London Road, Forest Hill SE23

London Road, Forest Hill SE23
1960s terraced house opposite Horniman Museum
Architect: Unknown to me
Year built: 1960s

We recommenced our property search later in the year by going to see a couple of places including this 1960s house opposite the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.

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Having passed this row of houses a couple of times, I thought they were interesting-looking with their funny boxed-in front gardens and brightly coloured panels. The location appeared to be convenient as well, being a short walk away from the station, the grounds of the Horniman museum and other local amenities. I’d seen a couple of the houses come up for sale in the past but they seemed really expensive compared to other houses in Forest Hill – I recall one in slightly dodgy condition being listed at something around £750k – so they never seemed to be a realistic option. With Brexit hitting London property prices, however, a house in the middle of the terrace came up for sale at still expensive but slightly less extortionate £700k so I thought it was worth having a look.

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The house was in vacant but acceptable condition, showing signs of a hasty post-tenant redecoration job. Upon entering through the walled and gated garden, which felt a bit like a cage, you were met with a small hallway which led into the main living area. This was a great space, both wide and deep, stretching to the back of the house and overlooking a decent garden. There was an actual mid-century fireplace on one wall (though the original exposed brick wall that I’ve seen in other examples of these houses had been plastered over) and the original parquet floor was in decent condition.

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A separate, decent sized but drably refitted kitchen led off the main living area and oddly contained a door which went out into the caged front garden (giving the front facade of the house two front doors). Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bathroom. A further flight of stairs led up to another bedroom, which was decently proportioned considering it was tucked between the eaves of the house.

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Although the house was a good size and had some really nice features, it wasn’t without its issues. It contained a hot air heating system (dry, inefficient, expensive to replace and annoyingly common in mid century properties), the convenient location meant there was quite a bit of road noise (possibly fixable with new double glazing) and a lot of the original features, such as the natural timber balustrades had been painted over with a coat of generic white gloss paint. As such, despite its potential, £700k still seemed expensive.

EDIT: I’ve just realised that this house, which is in my starred Air bnb wishlist, is in this terrace! The owners have done a great renovation job on it.

 

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Hyndewood, Forest Hill SE23

Hyndewood, Forest Hill SE23
Norman Starrett-designed 1960s terraced house
Architect: Norman Starrett
Year built: 1964

I really liked this house that we saw a couple of months ago. Slightly different in design to the other Norman Starrett house in Forest Hill that we previously went to see (which I also liked), this one was part of a smaller terrace of eight two-storey houses built in the mid-1960s for the Hyndewood development company.

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While the house was very charming and characterful, it was also (with all due respect to the very nice and stylish sellers) a little rough around the edges. The facade and front garden had a slightly ramshackle feel which continued throughout the house and into the slightly overgrown back garden. However, no amount of crumbling woodwork and peeling paint could detract from wealth of original 1960s features, open layout and overall potential.

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The ground floor of the house consisted of an expansive open-plan living space, which stretched into a glass extension and the garden to the rear. There was a refitted galley kitchen at the front of the house, separated from the living area by a breakfast bar, as per the house’s original design.

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The open-tread stairs (one of my favourite midcentury features) led to a landing on the first floor and three bedrooms. There was also a large bathroom, previously a separate bathroom and toilet that had been knocked into one room. Although it had no external walls, a skylight which almost ran the length of the ceiling flooded the room with light.

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As this article from Midcentury Magazine demonstrates, these houses have the potential to look amazing and this particular house had the advantage of being in an almost original, untouched state. The price wasn’t too bad either – if I recall correctly, it was listed at around the £635k mark. However, the potential number of issues and amount of work that would have been necessary to fix it up dissuaded is from making an offer. It went under offer the next week though so someone obviously saw its potential.

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Dad in the Sixties

Remastered November 2017

When it comes to making sartorial, design or general life decisions, the question I usually ask myself is: what would my dad have done in the sixties?

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The Poolhouse at Cotswold Lodge, Rodborough GL5

The Poolhouse at Cotswold Lodge, Rodborough GL5
Mid century modern poolhouse
Architect: Unknown to me
Year built: Late 1960s

For the second year in a row, I decided I’d quite like to celebrate my birthday by staying at a mid century Airbnb property at an entirely unsuitable location for a holiday in November. This year, it was the turn of a 1960s poolhouse (with no access to the actual pool, which was covered over) in the rather remote Cotswolds village of Rodborough.

