Preparing for a move is always hard. There’s the packing, the admin, the goodbyes, the mental adjustment to your new life, and the regrets about whether you’ve really made the most of the time you’ve lived in a place.
With that in mind, we’ve been trying to indulge in as many only-in-London activities as possible during the past months. Here are a few things I’ve checked out, other than steak and ale pies. It was only when I came to write this story that I realised it’s all about houses! Here’s a quick review of each, in case you’re ever looking for something a bit different to do in London.
This Georgian terraced house in Spitalfields (east London) has been turned into a museum of sorts. I visited with Ariella during one of the Silent Night tours (12GBP), where you walk about the house by candlelight, immersing yourself in the sights and sounds of the house as it may have been in the early 18th century.
“Woven through the house is the story of the fictive Jervis family (a name anglicised from Gervais), originally Huguenot (French Protestant immigrants) silk weavers who lived at the house from 1725 to 1919.”
Sounds (hoofbeats) and smells (fresh bread) are pumped in to help your imagination forget the modern world outside. It’s quite cool to journey through time, and experience a London very different to the one we’ve come to know and love!
I struggled with inconsistencies through the house though: notes about a queen’s inauguration on one floor, and clippings about her death on another. Ariella struggled with their insistence on silence during the visit, but it was a fun and quirky experience!
During our time as members of English Heritage, we would have been allowed to visit Chiswick House and Gardens (in our own suburb) free of charge, but we somehow never got around to it! It’s plagued me, so I recently shelled out 5 quid to check it out.
“Created by the third Earl of Burlington, who was inspired on his grand tour by the architecture of ancient Rome and 16th century Italy, Chiswick House is a stunning homage to the work of Renaissance architect Palladio.”
The thing that’s always entertained me about this place is that, although we think of Chiswick as a London suburb and commute daily, in 1729 when the house was built it was a country estate that the Earl entertained at when his friends wanted to escape from London. As slow as the District line is, horseback much be an ever slower way to travel.
It was also interesting to learn that the ‘house’ has no kitchen, and little room for beds, as the family continued to live at an adjacent property (using a link building to move between them), and used the villa for conducting business, receiving guests, and displaying their art collection. Critics found this ridiculous and said that it was: “Too small to live in, and too big to hang to a watch”. Gotta love 18th century humour!
The audio tour was quite short and manageable, which I was pleased with given my short attention span for names and dates about architecture and art history. Getting lost in the gardens actually took up more of my visit time!
Jump forward 200 years, and you get 2 Willow Road (admission 5.50GBP), designed in the 1930s by Erno Goldfinger (awesome name). This Modernist home was equally controversial in its time, chiefly for its unapologetic use of raw building materials like concrete.
Goldfinger too used his home to show off his art collection, but made it distinctly more liveable. Designing a home for your own family is certainly the way to go if you want it to be flexible, liveable and reflect your personal style! Of course it helps if you’re a trained architect.
Most of the internal walls here fold back to create massive entertaining spaces, and there’s a platform/stage in his wife’s painting studio so that models could sit for portraits (though I imagine his kids would have interrupted their parents’ work to put on impromptu shows). A lot of furniture designed by family members was used and is now exhibited in the house, and the work of master artists is exhibited side-by-side with a framed picture of a car that Erno’s grandson made by typewriter keystrokes.
Every little feature of the house is carefully considered to be as efficient and functional as possible. There’s no traditionalism, and no assumptions about how things should be done. Skirting boards are abandoned in favour of extending the flooring a few inches up the wall or, in the case of the bathroom, all the way up the side of the tub! Apparently it’s a trick used in hospitals to avoid the hassle of keeping the floor/wall join germ free.
This was my favourite of the three houses, probably because I know nothing about architecture or art and found this much more accessible than the others! My opinion may also have been influenced by its proximity to an awesome coffee shop…