In 1773, George III’s architect, James Wyatt, was commissioned by Elizabeth, Countess of Home, to build a sophisticated ‘Pavilion’ designed purely for enjoyment and entertainment at N° 20 Portman Square. The notorious Countess, aptly known as ‘The Queen of Hell’, was in her late 60’s, twice widowed, childless and rich. She had been born in Jamaica, married the son of the Governor of Jamaica and inherited a large fortune when he died. She came to England and married William, 8th Earl of Home in 1742, who deserted her shortly thereafter.
In 1775, Wyatt was sacked from the project and his competitor Robert Adam, one of the most celebrated architects of his day, was appointed to complete the interior of the house in the sumptuous Neo-Classical style. N° 20 Portman Square is acknowledged as Robert Adam’s finest surviving London town house. The interior is conceived as a series of grand reception rooms, beginning with a typically austere hall, leading to one of the most breathtaking “tour de forces” in European architecture; Adam’s Imperial staircase, which rises through the entire height of the house to a glass dome, revealing the sky above.
On the ground floor are the Front Parlour and Eating Room, the latter being decorated with symbolic paintings of banquets and the harvest by Zucchi, the husband of artist Angelica Kauffman. On the first floor is a series of ‘Parade Rooms’ featuring the Ante-room, the Music Room, the Great Drawing Room and finally, one of the most original rooms in England, the Countess’s Etruscan State Bedroom, whose pagan decorations derive from the excavations of Pompeii.
In 1784 after the Countess’s death, the House was left to her young nephew who was still a schoolboy. The house was subsequently let to tenants including amongst others, the French Ambassador, the Dukes of Atholl and Newcastle, as well as Earl Grey (of tea fame).
From 1932, for almost sixty years, Home House was leased to the Courtauld Institute of Art, whose director between 1947 and 1974 was the art historian, Master of the Queen’s Pictures and infamous spy, Anthony Blunt. It was in his rooms, on the top floor of the House, that Philby, Burgess and Maclean mingled with academics, politicians and members of the Establishment, whilst a secret listening device was apparently concealed by MI5, in the connecting wall between N° 20 and N° 21 Portman Square.
From 1989 – 1996, Home House was vacant and included on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 most endangered sites. It was occasionally used as a film location and featured in Annie Lennox’s 1992 music video ‘Walking on Broken Glass’.
Rescued by Berkley Adam Ltd in 1996, Home House was meticulously restored to its former glory and opened in its current guise as a private members club in 1998.
The club was acquired in 2004 by a small group of private investors, Quintillion UK Limited who later purchased N° 21 Portman Square. The vision was to fuse of the old with the new; merging the grandeur and glamour of the existing buildings at 19 and 20, with the modernity and excitement of the newly-refurbished 21. Cutting edge design from Zaha Hadid and polished finishing and detail from Candy and Candy completed the refurbishment in early 2010. The result is an exciting and exclusive Club, rooted in the 18th Century and alive and vibrant in the 21st.
N° 21 Portman Square began in 1772 to the designs of James Wyatt; N° 21 formed part of the original north side of Portman Square. Leases were signed & work then began for different owners & continued at various paces for the next 6 years. The property was finally taken by William Lock who had previously occupied N° 41 on the south side of the Square, a house designed by James Adam (younger brother of Robert). This led to the incorrect assumption that the Adam brothers designed N° 21. Wyatt was described as being ‘dilatory’ (tardy) due to taking on too many projects. This led to the Countess of Home sacking him and taking on Robert Adam. Lock kept Wyatt on, which was possibly the reason that N° 21, although smaller than N° 20, took 2 years longer to complete!
William Lock was an art patron who received a generous inheritance from his father (he also had a country house; Norbury Park in Surrey). The interior of N° 21 is likely to have been designed to display his art collections. Lock ceased living at N° 21 in 1781. It was then occupied by various people with George Hanbury (1865 ~ 1892) making some major alterations including the staircase with ‘GH’ monogram & moving the entrance to Gloucester Place.
N° 21 as it is now known, was originally numbered N° 18 and was changed to N° 21 in 1859.
Originally purchased at Michaelmas 1772 by William Lock who commissioned the building and occupied it from 1778, having taken 6 years to complete under the eye of architect James Wyatt. Lock’s residence at N° 21 came to an unfortunate end in 1780 due to financial difficulties experienced as a result of a £20,000 unpaid loan to a Mr Crockett, a London merchant who consequently committed suicide.
Succeeding occupants ranged from Lord Maynard, followed by Colonel George Clerk, to Hamilton Nisbet and family from 1788 and then Spencer Percival from 1856.
George Hanbury and family became tenants from 1864 for the rest of the 19th century, making structural changes to the building that remain today; most notably the moving of the entrance from Portman Square onto Gloucester Place and the addition of a balustrade on the first floor.
N° 21 ceased being a private house in 1929, after which the following establishments occupied the building:
1930-1952 Dutch Legation
1953-1958 Rotary International of Great Britain HQ
1964-1970 Senegalese Embassy
1970-2005 Royal Institute of British Architects drawings collection archive
Home House was acquired in 2004 by a small group of private investors, Quintillion UK Limited who later purchased N° 21 Portman Square. The vision was to fuse of the old with the new; merging the grandeur and glamour of the existing buildings at 19 and 20, with the modernity and excitement of the newly-refurbished 21. Cutting edge design from Zaha Hadid and polished finishing and detail from Candy and Candy completed the refurbishment in early 2010. The result is an exciting and exclusive Club, rooted in the 18th Century and alive and vibrant in the 21st.