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According to the Airbnb listing, the Poolhouse was built in the late 1960s in glass, timber and Cotswold stone (reputed to have originated from Prinknash Abbey) as an add-on to the much older, rather stately-looking main house. While the exterior of the Poolhouse was basically a glorified shed (the pool itself, surrounded by cedar decking, was the star attraction), its interior was a beautifully detailed haven of mid century modern fittings, furniture and very kitschy artwork.

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The best room was a very long, open plan living space comprising a dining area, a seating area (demarcated by an unusually attractive L-shaped sofa – I usually hate them) and open plan kitchen which looked out onto (and if we’d visited in summer, would have opened out onto) the pool through a set of floor to ceiling doors which spanned the left hand wall.

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An internal hallway led through to the bathroom and master bedroom, which was fitted with the most luxurious long-haired shag pile carpet I’ve ever had the pleasure of treading on and some great built in furniture. The internal hallway also contained a staircase which led down to a further bedroom on the lower ground floor (mysteriously this was not intended to be part of the Airbnb listing and clearly hadn’t been entered for a while judging by the scent of mothballs).

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Decor-wise, the poolhouse appeared to have been sympathetically restored in the recent past to make the most of the original features, notably what appeared to be iroko woodwork, but also to install various mod-cons such as a decent modern kitchen and bathroom. In my opinion, the Poolhouse would benefit from some further modernisation: the shower was abysmal (there were around three precious minutes of dribbly hot water before it turned ice cold) and at the risk of sounding ridiculously spoiled, the TV didn’t have an HDMI cable which meant we were stuck watching terrestrial tv for the duration of our stay and the music system was only compatible with Apple products with the old charging head. So, while the Poolhouse wasn’t quite a 1960s simulation, it did feel like we’d been transported back into the recent past.

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The Poolhouse was situated in an excellent location for admiring sweeping views, trudging through muddy fields, ambling through ancient villages made out of Cotswold stone and doing other things people usually do when visiting the Cotswolds. The nearby market town of Stroud had some decent vintage shops: a mid-century themed one called Duffle was decently stocked and very reasonably priced.

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Bertoia chairs 

Having recently upgraded my dining table to a Saarinen tulip table with a marble top, I thought it was time to do the same with my dining chairs (a cheap and cheerful mismatching collection of Eames knock-offs and Habitat), which were starting to look a little shabby in comparison.

One of the things I like about the Saarinen tulip table is that almost any kind of chair goes with it, not just the Saarinen tulip chairs it was intended to be paired with. While I quite like tulip chairs, I thought that a whole set of them would be a bit too space age for my liking.  I decided instead to go for a set of white Bertoia side chairs, which I’ve always wanted despite being fully aware that they are not at all comfortable and resemble patio furniture (they’re actually used as outdoor seating in the courtyard at the V&A museum).

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Tracking down affordable Bertoia side chairs that weren’t blatant knock-offs (I discovered that there are a lot of decidedly unconvincing knock-offs of this particular chair floating about) or extortionately priced (Skandium charges £766 for one chair, unupholstered) took patience. After a couple of months of checking eBay daily, I finally managed to get hold of a slightly shabby, rusty set of four for £270. The chairs were a vintage set, possibly decades old, and weren’t branded with an official manufacturer’s logo. Comparing them against the real thing and numerous unconvincing knock-offs, however, they looked like the genuine article with all of their proportions correct and everything in the right place. In terms of condition, the chairs were a bit rusty and there were bits where the nylon white coating had come loose, exposing the metal frame underneath.

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At this point I really should have consulted an online tutorial on how to restore Bertoia chairs properly (this article, which I read long after the event, recommends specific nylon-specific products and taking the chairs to a specialist company to sandblast off the existing finish and then repaint through a powder-coat process). Instead, I thought I’d just glue any bits of nylon coating that were hanging off back onto the frame, sand down any rough patches, cover any metal hardware with masking tape and then touch up with a primer, white spray paint and a glossy top coat and hope for the best.

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Halfway through this amateurish process, however, I discovered that spraying the nylon coating with spray paint was making the surface of the chairs unpleasantly powdery to the touch (and that no amount of glossy topcoat would rectify this). Rather than stop and source an alternative product more suited for use on nylon surfaces, I chose instead to only spray the really damaged bits of the remaining chairs (as a result, only parts of these chairs are powdery to the touch than the whole thing).

