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Facts About Adam Style

Updated on April 27, 2013

Adam Style is a neoclassical revival in late-18th-century architecture and design, chiefly associated with the works of Robert Adam (1728–1792), Scottish architect and designer of decorations and furniture. His brothers John, James, and William were at various times associated with him in architectural projects.

Balance and symmetry were characteristic of Robert Adam's work. His chief aim was to establish complete harmony between exterior and interior architecture. In addition he strove for unity between interior architectural decoration and the contents of a room. The classical elements that he incorporated into his work included paterae, shell ornaments, palm leaves, honeysuckle, and festoons of husks or bellflowers.

Adam's designs for furniture were borrowed, expanded, and widely disseminated by George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton. The Adam style had considerable effect on architecture on the Continent and in the United States.

Robert Adam was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, on July 3, 1728, the son of the architect William Adam (1689–1748). He was educated at Edinburgh University and studied in Italy from 1754 to 1758, when he settled in London. He was much impressed by Roman architecture, especially by the detail that was used on the walls and ceilings of small private apartments. He also studied the works of Raphael and found inspiration in the decorative elements the artist derived from Roman sources. In July 1757 Adam journeyed to Spalato in Dalmatia, where he studied and measured the remains of the palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. He published the results of his research in The Ruins of the Palace of Diocletian (1764), a book that established his reputation in England.


Adam served as architect to King George III from 1762 to 1768. During the first phase of his career, from about 1760 to 1770, when he worked mainly at remodeling English country homes, his style was extremely bold. His major commissions during this period were Croome Court for Lord Coventry, Bowood for Lord Shelburne, Kedleston for Sir Nathaniel Curzon, and Syon for the duke of Northumberland.

During the second phase of his career, Adam's style became more refined and precise, prompting later critics to call it effeminate. The progression from the early to late style is seen best in the rooms he designed for Osterley Park, Middlesex, rebuilt between 1761 and 1780. Adam was chiefly occupied during this period with building and decorating London town houses. His most famous projects include the Admiralty Screen in Whitehall; No. 20 St. James Square; Home House on Portman Square; and Apsley House, Piccadilly. Adam died in London on March 3, 1792.


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