Interview with Oliver Gerrish


“Home has to be comfortable. I like clutter too much. So does my wife. We have too much clutter but it makes you feel at home.”

Oliver Gerrish is an architectural historian, bespoke tour organiser and building consultant. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, he is an expert in architectural preservation and research. 

In 2002 Oliver re-founded the dormant Young Georgians and led it until 2016. This is the youth chapter of the Georgian Group, which is still thriving. He has been a trustee of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust since 2009. He founded their Architecture Awards in 2018. In 2016 he co-founded Historic Decoration alongside interior designer Caroline Percy. Oliver has lectured on historic buildings internationally. 

Oliver has written extensively for Country Life as well as The Georgian, House & Garden, and the American journal Tether. He has been a panellist on BBC Front Row and has appeared on several television shows and series. He has been asked to consult on numerous projects, from entire houses to garden buildings. 

He is a recognised countertenor having performed internationally and lives with his wife and two children in the English Countryside.


Oli grew up in Marylebone but spent a huge amount of time in the countryside with his Grandparents in Staffordshire and Cumbria and, from the age of 13, Derbyshire, where his parents bought an old house. He’s a blend of town and country but says “I think in my heart of hearts, I’d love to think of myself as a country person. I think I was almost more in love with the country than my friends who actually grew up there”. He appreciates the relative tranquillity of it compared to London, but he does need his London fix from time to time. 

The Temple at Holkham Park

Architecture and buildings are his passion. “I remember walking around Regents Park as a child and seeing all John Nash’s terraces and that made a great impression.”

Educated at Harrow and Cambridge University, he also went to Guildhall School of Music as a singer. He says of his singing profession “when you love architecture and interiors as well as singing it’s quite difficult because you’re supposed to look at the music. But when I am somewhere like Westminster Abbey I’m always looking up…being distracted by the buildings. When you sing professionally you’re often seeing the backstage of places and you see a lot more of a building than just the front of houses, which is wonderful”.

He spent his gap year singing at Lichfield Cathedral as a choral scholar. Whilst there he got in touch with Country Life magazine and Jeremy Musson and started writing an article on a beautiful Georgian Manor House in Derbyshire called Staffordshire Hall. A great family friend John Cornforth then put him in touch with the Georgian Group where he re-founded the Young Georgians, after originally being set up by Ben Pentreath and Orlando Rock but which had been quiet for a decade or so.

He loves the process of breathing life back into old buildings “there’s so much more imagination and loveliness to a building that’s evolved over many years in comparison, sometimes to something that’s built from scratch. And of course, those can be unbelievably beautiful too. But there’s a lovely sort of freshness in buildings where you’ve had to work with and adapt and learn from. They’re very special”.

Career Highlights

Doing his dissertation on and learning about Edgar Wood’s work, a pre modernist architect who developed flat roof reinforced concrete houses. There was a personal connection as he built his most important small country house for a member of Oli’s family.

He goes on to say “what I’m really proud of today is being involved with the Georgian Group for 15 years. I sat on committees with amazing people, people like Jean Monro. And these ladies were in their 80s and 90s, and I was 19 or 20. And they were so kind to me. I had wonderful introductions through the Georgian group and was able to really explore my love of buildings from within a remarkable architectural charity. Closer to date I’m a trustee of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust and it’s our 50th anniversary this year. Five or six years ago, I, with one or two friends, started the architectural awards and we invited Sarah McLeod from the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust to come and be our first guest of honour. And then we did an award in memory of Deborah Devonshire who was our patron and chairman”

Oli met Caroline Percy at a dinner party in London 8 years ago where they hit it off “chatting about buildings.” From there they used Syon House, the London home of the Percy family, as a ‘sort of giant real life textbook’ to gather various specialists together such as Edward Bulmer to discuss the Robert Adam building. And they have been doing that ever since by conducting tours of historic buildings in the UK. Listening to Oli talk about the tours he runs with Caroline it is clear it’s a passion of his but it is also a way of funding these historic houses and giving the guests, he hopes, a unique and real insiders view of Country House style. 

Historic Buildings Tour

Oli has spent a lot of time doing tours in Sussex, Derbyshire, Norfolk, the Lake District and the South of Scotland but he would love to do a tour in the West Country. This is great news for me having been born in Devon and we decide we will join up for a tour down there! Oli already knows a large amount about Powderham Castle, Castle Drogo and Blackborough House (a previous project I was lucky to be involved in).

Radbourne Hall
Houghton Hall

Major influencers in your life and your work? 

