Wednesday, 18 September 2013

London Open House 2013

I love Open House weekend – the annual opportunity to wander around other people's houses, gawp with guidance at genre-defining architecture and public buildings generally closed to the public. What nosey parker wouldn't love it? Here are my top three snoops...

 Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire



This privately-owned Grade II listed Palladian mansion, built in 1754 and restored in 1883, is not generally open to the public. So this really is a rare opportunity to nose through its grand interiors or (if the rain holds off) glimpse a few of the 300 acres of parkland in which it is set. The tour covers the grand entrance hall, dining room and drawing room, plus a couple of other large corners.

Wrotham Park has been used as a location for the likes of Gosford Park, The Hour, the TV version of Sense and Sensibility and – no less – Bridget Jones's Diary. And if that doesn't excite you, low-browers (like me) might like to know that Simon Cowell had his 50th birthday here and it was, ta-da, the venue for the wedding celebrations of Cheryl & Ashley Cole. Voyeuristic? Pah.

I stumbled across excellent images of the house as seen through its numerous TV and film appearances. If you'd like to lose five minutes pleasantly, check them out Period Pieces and Portraiture.

Wrotham Park, Barnet EN5 4SB. Tube: Cockfosters, High Barnet; Rail: Potters Bar; 84 bus
Sun 10am-5pm. Tours on the hour except 1pm. Pre-book only on 020 8275 1425. No children under 16. Last tour 4pm. 

71 Greenwood Road, East London


Often, when I see architects on Grand Designs, I'm disappointed by the reveal at the end of the show. You spend the whole programme watching them create an incredible – if debatably beautiful – living space, and then watch them furnish it with froideur: the disappointingly sparse or blandly expensive decor at odds with the creativity and passion thrown into the bigger project. 

Not so Ben Kilburn of Kilburn Nightingale Architects, who this weekend is showing off not only the labour and skill he has put into turning his 1870s house, previously divided into three flats, into a home for him and his family, but also its very pleasing stylings. There are the lovely grey floorboards pictured above, with that warm bench seating, a wall of colourful books, as well as bright green walls elsewhere, a flash of sunshine yellow in the sleek kitchen, and collections of tiny animals. And along with, of course, the house itself – which has some eco touches including solar thermal panels, LED lighting, improved insulation (including lovely sweet chestnut cladding at the back of the house), and the enviable double height space pictured above, which floods the house with light – you're in for some serious house porn. 

71 Greenwood Road, E8 1NT, London. Saturday: 10am-to-5pm. Architect-led half-hourly tours of the house and garden, first come basis. Rail: Hackney Central, Dalston Junction; buses: 30, 38, 277, 242, 56.

The Darke House, Richmond


The award-winning architect, Geoffrey Darke, of Darbourne and Darke, died in 2011 and this was his home until the early 1980s. Darke's architecture firm was responsible for some of London's most notable – and now listed – social housing; the 1960s-built estates at Lillington Gardens in Pimlico and Marquess Road, Islington, typified the D&D approach, which built low-rise maisonettes rather than high-rise blocks. 

Geoffrey Darke's former home, built in 1968 and now Grade II listed, was bought by a couple devoted to showcasing his work. The new owners have renovated the house with the help of Darke's family, including his architect son. As such, many original features remain, including Peter Nelson lighting, glass mosaic bathroom tiling, the solid wood kitchen and built-in teak bookshelves. Apart from a small, one-off event, this is the first time the house has been opened to the public since its renovation. When the house was listed, it was described as: "The best example of a modernist house in a Georgian setting".

The Darke House, 25 Montpellier Row TW1 2NQ. Sat 10am-5pm/Sun 10am-1pm. Regular tours, first come basis. Duration 15 mins. Max 6 per tour. Tube: Richmond; Rail: St Margaret’s; buses: 68, 490, R70, H36, H22. 


And if you are specifically after places to visit in south London, check my other website Belowtheriver.co.uk for more amazing buildings.

Details of all buildings at: Londonopenhouse.org

Post by Kate

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