About the Drawing Office

The Drawing Office was once the heart of Sir John Soane’s architectural practice.


Soane started his own practice in 1780 – working from home. He took his first architectural pupil, John Sanders, in 1784, which was also the year that Soane married his wife, Eliza. From 1786 onwards, he took further pupils and employed more senior clerks and assistants.  

At its peak of productivity, six pupils worked in the Drawing Office, twelve hours a day, six days a week. The final pupil joined the office in 1824 and the last employee in 1829. Soane retired from practice in 1833 – he retained two assistants, talented draughtsmen George Bailey and Charles James Richardson, until the time of his death in 1837.

Building the Office

The Drawing Office was built as Soane steadily purchased and remodelled the rear premises of no. 13 and no. 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It is a small platform-like mezzanine, supported on metal columns, above the Colonnade – the space that connects the Picture Room to the Dome area.

The office was altered several times before it assumed its final form, as seen today, between 1824 -25. The acquisition of No. 14 in 1823 enabled Soane to relocate the staircase, placing it where it is today at the north end of a new ‘Museum Corridor’ and by doing so slightly enlarging his upper office.  At the same time, his Lower Office was converted into a display space, now known as the Colonnade. 

The design remains a novel and ingenious solution to maximising the utility of the space whilst creating a truly unique and dramatic base of operations for Soane's architectural practice. Even at the time it was appreciated: below is the first known account of the Drawing Office's daring design.

"Over part of the museum, and forming a portion of it, is the architect’s office, supported on columns, and insulated from the walls, by which novel and ingenious design, the lantern windows afford abundant light both to the office and to the Museum."

'The Public Edifices of London', published 1825-28 - Pugin and Britton

A sleeping beauty

At the time of Soane’s death, an inventory was made recording all the casts on the walls and objects on the desks – which has been a vital tool in working out what was missing from the displays and getting the objects back in their correct places.

In 1837, the Drawing Office drawers were full of drawings, including many for Soane’s Royal Academy lectures, as well as many bills, used cheques and correspondence. This is how the space remained for some time; the earliest photograph of the space shows archive boxes – containing Soane’s business papers – under the desks. The drawers have since been used to store a large volume of items salvaged from building works, stained glass and other fragments, and the Office was used for storage during the Opening Up the Soane project in the 2010s.

A cross-section through Sir John Soane's Museum, showing the ground and basement levels. Plate XXV from John Soane's Description of the House and Museum, 1835.

Restoring and regenerating

Over the decades, works of art were taken down from the ceiling or removed from the walls at different times – for example, when leaks occurred. Indeed, the skylights have leaked regularly over many years and the walls hadn’t been painted since the 1970s, making this restoration project a key priority for the Museum to protect the space and enliven it for the future.

The Office has never been on the visitor route. The space itself is too small to be generally open to all, and the staircase is too narrow and delicate. Following this restoration, which included important structural analysis and preservation, small tours will be able to visit the space two days a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Drawing Office, after restoration. Photo: Gareth Gardner, 2023.

Additionally, a digital station has been installed in the Back Kitchen to provide visitors who cannot access the space with an insight into the Office’s restoration and history.


Watch the film below, featuring our Inspectress and Deputy Director Helen Dorey MBE and Jane Wilkinson, our Head of Conservation, to learn more about the restoration and the Office’s bright future.