A great architectural wrong was quietly righted this week in a distinguished apartment in Central London. After 160 years away from the public eye, the private residence of distinguished 18th and 19th century British architect Sir John Soane was reopened, restored as part of a six-year collaboration between the Soane Museum and Julian Harrap Architects. Soane may not be a household name in the United States, but the influential 18th- and 19th-century London architect has perhaps done more to shape classical-influenced architecture and design on both sides of the Atlantic than any other. The neoclassical work of this bricklayer's son-turned-architectural mastermind, informed by field studies in Italy and elsewhere, was a formative influence for many, and his genius has been cited by Michael Graves, Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern, among many others. While much of his work—such as the Bank of England, an exemplar of detailed interior and lighting design—was lost to demolition and development, his newly reopened apartment and model room should help showcase his particular eye and design sensibilities to the wider public.
Attached to his eponymous museum and once shared with his wife Eliza, Soane's apartment was altered before his death to include a custom-built model room. One of the largest collections in the world, it includes cork replicas of Roman and Greek masterpieces. Left unpreserved and unprotected after his death, the apartment alternately served as offices and even staff restrooms before this painstaking restoration, based in part on old invoices and a watercolor painting of the space from the 1830s. Coinciding with a new exhibition, "Inspired by Soane: I Found This And Thought of You," featuring postcards created by a cadre of artists and designers such as Manolo Blahnik, Paul Smith, Christopher Bailey and Zaha Hadid in response to Soane's work, the apartment opening is part of a wider effort to extend access to his designs. Opening up his model shop, in many ways, provides a look into the foundations of an architectural genius.
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