Leighton House Museum Reopens to the Public with Bespoke Turquoise Mountain Furniture

As part of the two-year revamp of the exquisite late-Victorian home of painter Sir Frederic Leighton, Turquoise Mountain artisans in Jordan created unique pieces for the new wing of Leighton House Museum, which has now reopened to the public.

Turquoise Mountain commission RBKC Leighton House Image courtesy of Jaron James magic

The project to restore the museum has focused on the 20th-century additions made in a new wing at the east end of the original house which includes a series of commissions that respond to the iconic interiors of the historic house and continue the house’s unique dialogue with artists and craftsmanship from the Middle East and North Africa.

Situated on the edge of Holland Park, the museum is famed for its opulent interiors, including the extraordinary Arab Hall featuring mosaic floors and tiles acquired through Leighton’s travels to Turkey, Egypt and Syria.

Syrian artisans based in Amman, Jordan, Maher Darwish and Abdelrahman Shaaban (Abu Abdo), have created a suite of handmade furniture for the new spaces. These pieces include marquetry derived from inlaid motifs on a Syrian chest that Lord Leighton acquired on his travels and converted into a seat within the historic house.

The commission grows out of Leighton’s own deep appreciation of the art, architecture and craft he found as he travelled through the Middle East and North Africa. This appreciation resulted in the construction of the Arab Hall, added to his house as a means of displaying his exceptional collection of pottery tiles acquired largely in Damascus, Syria. The Arab Hall interior was realised through a series of collaborations with artists and makers. This commission is therefore rooted in the history of the house but adds a contemporary twist, bringing identity, individuality and impact to the museum’s new spaces.

The pieces are made from walnut and feature inlays in olive, cherry, eucalyptus, dyed walnut, maple and rosewood. The circular motif is directly inspired by the inlaid 17th–19th-century Syrian chest that was acquired by Leighton and forms part of the furnishings of the staircase hall of the house.

The inspiration for the circular motif in the Turquoise Mountain designs originates from the central shamsa, or ‘sunburst’, design at the centre of a 17th–19th century Syrian chest in the Leighton House collection. Crafted from wood (likely walnut) the chest is inlaid with elaborate bone and mother-of-pearl geometric and floral patterns.

It is not known exactly where or when Leighton purchased this piece of furniture, however a contemporary reference by British architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell mentions Leighton may have bought the chest in Rhodes. In Leighton’s time, the chest was converted to form a seat upholstered with embroidered silk cushions for the staircase hall, where it currently remains as part of the museums’ permanent collection.

As part of this collaboration, our team worked closely with the international designer and product developer Anna Pretty to abstract this pattern, work on the scale, determine the types of wood to be used, and ensure feasibility within the craft, until we reached a point where all parties, including our partner artisans, approved of the direction.

You can now view these exquisite pieces at the museum.

For more information visit the Leighton House website