Between 1764 and 1779, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield employed the celebrated Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam and his brother James to transform Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath into a fashionable neo-classical villa.
The new Library or ‘Great Room’ was built between 1767 and 1770 and was the highlight of Adam’s renovations at Kenwood. Among the earliest examples of Adam’s mature style, it is considered one of the finest English 18th-century interiors anywhere. The room was intended as both a library and for receiving company, and would have been used by Lord Mansfield and his family to host dinners, perform music, and play games with their guests.
The unusual shape of the room – a double-height cube with apsidal-ends screened by Corinthian columns, with a coved ceiling – derives from ancient Roman thermae (public bath houses) and was inspired by Adam’s interest in antiquity and his travels in Italy. The plasterwork decoration includes motifs drawn from ancient Greek and Roman architecture, as well as Mansfield family emblems, such as lions and stag heads. The paint scheme of pale pinks, blues and white reflects Adam’s preference for light colours in his interiors – one of the characteristic features of his ‘revolutionary’ neo-classical style.