Frequently described as London’s ‘hidden gem’, Leighton House is the former home and studio of Victorian painter and sculptor Frederic – later Lord Leighton. A lifelong art project, the house was a labour of love for Leighton and came to embody his idea of how a great artist should live. Over its 150 year lifespan this fascinating Grade II* building has been expanded repeatedly, giving rise to an enthralling but fragmented museum experience.
Leighton acquired the plot for the house in 1864 and appointed former RIBA President George Aitchison as architect, a relationship which continued for the next three decades and saw the iconic Arab Hall, Winter Studio and Silk Hall come into being. Less than satisfactory later adaptations led to our commission to bring back cohesion to the museum, create a seamless and inspiring environment for the enjoyment of art, add much-needed accessible new facilities for the whole community, while protecting years of heritage and culture.
The Perrin Wing, added following Leighton’s death, has been adapted to accommodate a new visitor entrance and reception, with staff space inserted above the reconfigured first floor gallery. Utilitarian interventions undertaken in the 1950s have been removed to reveal the original architecture and create a new garden room beneath the Winter Studio. The basement has been extended to accommodate visitor facilities, archive storage and a new gallery to display Leighton’s extensive collection of drawings. A helical stair and lift has been added to make the museum accessible to all for the first time. Specially commissioned artwork which celebrates the evolution of the museum and continues Leighton’s legacy of embracing eastern culture has been painted on the internal surface of the stair. This east-meets-west narrative continues in the re-landscaping, which formed part of our multidisciplinary remit.
The project is transformational, allowing full accessibility throughout and creating excellent visitor and collection care facilities, in addition to new gallery and staff space. Over the 14 year journey we have supported the museum’s ambitions to safeguard and preserve the integrity of the original house, while meeting the needs of 21st century audiences and establishing the attraction as a unique London visitor destination. As one of 250 art museums in the capital, the restoration means that Leighton House may finally get the attention it deserves as one of London’s great houses.