Built in 1756-66 for the first Earl Spencer (ancestor of Diana, princess of Wales), Spencer House is an 18th century townhouse that has undergone a 10 year restoration to bring it back to its former glory. On show are eight staterooms originally designed by John Vardy and James Stuart. There were later modifications (1783) by architect Henry Holland and others. The interiors are among the first neo-classical ones in Europe.
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Vardyís Palm Room has a screen of gilded palm trees and arched fronds and is a Palladian setpiece. Stuartís Painted room has mural decorations reflecting the interest in classical Greece and Rome. The original furniture is gilded. There is also a collection of 18th century paintings and furniture put together especially for the house; many of the original pieces of furniture were removed to Althorp and remain there. There are many reminders in the rooms of the happy marriage of the first Earl and his wife.
27 St James Place, by St James Park, off St James St
Guided tours on Sundays only
Tel. 020 7499 8620 for details of times.
Insider tip: Although Spencer House is only open on Sundays, its state rooms are worth working into your itinerary, if only to see the gold gilding in the Palm Room. The house, on a dead-end street, can be a bit difficult to find. Call for directions or ask at old St James palace nearby.
Note: Interior photos are not allowed.