To finish them off, I bought some wool-covered seat pads specifically designed for Bertoia side chairs from this German online retailer (Knoll also produces official versions of these pads but they’re ridiculously expensive), which means that the chairs are now almost comfortable – as opposed to quite painful – to sit on.

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Given the amateurish and slapdash nature of my restoration job, you can see all of the paint runs, uneven patches and bits of metal that I’ve effectively coloured in with spray paint when you look up close and when you touch two of the chairs, it feels like paint is going to rub off onto your hands. That said, I don’t think they look too bad (from a distance) and I do feel a sense of achievement that I would not have felt if I’d bought a full price set from Skandium for several thousand pounds.

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Mid-century shelving systems

Updated November 2017

When it comes to interiors, there’s nothing I like more than a good mid century-inspired wall-mounted shelving system.

I’m a bit obsessed – even though I already have that overbearing Poul Cadovius royal system and various other bits and pieces hanging up in the flat, I’m constantly on the lookout for more and have amassed a useless collection of random String brackets and shelves from sample sales over the years as a result (this will all of course go up in the mid century house that I will probably never live in).

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Not content with clogging up my own flat with this rubbish, I have taken to persuading any friend who asks me for interior decorating/furniture advice that their living room/study/bedroom/kitchen would greatly benefit from installing a wall mounted shelving system somewhere. Happily, there’s loads of choice these days – from Vitsoe to Ikea, there’s an option to suit every budget.

Here are some of my picks:

1. DK3 Royal System (from £160 for a rail to £2,200 for a workstation unit)

While I prefer the original, chunkier version of the Cado royal system, the modern slimline version reissued by dk3 is also pretty gorgeous, if eye-waveringly expensive. It comes in oak and walnut but unfortunately not rosewood.

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2. String shelving system (from £40 for a rail to £330 for a drawer unit)

Ok it’s totally ubiquitous and a bit of a Scandi cliche these days but I still think a bit of string shelving elevates any room. Having put some up in my study, I would say it looks great but it’s a little flimsy – I don’t think I would rely on the wall-mounted version to bear the weight of anything heavier than a few ornaments and paperback books.

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3. Vitsoe 606 system (prices unclear on website so I assume very expensive)

These are a tad officey-looking but I’ve seen them in various high-end homes and they always look great. If I ever decide to downsize to a studio flat in the Barbican, I would totally use a Vitsoe system to divide up the room like this guy has.

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4. La Redoute Taktik system (from £10 for the brackets to £500 for a large cupboard unit)

I have no idea what this system looks like in person but based on the photos on the website, it looks really high end and sophisticated-looking for the price. Something about it, perhaps the finish or the fact that the rails are made of metal rather than wood, gives it more of a modern than mid century appearance, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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5. Maisons du Monde Sheffield tv and shelving unit (£804)

This isn’t quite like the others as it isn’t modular/configurable and instead all comes in one piece but I do like the rails and the cabinetry going on at the bottom. It’s been styled horribly (very “show-flat-in-a-new-build-development”) in the in situ photo on the website though I’m sure it’d look alright surrounded by the right stuff.

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6. Ikea Svalnas system (from £20 for a shelf to £60 for a cabinet)

I’m actually surprised it has taken Ikea so long to bring out something like this. For the price, I think it looks amazing. I particularly like the range of accessories (desk, sliding cabinet, drawers), which are definitely String-inspired. I’m not entirely sure about the colour and grain of the wood – it’s a little orange-looking in some pictures – but I will reserve judgment until I see it in person.

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7. LaRedoute Watford system (£329 – 599 per piece)

LaRedoute has now brought out a second mid century-style shelving system alongside the TakTik system it brought out last year. The new Watford system is only made up of three constituent parts: a walnut desk with shelves, a narrow shelving unit and two large shelving units with cupboard storage. These parts can be used individually or combined in modular fashion to build a larger wall unit. It’s much less customisable than the TakTik system (which pretty much allowed you to build a system to meet your own specification) and the Ladderax-style rails don’t connect to adjoining rails or other parts of the system. At £329 – £599 per piece, it’s not cheap either. It does, however, look nice and must be much less of a faff to assemble than the TakTik system and most of the other systems in this blog entry.

