The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire are set to host yet another contemporary feast in the form of an exhibition at their stately Derbyshire home. Opening today, ‘Make yourself comfortable at Chatsworth’ presents 75 contemporary chairs, from design classics to one-off prototypes, scattered through the home’s many rooms.

Following on from Michael Craig Martin’s installation throughout the park (see W*181), this year’s temporary exhibition presents the house’s majestic rooms in a new light, creating an intriguing visual discourse throughout.

‘Through this exhibition we are trying to share with visitors our experience of the place and the reality of it,’ says Hannah Obee, who for 12 years has been working as the curator of Chatsworth. ‘It is not just a stately home, but a layered collection of contemporary arts.’ The Cavendish family has over the centuries been keen to collect contemporary art and objects, so the house’s displays range from 18th and 19th century British and French painting and frescos to a collection of paintings by Lucian Freud, site-specific installations and objects that vary from stones and quartz to contemporary ceramics.

‘This exhibition is the latest layer of this collection, and simply a continuation of what’s always happened here,’ explains Obee, noting how items that have a life in the contemporary world can also have a life inside the ancient building. Visitors will be taken through a path along the house’s rooms and encouraged to try the seating, so the exhibition’s title is a very literal invitation. The chairs are arranged to offer new perspectives on the house’s art and architecture features, an example being Thomas Heatherwick’s playful Spun chair which will allow visitors to twirl around while looking at the frescos above. 

The collections of chairs on display range from accessible furniture (Christina Halstrom’s padded stools, that you can buy from from Heal’s) to one-off prototypes (such as Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge, displayed alongside a state bed dating back to 1810, the most precious item of furniture belonging to the house.) It includes some personal pieces from the Duke and Duchess’ private apartment and a few chairs that were customised for the occasion.

An important element of the exhibition are the two specially-commissioned installations, which are offering a further conversation between the house and these contemporary pieces. Tom Price’s ‘Counterpart’ features two benches, one made of coal and one made of resin which has been injected with tar to create a fractured texture. The materials are direct references to the house: the coal is a tribute to the Devonshire family’s coal mines, while the resin is inspired by the vast collection of minerals and crystal that are stored at Chatsworth.

In another area of the house, designers Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay of Raw Edges took over the sculpture gallery, creating a striking installation that gives the room a new character. ‘Endgrain’ is born from the duo’s research into dying wood and veneer. ‘We thought that if water can be transferred along the grain, we can add pigment to fully paint a block of wood from within,’ they explain. They applied their colour sensibility to the recipe, creating geometric compositions of blues and reds scattered around the gallery and emerging from the parqueted floors into stools and benches. ‘We got fascinated by the idea of introducing colours to the gallery, as a background for the monochromatic qualities of the sculptures and the interior,’ they add. Their tactile showcase offers visitors new points of view to the gallery, also referencing the often overlooked pedestals made of multi-coloured stones.

‘Chatsworth needs people’ the Duke’s mother used to say – and this exhibition invites the world to come and make themselves feel right at home.