His father, James Grant, was a painter, Head of Painting at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, and Ian was educated at Westminster School and the Architectural Association, where he was trained in the modern movement philosophy then fashionable, but later concentrated on restoration work. He worked for Cluttons, and for the architect Campbell Jones, on Bucklesbury House, Queen Victoria Street.
He was amongst those who gathered at Lady Rosse's house in Stafford Terrace, Kensington on 25 February 1958, to found the Victorian Society, together with such eminent figures as Hugh Casson, John Betjeman and Nikolaus Pevsner. Lord Esher was the first Chairman, and Grant became Secretary, working part-time and unpaid for two years, doing everything from editing the society's annual report to stuffing envelopes with appeals for the Euston Arch.
With growth in membership and his increasing practice, he gave way to a successor with more time, a decision possibly assisted by the fact that he and Pevsner did not always agree. However, he remained on the committee organising events for the society. A contemporary remembers a visit to Leicestershire, where society members were surrounded by great and good locals, astounded by the group of enthusiasts who had come to study a Victorian country house. Other occasions included a "Victorian dress show" appropriately staged in his own house, and a visit to Paris. Throughout his life his guided tours were well-attended and converted many to the understanding of good Victorian architecture.
In 1971, he was chosen by Unesco to visit Australia to advise on a policy for that country's rich inheritance of 19th-century buildings. Clive Lucas, a leading restoration architect and member of the Board of the Australian National Trust, remembers his visit as a turning point in the preservation movement. He cited Grant's aphoristic advice - "Do all that is necessary, and as little as possible" - as the epitome of good preservation philosophy. Though Grant only visited Australia once again, he found the United States as rich in 19th-century architecture and equally welcoming.
Grant prided himself on his work being unobtrusive, always delighted when it was imperceptible. His restoration projects show his minimalist approach, respectful of the original designer and difficult to detect. After the first IRA bomb at the Palace of Westminster, he was called in to advise on the repair and redecoration of the smaller committee rooms, an initiative which led to a campaign of restoration throughout the palace under the late Robin Cooke MP.
One of his largest commissions was the installation of air-conditioning throughout the Wallace Collection from 1976 to 1982. This involved the reinstatement of original features, and redecoration of many of the 20 galleries affected, a seminal project since it was the first time that a curator and consultant had taken the original decorative schemes of even a major Victorian museum into account.
He was consulted by the Royal Albert Hall, and his traditional but vibrant redecoration of the Royal Staircase and Royal Retiring Room was completed last year. Grant was never afraid of using rich patterns whether on the walls or in the carpet, happily commissioning modern copies of traditional Victorian fabrics and papers, believing that even the most insistent pattern retreated into its proper place in the decorative scheme when correctly used. He refurbished two former Rothschild residences, Halton and Ascott in Buckinghamshire.
He worked at the Reform Club, a Grade I listed building for which he always had a great affection. and also re-decorated much of its neighbour the RAC with equal success. He was never a "Goth" but nonetheless was employed by the Crown Estate to furnish and decorate all the Quinlan Terry villas in Regent's Park, including one in the Gothick style.
This was the sort of project which he enjoyed, punctilious in every detail, very much what he had done in his own house in Kensington, with the assistance of his life-long friend Paul Taylor. Together they bought Victorian art and decorative features, often from the Portobello Road in the 1950s and 1960s, using them to create a rich and attractive interior. This was always a hospitable house, and guests from all over the world, learnt to love and understand Victorian interior design as so professionally displayed, and returned borne as convinced preservationists.
Grant was involved in many Kensington bodies, becoming Vice Chairman of the Kensington Society, and Chairman of the Ladbroke Association at his death. His two worlds were combined in Linley Sambourne House, the house of Lord and Lady Rosse, where the Victorian Society had been founded. When the Greater London Council bought the house in 1980, they turned to the Victorian Society to manage it, and Ian Grant was chairman of the managing committee until 1997. In this capacity he was able to ensure that the restoration of the interior was sensitive and minimal. His influence was also significant at Leighton House, where again he advised the curator, Stephen Jones, in his characteristic way, always generous with practical advice and experienced guidance.
Ian Dawson Grant, architect and interior designer: born London 26 March 1925; died London 27 August 1998.Reuse content