Sir John Soane

5 decorating lessons from the Sir John Soane Museum

One of London’s most astounding houses has to be the Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Between 1792 and 1824 the renowned neo-classical architect rebuilt three neighbouring Georgian townhouses to create a home for his impressive personal collection. On his death the house was preserved by a Private Act of Parliament and today is almost exactly as Soane himself left it. A recent restoration has even returned some rooms to their original state, making now a great time to visit and get inspired. A wonderful and utterly unique space to visit at any time of year, we especially recommend the once-a-month candlelit evenings, when you can tour the house under flickering, atmospheric tallow-tinged light. These happen every first Tuesday of the month (next is tonight!) but are very popular so be prepared to arrive early. In the meantime, here are five decorating ideas that we think can be taken away and applied to any home.

Sir John Soane Museum

Photo: Gareth Gardner

Play with height and scale

Originally three buildings that have now been joined into one, Sir John Soane’s house would have started out with quite standard Georgian proportions. However part of the drama of his reinvention of the house is the way scale and height are used to surprise you as you walk around. Creating this mix of expansive and intimate spaces in a normal home is also possible – think about closing down spaces by adding shelving just below the ceiling level or adding the impression of height by using a strongly contrasting light colour on the ceiling of a dark room.

John Soane

Photo: Derry Moore

Be imaginative with light

Sir John Soane was a passionate lighting genius, and his innovations play a huge part in the unique ambiance of the house. He installed lightwells and top lighting to give the confines of the house a feeling of light and space. Stained glass is variously used to create a Gothic feel, but also to bathe key pieces in a golden glow – Classical antiquities stand in light reminiscent of the warmth of the Mediterranean. Soane of course extensively remodeled his house, but ideas such as the convex mirrors that bounce light around every part of the Breakfast Room, are easy to steal for any scheme.

Sir John Soane

Photo: Gareth Gardner

Create atmosphere through colour

The age-old wisdom of setting off collections on plain, light-coloured walls is certainly not witnessed in the museum. Unlike a traditional gallery space, the rooms here are often painted in rich, heavily pigmented hues that create dramatic changes in feel and atmosphere as you walk around. We especially love the deep yellow of the South Drawing Room and the hearty red of the Library Dining Room, where architectural details like alcoves and cornices are picked out in an unmissable, contrasting green.

Sir John Soane Museum

Photo: Gareth Gardner

Mess around with sight lines

Georgians loved puzzles and visual puns, and the Museum has plenty of tricks to surprise visitors. Confined spaces with lowered ceilings lead into light-filled rooms with soaring skylights. Surprising vistas of other rooms and corridors open up where you least expect them. Movable panels covered in paintings open to reveal windows – and more paintings – hidden behind. Most houses are far more straightforward, but try thinking about what else can be seen from a room when decorating it – for example using the wall colour of one room for the woodwork colour of another leads the eye and creates a harmonious feel. Panelling can be used to emphasise height or manipulate perspective too.

Sir John Soane Museum

Photo: Derry Moore

There is no such things as too much

Minimalism? Pah! If you take one lesson away from Sir John Soane’s home its that too much is never enough. Of course the quality of his collection is breathtaking, but the volume of it also amazes. Whether you consider yourself a fledgling collector or just a bit of a hoarder, explore the beauty of your objects by playing around with grouping them by theme or colour. And forget the old adage of less is more – get it all out on display, lining walls from ceiling to skirting.



Ros Anderson

About

Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.


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