Only one of JMW Turner's homes still survives, and he designed it himself. To step inside is to walk around the great man's largest work of art.
Sandycombe Lodge is a modest but well-proportioned house — cottage, almost — down an otherwise unremarkable residential street in Richmond. Turner, seeking a home with a Thames view, had it built in 1813, with a helping hand from his friend John Soane.
Since 2017, the Grade II*-listed building has been open to the public. It's not as showy as Soane's house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, nor filled with a superstar's treasures like, say, the Dickens House Museum. Yet the building — where Turner lived from 1814 to 1826 — has a charm all of its own.
Early 2020 is the perfect opportunity to visit. For the first time since the painter's lifetime, Sandycombe Lodge has genuine Turner artwork on its walls. The Tate has loaned five paintings to the house, each painted by Turner on the Thames, from his floating studio boat.
Opening the small exhibition, local resident Sir David Attenborough praised the work of the Turner's House Trust who saved this forgotten house for posterity. "You could walk up and down Sandycombe Road all your life and not realise that you were passing anything special," he said, reflecting on the building's anonymous recent past. You can see just how overgrown and unremarkable the house looked, before restoration, in Google Street View.
Attenborough was also rather charmed by an inventive light show down in the basement. Wave your hand over the top of a pewter tankard, and the projected silhouette of Turner's father William appears before you. It's one of several understated details that make this building a joy to visit.
Sandycombe Lodge is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12 -3pm for self-guided visits, with guided tours at 3pm. Adult £8, child £3. Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings is on until 29 March 2019.