Kenwood’s Colourful Library

I had the pleasure of having a tour of Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath a couple of weeks ago.  English Heritage has undertaken a fabulous restoration of Kenwood.  The result is light and bright, a far cry from the austere, gloomy house I remember from visiting a few years ago.


Kenwood House was originally built in the early 17th century.  Bought in 1754 by William Murray, the Lord Chief Justice and the 1st Earl of Mansfield, the house was enlarged to make it grander.  For example, the library and the columns in the front were added.  In addition, Adam relocated the road (Hampstead Lane) which ran in front of the house to a discreet distance away.  The house fell out of favour with the Mansfield family and went into decline.  It was eventually bought by Lord Iveagh, a member of the Guinness family, who donated it to the nation upon his death in 1927.

The Library or Great Room was my favourite room and created by Robert Adam, Scottish architect and the go-to starchitect of the time.  The largest room in the house, the Library is believed to be one of the best preserved Adam interiors in the country.


leather-bound books

The room is decorated in a beautiful pastel colour scheme of blues, greens and pinks with white plasterwork.


The 19 ceiling paintings by a Venetian artist depict scenes from Lord Mansfield’s life.  There is a giant portrait of Lord Mansfield over the mantlepiece.


arched ceiling

Apparently there was a big debate on the amount of gilding there should be in the room.  The painted white faction won out but achieved a compromise.  The gilding is underneath the paint and can be restored if further historic research reveals that the room was indeed gilded.

library post-restoration


I love these library steps.  They fold and convert into a table!

library steps

steps convertible to a table

The large French mirror is original to the house.  It was brought from France because the British could not create mirrors this size.  The red curtains also are part of the original furnishings.


Kenwood House has been restored to its Georgian splendour. I’m really glad that I saw the Georgians Revealed exhibit at the British Museum which helped with understanding the social and historic context of this house.

Interestingly, this house was almost burned to the ground in June 1780.  The Gordon riots (anti-Catholic riots) rampaged through London creating chaos.  As Lord Chief Justice, the mob burned Mansfield’s London town house to the ground. They followed him to Kenwood but the savvy publican at The Spaniard’s Inn pub on Hampstead Lane offered them free ale.  They got distracted and Kenwood was saved!  I guess English yobs have a long history of being sidetracked by beer!

Here are some more photos of this stunning room.



ornate giltwork



I’ll write another post on the rest of Kenwood House.  The library was cool enough to deserve its own post in my opinion.  If you have the chance, you should definitely visit Kenwood House!


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