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Who inspires us: Sir John Soane

Written by NDA tutor, Stephen Matthewman-Knowles

Sir John Soane, a man who’s legacy of collecting has enriched the lives of many an architect and historical enthusiast alike. For those unfamiliar with the name, Sir John was an English architect who lived between the years 1753 to 1837. Known as an exponent of Neo-Classical architecture, he’s responsible for numerous important buildings during his life, many of which are still in use today, including the esteemed Bank of England in London.

Soane is also recognised as having one of the finest collections of art and artefacts, which he bequeathed to Britain upon his death. Ranging from humble architectural models to significant pieces of antiquity, such as the sarcophagus of Egyptian King, Seti 1. This collection remains as Soane intended, untouched and located in the now famous address of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, West London, where Soane lived until his death in 1837. While this is a most fascinating place to discuss, I do want to introduce you to another of Soane’s houses, the lesser known Pitzhanger Manor.

What most people don’t realise about Sir John Soane, is that during his time working on numerous commissions, he also built himself a fine country house. Located in Ealing, which in 1800 was in fact a rural setting on the peripheries of London. It was here over four years that Soane designed and built his dream country residence. Pitzhanger Manor was a country estate created to reflect his new found social status as a leading architect of his time and to also demonstrate his great skill and ability as an architect.

With his ever growing collection of art and antiquities, Pitzhanger was the ideal place in which to house such a vast assembly of Soane’s eclectic tastes and findings. It was to be a declaration of design, where his collection could be showcased while entertaining friends and family, as well as the growing number of his influential clients. Pitzhnager was to be a celebrated legacy of a well respected architect who had hoped to build a foundation there, to nurture a dynasty of up and coming architectural talent.

Unfortunately for Soane, life at Pitzhanger didn’t quite work out as he had intended. There was to be no leisurely lunches or sophisticated dinners, even his vision for fishing in the lake, quietly passed by and with it the country dream collapsed. Instigating a move back to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and with it, his entire collection of wondrous artefacts that we now know and love at the West London address.

Thankfully this is not where the story ends, for many years the building housed what was known as the Pitzhanger Gallery. However three years ago a major conservation project was undertaken, breathing new life into the building, rejuvenating the Manor and taking much of it back to Soane’s original designs, fully restoring some of the extraordinary architecture created by the man himself. This revitalisation has not just seen the exterior of the building given a new lease of life, but the exquisite interiors have also been purposefully restored to their original designs too.

This restoration was led by Ealing Council in collaboration with the Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery Trust. Ensuring that copious layers of history were meticulously peeled back. Decades of overpainting and crude maintenance were carefully dissected to reveal the true beauty of Soane’s original design, for the first time in over 175 years. Significant structural elements of the building were painstakingly reinstated, including the feature central roof light, which provides the silhouette that Soane intended for the building.

Projects like this will often require expert advice, so to recreate some of Soane’s intricate paint schemes, interior decoration specialists, Hare & Humphreys were brought in to provide detailed historic analysis. Doing this has enabled them to reproduce many of Soane’s original schemes, including the magnificent hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the Upper Drawing Room.

The project was overseen by architects Jestico + Whiles, who were supported by heritage experts Julian Harrap Architects. Together with a large and sympathetic team of other special contractors, led by Quinn London Ltd, these people from across the UK have enabled us to once again enjoy the delights on Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor.  If you want to see more about this truly amazing restoration, then you can visit the YouTube channel, which tells more of this remarkable story.


For many years, Sir John Soane and his home at Lincoln’s Inn Fields have long been a celebrated attraction, however it is my hope that by seeing his true masterpiece brought back to life, it will allow people to discover and fall in love with Soane all over again.


To find out more about our BA (Hons) in Heritage Interior Design, you can visit our website!

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