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Through the Keyhole: 8 Private House Museums

More decadent than domestic, private house museums not only tend to rep collections and settings to rival any of the bigger public institutions, but they also provide a peek into the secret stories of their former owners. Need some inspiration? Start with these eight domiciliary dreams in ParisRomeLondon, Amsterdam, BangkokSingaporeChicago and Melbourne. Be warned: you’ll never want to follow an audio tour again…

Updated 16 July, 2019

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome

But a skip off the crazy Via del Corso you’ll find this astonishingly ornate, C.16th courtyard palace owned by the aristocratic Doria-Pamphilj-Landi family. A series of princely gallery rooms are adorned with late-Baroque frescoed ceilings, antique Roman statues and paintings by Bernini, Raphael and Caravaggio. Don’t miss the chapel (complete with the mummified remains of the fam’s fave saint) or the by-private-tour-only apartments, where the Pamphilj princess still lives. That’s one rather rub-a-dub bathroom!

Via del Corso, 305, Piazza Venezia, Rome. +39 06 679 7323.

Musee Nissim de Camondo, Paris

Modelled after Versailles’ Petit Trianon, the resplendent Belle Epoque home of Istanbul-born Sephardic Jewish banker Moïse de Camondo is a swoonsome time capsule treasure trove of magnificent antiques and art, crystal chandeliers, Savonnerie carpets and Sèvres porcelain. While all of the abode’s objets are still here to see, tragically the Camondo family is no more – Moïse’s son (the intended inheritor of the house) died in World War I, while his daughter and her family died in the Nazi death camps of World War II.

63 rue de Monceau, 8th, Paris. +33 153 89 06 50.

Make sure you also shimmy past the Musée Gustave Moreau for Symbolist paintings and a rather spiffy staircase.

Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam

See how the rich merchant class lived at this splendidly preserved C.17th canalside mansion, originally built in 1672 for the artist Ferdinand Bol and later bought by the Van Loons, who made their fortune as part-founders of the Dutch East India Trading Company. Swan through the airy, colour-coordinated reception parlours, pattern-plastered bedrooms and deceptively book-free library (trust the ever-tidy Dutch to hide shelves behind faux wall doors), then take a coffee in the gorge garden cafe.

Keizersgracht 672, Canal Ring, Amsterdam. +31 2 0624 5255.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

Stuffed to the rafters with C.18th art, antiquities, sculpture, sketches, models and canvases, the former home of Bank of England architect Sir John Soane is an enchanting, atmospheric escape from the surrounding central London bustle. Standout pieces of his personal collection include works by Turner, Hogarth’s satirical engravings A Rake’s Progress, and the hieroglyph-covered alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I, but equally enthralling are the curio-packed, lightwell-lit rooms in which they are displayed.

13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2. +44 20 7405 2107.

Glessner House Museum, Chicago

A granite triumph of the C.19th Richardson Romanesque style, the harsh stone facade of this forbidding family manse turned National Historic Landmark hides a plush stash of Venetian glassware, custom inlay furnishings and American crafts. Just don’t expect to wander in – the house is accessible only on thrice-daily docent-led tours.

1795 S Prairie, South Loop, Chicago. +1 312 326 1480.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok

He could still be wandering the Cameron Highlands for all we know, poor darling. The Silk King’s lush compound is an antique treat with six Thai-style teak houses displaying his small but notable selection of Asian art and personal belongings. Take the guided tour then linger for retail and tasty plates in the onsite resto and wine bar. The Art Center is also worth a gander for contempo exhibits.

6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Bangkok. +66 2216 7368.

Katong Antique House Museum, Singapore

Call ahead for an appointment (or take your chances on the day), at this beautifully restored, two-storey Peranakan shophouse presided over by Peter Wee. It’s a cluttered n’ colourful crash course in traditional Baba-Nyonya life through clothing, artifacts and furny.

208 East Coast Rd, Katong, Singapore. +65 6345 8544.

Justin Art House Museum, Melbourne

Proving that house museums don’t have to be old is this brand spanking new opening with an equally contempo collection. Melbourne art enthusiasts Charles and Leah Justin have been nabbing choice graphic, digital and non-figurative works for some 40+ years and have recently gone public with their private, 250-piece horde. The edgy Prahran residence they share (designed by their archi-savvy daughter) can now be explored on intimate tours run by the couple themselves. And, after art hour, they’ll even treat you to afternoon tea in their new top-floor apartment. Home is where the art is!

3 Lumley Ct, Prahran, Melbourne. Book online at

Need more travel inspo? Peruse all of the LUXE City Guide destinations!

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