Places That Work: Soane House

Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Photo: Martin Charles

We have a fundamental psychological need to express who we think we are by personalizing our homes which, in turn, give us comfort and solace. Our personalized rooms tell others about us. They have the added benefit of reminding us about what we feel is important to us. Unfortunately, homeowners are often tempted to follow design trends that, sometimes, don’t mesh with who they really are, causing tension and stress.

When I think about what makes a home a uniquely personal expression, Sir John Soane springs to mind. He did an exceptional job in creating a residence that reflected what he valued about himself; his efforts can be seen at the house museum that shares his name in London. Soane (1753-1837), a distinguished British architect, had the financial resources and technical skills that allowed him to modify his home until it sung the messages he wanted to convey.  He collected antiquities and art, finding a special place for each of his treasured possessions.

This professor of architecture at the Royal Academy took his profession seriously–many of the objects he collected relate to architecture and its history. He also remodeled his home frequently, experimenting with various architectural forms. As a result, today’s visitor to the Soane house finds a labyrinth of rooms on several floors, packed with an eccentric and fascinating mix of stuff, skillfully arranged.

In creating a space that meshed with his interests and personality, Soane teaches us a valuable lesson. We can choose to present ourselves and the possessions that reflect who we are in our own, unique ways. Creating a retreat that’s true to its owner is what’s important. And any home that reflects the dweller’s values and interests is a place that works.

The previous post in this series was on the library at Gensler’s Chicago office.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at .

Categories: Design, Uncategorized