The project was arguably the most successful of its kind ever undertaken, no less impressive in its way than the house’s original construction.

But this was restoration in more than just the material sense; it returned Spencer House to life.


Joseph Friedman, 2011
Restoration

Restoration

Under the direction of its current occupants and leaseholders, RIT Capital Partners plc, Spencer House has been the object of one of the most ambitious restoration projects to be undertaken in the 20th century.

The House has been restored to its original splendour and is used partly as offices and as a place where the public may visit for guided tours on Sundays throughout the year (excluding August) and where events can be held in the historic setting of the State Rooms.

A team of architects, engineers, designers and historians were drawn together for this unique project. Architecturally, the House has been restored as far as possible to its original late eighteenth-century appearance, retaining Henry Holland’s alterations of the 1780s and 1790s, rather than as first completed in the 1760s. Holland, a major English architect, had played a particularly significant role in the development of the house.

The Spencer family last lived in the House in 1926 and subsequently let the building to a variety of tenants. As a result, the State Rooms were used as offices from the late 1920s until 1985, when the process of restoring the House began.

All the principal rooms, some of which had been subdivided, were painstakingly restored and their missing original features, including the chimneypieces, doors, chair rails, skirting mouldings and architraves, were carefully copied from the originals which had been removed by the Spencer family to Althorp in 1942, at the height of the Blitz.

Working from paint scrapes and documentary evidence it was possible to determine the original allocation of colour and gilding in the state apartments and, therefore, to recreate accurate decoration of the principal rooms. The missing carved architectural detail, including the elaborate chimneypieces, was replicated by Dick Reid, the York-based master carver, and his team of craftsmen. The quality of their work rivals that produced in the eighteenth-century.

Paintings, sculpture and furniture have been bought to furnish and enhance the State Rooms. Other works of art have been borrowed from various sources, including The Royal Collection, The Royal Academy, Tate and Temple Newsam, as well as private owners and dealers.

Restoration of the House has enabled the return of some of the key pieces of furniture to their original locations, including Vardy’s elaborate giltwood console tables in the Dining Room and the return of Stuart’s Painted Room suite, both on loan from the V&A, London. Particularly welcome was the recent return to the House of Guercino’s King David, lent from a private collection.

Work on Spencer House continues, with replanting of the private garden in the manner of the late eighteenth century. The decoration of the state rooms constantly evolves as fresh opportunities arise to purchase or borrow suitable furniture and works of art to enhance the House.

In architectural terms, the restoration project has been hailed as one of the most successful ever undertaken. Now, as in the eighteenth-century, the State Rooms provide a magnificent showcase for works of art and serves as a place of business and as a focus of social, cultural and political activity.

The Spencer House project brought together some of the most highly skilled craftsmen in this country and provided a training ground in traditional skills. The Spencer House restoration is a benchmark against which other similar projects have been measured and it continues to serve as an invaluable model for future restoration work not only in this country but across the world.

When to visit

Opening hours

Open every Sunday (except during August) from 10.00am – 4.30pm (last tour).
Access is by guided tour, which lasts approximately 1 hour.

Full visitor information