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8. Made Jory system (£149 – 499)

Made’s new Jory shelving system is blatantly “inspired by” the modern version of the Cado system: everything from the use of oak and walnut, the width of the rails and those metal bits which attach units and shelves to the rails look suspiciously familiar. Everything is a little less refined and blocky than the Cado system though – more Duplo than Lego, if you will. Price-wise, it’s £149 – £499, depending on how much you buy.

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Photos courtesy of brand websites

64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2

64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2
Grade II listed modernist villa
Architect: Lubetkin & Tecton
Year built: 1934

My third and final Open House visit this year was to a stunning modernist villa all the way out in Romford, Essex. Amongst the first works of architects Lubetkin & Tecton (who went on to design iconic modernist estates such as Highpoint and Priory Green as well as the penguin enclosure in London Zoo), it won first prize in the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition held in July-August 1934, costing only £900 to build.

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64 Heath Drive, which was made out of painted reinforced concrete and had a flat roof, looked a bit incongruous on a street full of mock Tudor, pink cottages and stone water features. It was apparently designed to be one of a row of similar, low cost modernist houses that would give the impression of one long white wall but these houses were never built.

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The house had an interesting L-shaped plan with all of its principal rooms (living room, dining room, bedrooms) and huge steel framed windows cleverly positioned to face into a stunning landscaped garden with a koi carp pond while the kitchen, original maid’s room and garage were positioned to look out onto the street. Upstairs, the master bedroom opened out onto a substantial terrace which was also accessible via a steel bridge and staircase from the garden.

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Decor-wise, the current owner had clearly made a huge effort to restore the house to its former glory over the years (the living room was particularly stunning) and had made alterations that were sympathetic to the original design but admitted that the house was no museum to modernism – it was first and foremost a home that catered to the needs of his family and contained a hotpotch of styles and eras.

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According to Zoopla, the house is worth between £700-850k, which seems entirely reasonable for a house of such architectural significance.

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Modernist pilgrimage to Helsinki – Shopping

Artek flagship store

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Launched in 1935, Artek (an abbreviated portmanteau of the Finnish words for “art” and “technology”) remains the official licensor for Alvar Aalto’s steam-bent beech pieces seen everywhere across the city but also sells a range of furniture and design items from other Finnish and international designers.

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The large flagship store on the South Esplanade was almost a museum of beautiful mid-century modern pieces, which at full price were mostly out of my price range but I did manage to buy some pointless but pretty accessories such as a fluffy round seat cushion for my Aalto chair at home and a rather natty multi-picture display hanger.

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Artek second cycle

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Tucked away in a basement level space in the Design District of the city was Artek’s second hand branch. The store was full of beautiful vintage Aalto pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in Aalto’s studio and/or villa.

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This was a strictly window shopping trip – I wasn’t going to attempt to fit anything into my hold luggage (even an artfully battered Stool 60) and the setup, whilst slightly haphazard, suggested that the stock was being sold at antique-level prices.

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Marimekko factory store

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This factory store was located on the outskirts of the city in an unglamorous Purley Way-esque area made up of busy roads and hypermarkets but proved to be well worth the trek.

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The large store sold a broad range of Marimekko’s instantly recognisable 1960s-style printed clothing and homewares at decent discounts (I like their stuff but can’t justify buying it full price): I was primarily interested in picking up printed duvet sets and cushions but the glassware and crockery were decent as well. The building was also home to a full priced store, textiles factory and busy staff cafeteria which also appeared to be open to the public, judging by the number of buggies in there.

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Arabia

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Arabia is a Finnish ceramics company, founded in 1873 which appeared to specialise in tableware (a Finnish, much cooler Royal Doulton, if you will). The flagship, which was adjoined to the equally fancy Iittalla store, housed all of the brand’s retro pieces, including a section dedicated to one of Finland’s most recognisable exports, the Moomins.

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Hietalahti flea market

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I don’t know if we just came on the wrong day or too late in the morning (a Saturday at about 11am) but as you can see from the photos, this flea market was disappointingly sparse. The vendors who had bothered to show up were peddling decent stock, however. One stall was loaded up with vintage Iittala and Arabia pieces (I managed to pick up an unusually shaped vintage Arabia salt shaker for 15 euros) and there was a decent selection of mid century tat hidden amongst the rubbish on the other stalls.

