Architecture Art People

Royal Academy of Arts London + Senate Room

Well Connected 

A private tour of the soon-to-open new galleries and lecture theatre of the Royal Academy of Arts led by the Secretary and Chief Executive, Charles Saumarez Smith*. But first, morning coffee in The Academicians’ Room in The Keeper’s House. The room is lined with tongue ‘n’ groove reclaimed panelling which resembles the untreated backs of period paintings. Very tongue ‘n cheek.

Connecting Burlington House (off Piccadilly) to Burlington Gardens (near Bond Street) is “the gist of what we’ve done,” Charles says, looking down into the newly revealed vaulted passageway with its exposed brickwork which now connects the two buildings. “People tend to think in plan when designing. But when this former back-of-house space was dropped three feet, it created this incredible volume.” The original garden steps of Burlington House have been retained as an indoors staircase leading down into the passageway.

Entering Burlington Gardens, he remarks, “The architect David Chipperfield has kept the integrity of Sir James Pennethorne’s original architecture. There’s always a conundrum – do you reinstate the original paint scheme? David has achieved a very good balance. In the Senate Room, the Victorian ceiling colours have been kept but the walls painted a lighter shade. The colour schemes create a sense of the era but they’re not archaeologically accurate.”

“We put in a café called Poster Bar on the ground floor which complements the shops on Bond Street. From my perspective, having a coffee at 8am is very important and rather nice!” Charles reckons. The first floor Senate Room is now a brasserie. It serves small plates (£8) such as Piedmontese peppers or mussel, prawn and squid seafood salad. The cheese plate (£14) includes gorgonzola naturale, robiola tri latte, pecorino ross and truffled honey, fig and marmalade. Puddings (£6.50) include blueberry and violet panna cotta or chocolate bignè.

*Charles’ nephew is the talented neoclassical architect George Saumarez Smith