“Jeremy Musson was a huge influence and helped me slow down and be more succinct with my writing. Patrick Baty, we were trustees together of the Georgian group, he’s a great friend and he’s so generous with his knowledge. I’m always amazed by the generosity of the older generation too. My wife Zuleika, she’s really the main influence on everything in my life. Curt DiCamillo, who works with the New England Historic Genealogical Society, was probably the first person to entrust me with helping to plan a tour. He has the greatest knowledge of English country houses, and he’s also one of these people, who is extremely generous with his knowledge and with his friendship.”

He was left some books when he was 19 by a gentleman called Stanley Peters. He met him just once at a drinks party in Staffordshire. When he died, he left Oli his architectural library. He redesigned the interior of Fort Belvedere for the Windsors amongst other notable achievements. As Oli says “he thought, well, this young man is interested and left me his old books!”

In his early twenties he took internships at the offices of Ben Pentreath and Quinlan and Francis Terry. He has also worked with historic paint expert Patrick Baty. 

The importance of stylistic details when working with historic buildings and new buildings.

“Well, I think you’re forever working alongside someone else’s imagination or someone else’s view of how something should be so there’s not much getting it right as it were. I think it’s about just having enough information to make an informed decision. Francis Terry, who’s a good friend and a brilliant architect (and really started as an artist) has said he’s glad to be pastiche because there’s nothing wrong with being pastiche when we’re reimagining things. So when it comes to a brand new Georgian box I think it’s more about proportion. And the quality of the materials perhaps?” 

Oli mentions the magical formula Georgians had and says that there were certain formulas that could be used to design an exterior or something, but essentially, it was down to the eye of the architect. 

“I look at as many different facets of classical design and then hopefully come up with something nodding to tradition, but at the same time is in some way fresh and new. I think that’s also important”.

Consulting for interior designers and the process of sympathetically modernising historic buildings.

Oli works with interior designers but feels many of them are realising there should be more weight placed on learning about the history of interior design.

“I love having the privilege to witness their journey with the building or its’ interior.”

He tends to join the team once layouts and elevations are completed. He will consult on things such as cornices, skirting heights, mouldings and so on. “People often think. Right, well, it’s Georgian. Let’s go for something grand. But of course, Georgian is many different facets of design.” It’s about enhancing or paring back the decorative elements.

Neoclassical architecture is undeniably beautiful. Is there an era to rival it?

“I would probably say the arts and crafts period. I love the early 20th century because the architects and designers at that time had to be so adept at so many different styles whether it was the imperial style, tudor or renaissance. But I’m sort of always changing really. I think the Victorians are highly, highly underrated.” Oli clearly has an appreciation for all eras but says “I sort of stopped a little bit after the First World War. I mean architecturally, because I know so little about it.”

Syon House
Ditchley Park

Interior style

Oli says he has his own style at home, trying not to be too influenced directly by other people. Zuleika and Oli have collected pieces over time which lends its way to that classic layered look so many of us love. “My parents very kindly gave me this fireplace, which is about 1760. We were given those lovely obelisks by a dear friend.” A couple of Nicky Haslam sofas are in his sitting room plus a “random mixture of things.” He also admits the practicality constraints of having a young family and embracing the chaos of this within his home.

A most treasured piece of art or furniture at home.

Oli shows me a little wooden caddy “it’s worth absolutely nothing. But it was made by my great, great grandfather, who was an artist cabinet maker for my great, great grandmother and it’s got her initials, Mary Ann Blandy. It then belonged to my grandmother Molly Lefebure who was a great writer.” The other thing he treasures is his ‘archive’ cupboard which is full of portraits and things that people have given him over the years and carry great sentimental weight.

Advice for someone starting out in the world of historic buildings.

“Take as much advice as possible from people in that world, and follow up on leads. Try and become a master of one element, rather than trying to do everything. I think now in the days of Instagram everyone can be a sort of pocket historian but do your research and don’t rely on the internet. Go and gaze at buildings and learn from practitioners.”

Best loved:

  • Wall colour: Prussian Blue
  • Fabric house: Watts 1874
  • Artist: Phoebe Traquair
  • Hotel or bar (for its interior): Hotel Bristol in Paris, Broadwick in Soho, Annabels.
  • Cocktail: Negroni
  • Restaurant: Burger King (genuine answer!), Ukai on the Portobello Road 
  • Cookbook: None as I don’t follow recipes. 
  • Film: The Pink Panther. 
  • Book: Currently reading one about John Vanbrugh.
  • Travel destination: South of France 
  • Music genre: Everything from Britney Spears to Orlando Gibbons 
  • Decade for interior decoration: 1950’s  
  • Hero/heroine: Edward Lutyens 

You can find out more about Oli’s work at the following websites:

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