In 1794, the architect Sir John Soane and his family moved into their new house at 12 Lincoln Inn Fields in Holborn, London, now part of the Sir John Museum. With business going well, in 1800 he purchased Pitzhanger Place in Ealing, which was then a rural village, as a country house in which to entertain friends and show much of his art collection, renaming it Pitzhanger Manor-house, and set about demolishing most of it apart from a two storey wing with Regency interiors designed by his first employer George Dance and adding a new block with a triumphal arch for an entrance and interiors which are full of characteristic details of his architectural style.
Soane bought No 13 Lincoln Inn Fields in 1806, and later also bought No 14, and sold Pitzhanger in 1810, after which it passed through several owners until it was bought by Ealing District Council in 1900 for use as a public library. Various additions and alterations were made and the building remained in use as a library until 1984. Following restoration, it became the Borough’s main museum and then, in 1996, started to host contemporary art exhibitions.
Pitzhanger Manor has just reopened after a £12 million restoration project designed by Jestico and Whiles with heritage advice from John Harrap Architects as it enters the next stage of its life. The original interiors have been meticulously restored, based on records, drawings and scraps of paper still on the walls and now appear as they were in Soane’s day. Several later additions have been demolished apart from the1930′s library wing built over the old kitchen which is now the entrance, visitor facilities and a contemporary art gallery, while a new cafe has been discretely tucked away at the side in the adjacent Walpole Park, with also an entrance from the street.
It is a strange house in some ways, having the two distinct periods of architecture – the rather plain brick architecture of the 18th century house sitting at the side of Soane’s triumphal new facade and the 18th century neoclassical interiors contrasting with Soane’s own work, but in part that is what makes the house fascinating, particularly where the two meet around the central staircase.
Three key elements of Soane’s design which had been lost, and which Jestico and Whiles have reinstated are the long thin conservatory overlooking Walpole Park, the magnificent roof light which makes such a difference to the centre of the building and the Doric colonnade that linked the main house with the former kitchen block and now to the the visitor facilities and new gallery space.
The rooms have been renamed as they were in Soane’s day and there are links back to the family, for example in the dining room seating plan, and to the collections in various places including the Monk’s Dining Room.
Ealing Studios is nearby, so keep an eye out for the interiors in future 18th century costume dramas.