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Modernist pilgrimage to Helsinki: Architecture

Studio Aalto

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A quick tram ride from central Helsinki brought us to the Tiilimäki neighbourhood of Munkkiniemi. Home to both the studio and former home of one of Finland’s most famous exports, Alvar Aalto, Munkkiniemi also appeared to contain a lot of very attractive modernist housing stock: on our walk over from the tram stop to Studio Aalto, we walked past countless interestingly designed apartment blocks that I wished I could pick up and transplant into London somewhere.

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Alvar Aalto designed the Studio Aalto house during 1955–56 to be the studio of his architect bureau. Though from the street it had a rather plain, unassuming-looking façade comprised of white-painted, lightly rendered brickwork, the closed-in mass of the building concealed a garden shaped like an amphitheatre in its inner courtyard and some spectacularly designed interior spaces.

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The working space upstairs was broadly split into two main areas, one of which Aalto intended to be used for technical work and the other for dreaming up ideas. The technical work space was a vast hall of a room, which narrowed slightly at the end to make it look even longer and was flooded with light from windows on both sides giving views to both east and west.

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The dreaming room was altogether more unusual with curved walls, double height ceilings, climbing plants and pieces of Aalto’s signature furniture dotted about. This room also overlooked the amphitheatre space outside – we were told they used to project banned films onto the wall outside, which the team could watch from the comfort of the the dreaming room.

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Villa Aalto

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Aalto’s house was a ten minute walk away from the Studio Aalto. Built in 1936 as a joint project with his first wife, it was Aalto’s first house in the city and his home until his death in 1976. The house was a relatively modest two-storey structure which, like the studio, didn’t look like much from the street but contained a wealth of characterful features round the back and inside.

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The ground floor contained a double height brick and jute clad study featuring high windows and steps up to a library area and gallery.

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Sliding doors separated the study from the warmer, wood and suede-lined living room which contained a range of original Aalto-designed furniture and a grand piano, which had a rather severe portrait of Aalto’s wife propped on it.

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A wooden staircase led up to a second living room with a freestanding fireplace as a centrepiece and three bedrooms, a large terrace and the bathroom (which contained those weird round sinks that Aalto designed for a sanatorium) branching off it.

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Whilst relatively modest in terms of size and scale, the house was stunning down to the last detail and had a calming, almost Japanese aesthetic.

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Finlandia Hall 

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One of Aalto’s later buildings, the music venue Finlandia Hall was opened in 1971 in a picturesque location overlooking Töölö bay. With its high angled roof and white Carrara marble facade, it looked a bit like a huge, jagged iceberg and was significantly more dramatic in appearance and scale than the studio and house.

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Having visited in person, I would say Finlandia Hall needs to be viewed from afar to be truly appreciated – apparently the best place to see it from is Sinisen Huvilan, a café across the bay, which gives you enough distance to see all of it at once, rising out of the water. I didn’t have this vantage point which meant that it was difficult to capture its vastness in any one picture but the view of the building from Mannerheimintie (I assume that this was the main entrance) was pretty impressive.

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There weren’t any concerts showing on the day that I visited but I did manage to have a wander around the main foyer areas, which were lined in a combination of birch and stone – Aalto designed the interiors down to last details from lighting fixtures and furniture to the flooring.

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Temppeliaukio Church

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I seem to have a habit of visiting strange-looking modernist churches when on holiday abroad. This late 1960s example, designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen was possibly the most unusual yet.

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Excavated and built directly out of solid rock, the church’s bunker-like entrance led down into a subterranean oval space bathed in natural light entering through a glass skylight surrounding a central copper dome. A wooden staircase led to an upper tier of seating overlooking the James Bond-esque lair below.

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The architects had incorporated the rough, virtually unworked  bedrock into the design of the church and adapted the colour scheme accordingly with lots of reds, purples and greys with steel rendered bluish by hammering. Apparently the church is visited more by tourists than worshippers these days and is one of the most popular sights in Helsinki – the tour buses which appeared to arrive at regular intervals outside the main entrance confirmed this to be true. 

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Modernist pilgrimage to Helsinki

Though I found it to be rather small and underpopulated, I greatly enjoyed my time in Helsinki, home to stunning Alvar Aalto-designed architecture (including the house that he lived in) and various design stores from which I bought yet more tasteful Nordic tat for my flat. Blog entries on Helsinki’s architecture and shopping to follow.

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