What is the ‘Opening up the Soane’ Project?

Opening up the Soane (OUTS) is a £7 million project to restore, refurbish and improve Sir John Soane's Museum.  As well as providing the Museum with much needed new facilities to allow the Museum to flourish into the 21st century, OUTS will restore long lost features to public view for the first time in the Museum’s history, preserving the charm of this much loved institution for future generations. 


The OUTS project is the exciting culmination of over twenty years of restoration work carried out by the Museum in order to return Soane’s house and collections to the state in which he left them when he died in 1837.  In his 1833 Act of Parliament, Soane stipulated that his house-museum not only be given to the British nation but kept ‘as nearly as possible in the state’ in which he left it.  However, time and the perceived necessities that arose from the transformation of a home into a public museum, have resulted in a number of changes over the years and our principal aim is to reinstate Soane’s house and collections back to their original 1837 appearance.

Watercolour of the facade of No 13 Lincoln's Inn FieldsThe purchase of No.14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields  in 1996 – the last of the three adjoining houses, Nos 12 to 14, built by Soane – was the key to unlocking the Opening up the Soane project.  After Tim Knox was appointed Director in 2005 a master-planning review of the use of all three houses concluded that the restoration of No. 14 could enable the relocation of staff offices into that building and make it possible to reinstate the ‘lost’ historic interiors on the second floor of No.13 - Soane’s own bedroom, bathroom, oratory, book passage and Model Room and Mrs Soane’s Morning Room.  The decision to turn what had been a residential flat on the top floor of No.13 into staff accommodation enabled the Museum to connect No.14 with the other two houses at that level to create a dedicated ‘office floor’ across all three houses. 

In addition, the relocation of the Research Library from No.12, Soane’s first house, into No.14 (a building which could not easily be connected through to the Museum) provided a rare opportunity to improve visitor facilities through a complete restoration of the basement, ground, first and second floors of No.12 which has provided improvements to access, a new shop, new temporary exhibition spaces and new conservation studios as well as improving overall visitor circulation and thus reducing wear and tear on the historic interiors of No.13, now visited by more than 110,000 people every year







The project is being carried out in three phases:

Phase I: No.12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (completed 2011 - 2013)

After a period of careful planning and a major capital fundraising campaign the first phase of OUTS (which was begun in February 2011) was successfully completed in April 2013.  This phase saw the creation of new facilities, including the Exhibition Gallery and the John and Cynthia Fry Gunn Conservation Studios on the first and second floors of No.12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, as well as a custom built Shop and visitors cloakroom on the ground floor of the building.  The relocation of the cloakroom to No.12 has removed much of the clutter from the Entrance Hall of No.13, and visitors are now able to experience the thrill of entering Soane’s Museum as nineteenth-century visitors once did.  We are especially proud that we have been able to achieve both an external and an internal lift at No.12 which, without any major effect on the historic fabric of our Grade I listed building (the internal lift is completely hidden) now enables full access to all the public areas of the Museum. The final element to be completed as part of Phase I was the restoration of the Shakespeare and Tivoli Recesses off the main Staircase in No.13, which were unveiled in January 2013. 

Phase II: Soane’s Private Apartments (underway)

The second phase of OUTS will see the restoration of Soane’s private apartments on the second floor of No.13 and is currently underway.  These exquisite and intriguing chambers: Soane’s Bedroom, Bathroom, Oratory, Book Passage, Mrs Soane’s Morning Room and Soane’s Model Room, were dismantled after Soane's death in 1837 and pressed into service as offices and staff accommodation.  Their original contents – the models, the model stands, the pictures and the furniture have spent the last nearly 200 years crammed into the corners of various offices, largely unused and unappreciated.  The work to reinstate the original arrangements and decoration of these rooms is due to be completed by the end of 2014.

Phase III: The Ante Room, Catacombs, Link Passage and the Foyle Study Room (the third and final phase to be carried out in 2015-2016)

The third phase of the OUTS project will continue the recreation of original historic interiors in No.13. These will include the Ante-Room on the ground floor and the Catacombs in the basement.   In addition we will rebuild a curved Link Passage which Soane constructed in the 1820s across the courtyard of No. 12 to by-pass his own new Ante Room in No.13 and thus enable the tenant of No.12 to get from the main house at No.12 to the back premises of No.12 north of the courtyard.  This Link Passage will be the final stage of our work to improve access – providing a step free route to the ground floor of the Museum for the first time, whilst the provision of a dedicated display and learning space, the Foyle Study Room will enable greater visitor interpretation of the Museum as well as provide a means of bringing education back into the historic heart of the Museum, something that is at the heart of what Sir John Soane intended when he built his house-museum.   All of the works are due to be completed by 2016.

Our thanks . . .

The OUTS project would not have been possible without the staunch and generous support of countless benefactors, private and public, notably the Monument Trust, The Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wolfson, Garfield Weston, Foyle and Fidelity Foundations, and the exceptional friendship and largesse of our benefactors, David and Molly Borthwick and John A and Cynthia Fry Gunn, together with major gifts from the Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation in the USA.

The first phase of OUTS was carried out by an excellent specialist building restoration company, Fairhurst Ward Abbotts, whilst the second phase is being undertaken by Kingswood Building Contractors.  All phases of OUTS are being overseen by our indefatigable house architects, Julian Harrap Architects, who have overseen 26 years of restoration work here at the Soane and have a knowledge of the building which rivals our own.  We are grateful to them all for making the OUTS project a reality.

Helen Dorey, Acting Director

For a full list of all donors to the OUTS project as well as our contractors and consultants for the project please go to the Donors to the OUTS project page.