by Margaret Thatcher – for whom, indeed, Terry designed interiors in No 10 Downing Street – and aesthetics by the Prince of Wales, an era when radical finance felt the need to dress itself in the trappings of old England, he was a man of his time.

Well, here we are again, in the reign of another she-Tory and another time of patriotic nostalgia, of the promised return of dark blue passports and a hoped-for relaunch of the royal yacht Britannia. Quinlan Terry is still at it, designing, among other things, country houses in Dorset, Ireland and Kentucky, but now there is also his son Francis, who last year set up his own practice after nearly 20 years working alongside his father. He is carrying out the same type of work as the older Terry – he has country houses on the go in Wiltshire, Norfolk, Hampshire and Ireland, and a mixed-use development in Twickenham – but he has also developed a new line of business, developing counter-proposals, backed by local residents, to overweening developers’ plans in places like Mount Pleasant and West Hampstead, London.

It’s tempting to cast the younger one as Quinlan II, as the architectural face of Brexit Britain, but it’s not as simple as that. For sure, the idiom looks remarkably similar across the generations – variations on Palladian or Georgian, with sallies into other historical styles such as neo-Greek or Louis Quatorze (“the French look is quite popular with the Russians”.) But Francis differs from his father in important respects. He seems to have more fun. He’s less dogmatic. He expresses doubt. […]