(Above photo - Sir John Soan - the world's first interior designer? )
If you have a spare afternoon in London I couldn’t recommend a visit to Sir John Soan’s Museum enough. Right next to Lincoln’s Inn Fields – the home of the UK’s legal establishment – the house and museum really is a wonderful glimpse back in time at what is reputed to be the home of the world’s first interior designer. It’s a beautiful collection of pieces in neo-classical architecture – a veritable cabinet of curiosities. One of the highlights is of course the collection of William Hogarth prints including both Gin Lane and Beer Street.
(Above photo - Sumptuous interiors at the Sir John Soan Museum )
John Soane’s House refers to the third building constructed by prominent British architect John Soane. Having served as an architect for years, Soane sought to build a home for himself. He bought three houses on Lincoln’s Inn Fields northern side and rebuilt them one after the other.
(Above photo - You can view William Hogarth's seminal London etching 'Beer Street' )
From 1792 to 1794, Soane rebuilt house number 12 using plain bricks on the outside. In 1806, he joined the Royal Academy as an architecture professor. He bought house number 13, which was right next to the first house. Soane rebuilt the new house in two phases, the first lasting from 1808 to 1809, and the last in 1812.
From 1808 to 1809, he built a drawing office as well as a “museum” in place of an old stable block. The building didn’t have any windows and relied solely on top lighting. The 1812 project involved the building of the front part with a Portland Stone façade added to the basement. He also added the ground floor, first floor, and second floor, which was in the form of a central bay.
(Above photo - The building itself is a neo-classical architectural gem )
In the end, there were three open arches, which Soane proceeded to glaze before he passed on. When house number 13 was completed, Soane moved in and rented number 12 to someone else. In his will, Soane left custody of the two houses to the state. He wanted any rental income realized to run the museum.
After completing house number 13 in 1812, Soane wanted it to be home to architectural experiments involving regular interior remodeling. As a 70-year-old man in 1823, he bought house number 14. In one year, he had rebuilt the house into a picture gallery that he linked to house number 13. There was a separate house at number 14, which was passed on to his family when Soane passed on.
John Soane Museum
(Above photo - Wonderful version of the Apollo Belvedere the most famous of which is housed in the Vatican )
Before his death in 1837, Soane had a Private Act of Parliament passed, turning his property into a museum. He had disagreed with his son George over debt-ridden life and a poor choice of marriage partner. With the Act in place, George couldn’t claim ownership of the property. Parliament passed the Soane Museum Act in April 1833, stipulating that a Board of Trustees will assume control of the house and collections upon his death.
In 1889, house number 12 and number 13 were connected. That effectively rendered number 12 as part of the bigger John Soane Museum. Until 1947, the museum operated using the original endowment left behind by Soane. Since then, there has been a British Government annual Grant-in-Aid catering for the museum’s operations.
To recognize Soane’s contribution to architecture, the museum has been turned into a national center for architectural studies. Successive restoration projects have brought the study room, dressing room, picture room, and drawing room back to the original color scheme. Restoration work has also been done on three courtyards, including the pasticcio. After buying number 14, the trust restored it and converted it into a research library.
For more information on the Sir John Soan Museum click here
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