“I discovered a warren of little-known-about nooks and crannies”

The lush courtyard Keeper’s Garden is the Royal Academy’s best-kept secret

Keeper’s House, a club for Royal Academy members, is tucked away within the RA’s redesigned site
Keeper’s House, a club for Royal Academy members, is tucked away within the RA’s redesigned site

The Royal Academy is a place I routinely march past during the working week en route to other destinations. Despite its plum London position, nestled between Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens, I rarely step inside. But the other week I took some time out to do just that and discovered alongside the blockbuster exhibitions a warren of little-known-about nooks and crannies that work brilliantly as WiFi-fuelled work or meeting places – including a garden courtyard I’d been keen to visit for a while. 

Club members can relax in landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith’s lush garden space with its arching tree ferns
Club members can relax in landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith’s lush garden space with its arching tree ferns
Advertisement

David Chipperfield’s dramatic £56m redesign of the site, which was unveiled last year, feels revelatory, beautifully merging the Piccadilly building with Burlington Gardens via a central bridge that cuts through the formerly hidden RA school. The original exhibition halls are joined by cafés, restaurants, a bijou “newstand” and a lecture theatre as well as exquisite new spaces to house both permanent collections and contemporary shows. 

The club also has a bar serving an array of cocktails
The club also has a bar serving an array of cocktails
Advertisement

The display of Phyllida Barlow’s large-scale sculptures (on until June 23 in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries) was unsurprisingly stunning, but the time I spent in Tom Stuart-Smith’s lush garden, laden with arching tree ferns, was equally inspiring. Part of Keeper’s House – a club for members (£138; royalacademy.org.uk) with a café, restaurant and bar, which non-members can access after 4pm – this calm outdoor refuge was designed by the same landscape architect as the new garden at Windsor Castle. Stuart-Smith’s space is undeniably urban, built up on all sides “like a canyon excavated out of the brick”, he says, but on a hot summer’s day there can be few central London places as tranquil, shady and secluded. Just add cocktails

See also

Advertisement
Loading