Leighton House reopens to the public following BDP’s £8m transformation

by Francesca

Leighton House, the remarkable studio-house of Victorian artist and former President of the Royal Academy, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-96), is set to reopen to the public in October 2022 following an £8m transformation.  

Situated on the edge of Holland Park in London, Leighton House is famed for its opulent interiors, including the extraordinary Arab Hall featuring exquisite mosaic floors and tiles acquired through Leighton’s travels to Turkey, Egypt and Syria. The project has focused on the twentieth-century additions made in a new wing at the east end of the original house.

The project has revealed original historic features and created new exhibition spaces and displays. The De Morgan café opens onto the redesigned garden, a new Learning Centre and a collections store are now open to all with full step-free access provided across the building for the very first time.

Designed by architects, engineers and consultants from BDP, the project also sees the recovery and restoration of parts of Leighton’s house, previously lost in changes made in the twentieth century. Leighton’s Winter Studio, an extension of the original house, supported on cast iron columns and built at the end of the 1880s to allow him to work through the winter months, is now fully restored and integrated into the rest of the historic house interiors. The Entrance Hall has been reinstated as it was in Leighton’s day, featuring a large painting from the workshop of Domenico Tintoretto, which formed part of Leighton’s original collection. A separate entrance to the house, specifically used by Leighton’s models, is also revealed.

The new wing features a series of commissions that respond to the iconic interiors of the historic house and continue the house’s unique dialogue with artists and craftsmanship from the Middle East and North Africa. Oneness, the first contemporary artwork on permanent display at the museum, is an 11-metre-high mural hand-painted by the Iranian artist Shahrzad Ghaffari, which envelopes the curved walls of a new helical staircase across three floors. Inspired by a 13th century poem by Rumi exploring cultural unity, its turquoise calligraphic brushstrokes reference the distinctive tiles from the iconic Arab Hall.

David Artis, Architect Director at BDP, said: “This project will have a transformative effect on the museum, allowing it to be accessible to all for the first time, and provide excellent visitor and collection care facilities. This refurbishment supports the museum’s ambitions to safeguard and preserve the integrity of the original house, while meeting the needs of new audiences and cementing it as unique asset for the borough. Leighton House is one of London’s great houses and we are very much looking forward to seeing it re-open to the public at a time when such places are needed more than ever.”

Leighton House will reopen its doors to visitors in tandem with its sister museum, Sambourne House – a virtually unaltered Victorian terraced house nearby that provides a unique window into the art and society of the era.

Daniel Robbins, Senior Curator of Leighton House and Sambourne House, explains: “The culmination of this many-sided project marks a truly transformational moment where both Leighton House and Sambourne reopen under a joint vision, intended to widen appreciation and enjoyment of Victorian culture, while forging meaningful connections with the contemporary world.”

Councillor Emma Will, Lead Member for Culture, Leisure and Community Safety at Kensington and Chelsea Council, said: “We are thrilled to unveil the newly refurbished Leighton House. The major works bring about marked improvements to this beloved cultural venue such as a new lift and upgraded facilities, ensuring all of our residents and visitors can access the museum. As we continue to improve our cultural offerings in the borough, it’s vital that we look at making these experiences accessible and enjoyable for all.”

The capital development of Leighton House has been supported by Kensington and Chelsea Council and the Friends of Leighton House alongside a £1.6million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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