Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of London’s best kept secrets. Camouflaged between a row of fairly ordinary looking London townhouses, once inside the museum you will find a unique interior teaming with classical curiosities. This was the home of Sir John Soane (1753-1837), the place where he lived and worked in. When he died, 180 years ago, he requested it be kept true to how he left it, and open to the public to continue inspire and educate just like it did during his lifetime.
A lot of time and money has been spent to fulfil this request. At the end of 2016, the museum completed their ‘Opening up the Soane’ project, an important 7 year project with the purpose of restoring the house to the original state at which John Soane had left it at his death. It took specialists around 30 years of research through archives to recreate the rooms and spaces which had been lost over the years, and also a hefty 7 million pounds. We are now able to see more than ever before: 10% of the house collections have even been restored and displayed for the first time to the public ever since Soane’s death in 1837!
The result is an exquisite setting taking us back in time, where we can explore a lifetime’s worth of collections in art and artefacts and books, as well as some of Soane’s own works. Not only is this museum a documentative landmark of how the man lived and worked; it is a beautiful work of art in its own right.
The house was built by the John Soane himself by tearing down and re-building a row of three houses on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, conjoining them into one. Soane was behind other important projects also, namely the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, and you can see the similarities in design from across these neo-classical buildings.
You will fiind in this museum a network of rooms, each with interesting corners, leading on to the next room and the next. It’s as if this museum has many layers which keep opening up to the next thing. And the amount of ‘things’ that the rooms carry are mind blowing; there are paintings, books, models and archaeological artefacts! Each room is like entering a different world: the Sepulchral Chamber is a fascinating space with top lit ceilings and it’s hard to encounter a more excessive amount of artefacts in a small space: There are busts staring out at you from corners and varying heights, a number of Roman funeral urns, and a statue of Apollo. There is even a 3,500 year old sarcophagus (a stone coffin) of Egyptian King Seti I in the middle of it all. This museum is a true gem.
It is easy to forget that this is indeed where Soane and his wife lived in, so you will see a part of his private life from the bedrooms, his dressing room and breakfast parlour. You can tell Soane was a man with exquisite taste; the colour of his rusty red bathroom wallpaper for example, against the blue and white Chinese vases!
Being one of the most successful architects of his time, John Soane was also a Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy and he would open his house for his students and amateurs to visit. He had an office in a part of his house where a selected few would train under him to work as architects. You will find beautiful architectural drawings by Soane and his assistants displayed in the museum. Upstairs on the second floor you will find the Model Room where around 40 architectural models of various scales are displayed, some made by Soane to showcase his ideas for future buildings.
What is unique in the display of his collections is that there is no rational order by which each piece of work would be exhibited; rather it was placed in a way that they would juxtapose and compliment the others around it. Though the individual artefacts may look familiar to what we’ve seen at the British Museum, the way that they have been displayed is very unique, which makes the experience refreshing. It’s beautiful how the personal taste of the man John Soane shines through in his home and breathes new life to these objects.
Alongside the permanent displays, the museum hosts a rich program of exhibitions, workshops, tours and talks relating to the subject of architecture. The Museum has also very recently launched ‘Explore Soane’ which allows anyone all over the world to explore the Soane Museum and collections through the website. It is a 3D technology so that viewers can get a real feel of the scale of the house.
“Soane built his Museum to inspire, to be an engine for the advancement of the arts and architecture. Visitors would come and see objects from around the world that they would never have been able to see otherwise. Now, thanks to the latest technology, we can extend this ethos as never before and take the Museum out to the world. Anyone with a computer or mobile device, even thousands of miles away, can explore this magnificent building and its collection for themselves. Soane would be thrilled.” - Bruce Boucher, Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum
This museum is free to visit, so it makes a perfect getaway whether you visit for a short time or for a full day. We can guarantee the amount of things to explore within these walls will keep you coming back time and time again.
Do not miss the museum’s candlelit evening openings which happen on the first Tuesday of every month. They open from 6pm to invite the first 200 people into the museum, and as this is an extremely popular event make sure you get there early (we recommend getting there by 5.30pm) to avoid disappointment!