Robert Adam (1728-1792)

The British architect Robert Adam was the leading practitioner of the neoclassic style in the late 18th century. His graceful, elegant work is based mainly on motifs from ancient Rome and Renaissance.

Medallion of Robert Adam, James Tassie

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About his life

Robert Adam was born in 1728 in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. His father, William Adam (1689–1748), was a bricklayer and architect and was considered the leading designer of country houses in Scotland during that period. Both of his brothers, James Adam and John Adam were also architects, but Robert was the most successful one. He is considered by many to be the greatest architect of the late eighteenth century. From 1760 until his death, he was the leader of the neoclassical revival in England and Scotland. During this period, Adam completed many large orders from private clients and had a profound stylistic influence, called the style of Adam.

Portrait of Robert Adam, attributed to George Willison, 1770–1775

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What were his major works?


  •  Admiralty Screen (1760) was Adam’s first important work in London. In 1762 he was employed to redesign the interior of Syon House. Adam produced an important plan that proposed filling an old center court with a vast, domed, pantheon-like hall; the entrance hall of Syon is one of the most significant Neoclassical interiors in England.
  • Mersham-le-Hatch (1762–72);
  • Lansdowne House (1762–68);
  • Luton Hoo (1766–74);
  • Newby Hall (1767–80);
  • Kenwood House (1767–68).
Admiralty Screen
Admiralty Screen 1759–61, Whitehall, London, one of Adam’s first executed buildings after his grand tour

Image source: by stevecadman

  • Kedleston Hall (1757–1759). Its south facade  is an example of an exterior in the architectural style of Adam. Designing a domed interior space and using the theme of a triumphal arch, he was the first architect, who applied elements of Roman-style to residential architecture.
Kedleston Hall, the south front.
Kedleston Hall, the south front. Robert Adam, Derbyshire

Image source: by rickmassey1

The Brothers Adam designed three of the most significant residential buildings in 1770s London that are excellent examples of their mature style:

  • Wynn House (1772–74);
  • Home House (1775–77);
  • Derby House (1773–74; demolished in 1862).


Robert Adam was not only an architect but an important furniture designer. He also designed various products and furnishings, from organ cases and sedan chairs to salt shakers and door fittings. He designed furniture to blend in with the rest of the house and the interior. His style was popularized by cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite. In the interiors of Robert Adam, everything, even the smallest detail, is harmonious and subordinated to a single scheme.

Adam designed bookcase 1776, probably built by Thomas Chippendale

Image source:,_Robert_Adam_(1728-1792),_1776_-IMG_1604.JPG

How can we identify Adam’s style?

Robert Adam had an innovative approach to work. He departed from the strict rules of neoclassicism and Palladianism.  Adam created aesthetically lighter and more graceful works, experimented with color and decor.  His style came to be known as the Adamescque or the Adam style, or the Adam brothers style at the time.

Croome Park, Robert Adam's design for church gate
Croome Park, Robert Adam’s design for church gate

Image source: by David Hawgood

What defined Adamesque architecture was Robert’s theory about holistic design. You see, most neoclassical architecture was focused only on the exterior. The structure’s façade embraced Classical Roman and Greek elements, but not the interior. Robert Adam’s projects are unique in that. He developed the design of the entire building as a whole, from architecture to interior details. This is the concept of integrated aesthetics. The exterior and interior complemented each other completely. Also, Adam began to introduce classic elements into interior design.

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