One of my favorite sites in London is Spencer House, located in St. James. Built in the mid-eighteenth century for John, first Earl Spencer (yes, those Spencers), the house's first architect was John Vardy, a student of William Kent. It was Vardy who was responsible for the exterior of the home as well as some of the interior rooms, though unfortunately for him, he was later replaced as chief architect by James "Athenian" Stuart, a disciple of Greek architecture. Stuart's influence is seen in the classic Greek detail throughout the interior, making it one of the first examples of neoclassical architecture in England.
Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, subsequent generations of Spencers set about at refreshing and remodeling the interiors of the home, including a remodeling led by Henry Holland. After all, the Spencers were a prominent and highly social family, so Spencer House had to reflect this. Interestingly, the Spencers lived in the home until the late 1800s, at which time they leased the house to the Duke of Marlborough and his wife (Consuelo Vanderbilt) as well as various organizations. During the blitz in WWII, the contents of the home, including the fixtures, were removed and shipped to the Spencer estate Althorp for safe keeping.
Fortunately for us, Spencer House is now restored to its former glory and is open to the public. Of course, the fact that Spencer House is one of the few remaining private palaces in London makes it important. But the other nice thing is that it doesn't seem to be on many tourists' radar, meaning no long lines!
(One tidbit of info that I just gleaned- Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was the daughter of first Earl Spencer and thus lived in the home until her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire. For a great book on Georgiana, you might want to read Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. Or, I suppose you can wait for the upcoming movie based on Foreman's book. But the book is really a good read.)
The Palm Room was used by gentlemen after dinner. It was Vardy who was responsible for the design of this room.
The magnificent Great Room. According to Spencer House's website, the coffered ceiling and frieze were inspired by the vaults at the Temple of Concord and Victory in Rome.
The Painted Room (c. 1759-65) was one of the first completely Neoclassical rooms in Europe. Designed by Stuart to celebrate the marriage of the first Earl Spencer and his wife, the room is dominated by images of marriage and festivity, all inspired by ancient Greece and Rome.
Vardy's design for the Ante Room- originally conceived as the Spencers' private dining room- includes a stunning coffered apse. It was Henry Holland who inserted the mahogany double doors under the apse in 1792.
I like to purchase guide books from the sites I visit- just in case I missed something on the tour. I also like to mark the date of my visit on the inside cover. This might become especially helpful when my memory starts to fail me- hopefully not anytime soon!