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.

img_6954

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.

img_8230

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.

img_6960img_821228067712_unknown

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.

28068096_unknownimg_698728068256_unknown

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

img_6965img_8216img_6964

Advertisements

Modernist pilgrimage to Helsinki – Shopping

Artek flagship store

28071568_unknown

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.

img_8127img_7407img_8128

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.

img_7390img_812928071536_unknown

Artek second cycle

img_7684-1

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.

img_8130img_7676-1img_8133

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.

img_7689img_8132img_7675

Marimekko factory store

img_8144

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.

img_8142img_7516img_8150

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.

28072320_unknown28072416_unknown

Arabia

img_7715

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.

img_8125img_7718img_8124

Hietalahti flea market

img_7656

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.

img_7660img_814328074016_unknown

 

 

Modernist pilgrimage to Helsinki: Architecture

Studio Aalto

img_7316

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.

img_8098

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.

28069952_unknownimg_810028070032_unknown

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.

img_8102img_733428069648_unknown

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.

28069776_unknownimg_8103img_7348

Villa Aalto

28070080_unknown

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.

28070304_unknownimg_8104

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

28071440_unknownimg_8106

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.

28070464_unknownimg_8112

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.

img_811028070624_unknownimg_8115

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.

28070752_unknown28070944_unknown

Finlandia Hall 

28072480_unknown

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.

28072624_unknownimg_811728072912_unknown

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.

img_759628073072_unknown28073152_unknown

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.

28072736_unknownimg_811828072752_unknown-3

Temppeliaukio Church

28073776_unknown

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.

28073312_unknownimg_8120

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.

28073600_unknownimg_8119

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. 

28073680_unknown

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.

img_8085

Isokon Lawn Road Flats, NW3

Isokon Lawn Road Flats
London NW3
Architect: Wells Coates
Grade I listed modernist apartment block designed as a progressive experiment in new ways of urban living
Year Built: 1934

I previously visited the Isokon building and mini museum when I started doing this blog. I didn’t have access to the interior of the building so all I came away with were some rather lame iPhone 4s-quality photos of the exterior and the recreation of the kitchen and bathroom in the museum. My more recent trip as part of London’s Open House weekend, which involved a tour of the communal areas and a selection of the different types of flat in the building, was far more fruitful.

img_6901

As I described in my previous blog entry, the building was designed by architect Wells Coates for Molly and Jack Pritchard as an experiment in minimalist urban living and consisted of 24 tiny standard-sizes studio flats, 8 one bedroom flats, a (now closed) kitchen and staff quarters and a large garage. The Pritchards lived in a one bedroom penthouse flat at the top with their two sons next door in a studio flat.

28066352_unknownimg_7742

As part of the Open House tour, we were showed inside two examples of the standard studio flat and excitingly, the slightly larger-than-standard studio and penthouse on the top floor.

Upon entry into the building, I was struck by the elegantly modernist communal areas decorated with a cool grey, white and wooden colour scheme. The two standard-sized studios that we were shown were accessed via open walkways, which my partner said reminded him of the vast, bog standard council estates typical in his home town (I disagreed).

img_7731-128066864_unknown

The standard-sized studio flats were very small indeed (we were told that current regulations would prohibit flats of that size being built nowadays) but were well designed, with their original built-in and cordoned off kitchen and bathroom areas intact. We were told that these flats were sold on a shared ownership basis for £95k in 2003.

img_7729img_6909img_773028066640_unknown

The studio flat on the top floor (originally inhabited by the Pritchards’ sons but now owned by someone capable of living a very minimalist lifestyle with almost no possessions) was more generously proportioned.

28067216_unknown28067200_unknown

However, it was the penthouse which had (for want of a better expression) the wow factor. Clad almost entirely in plywood (both the walls and the floor), it had a separate bedroom and large living room which opened out onto an enormous terrace.

img_6940img_7740img_6951

The penthouse, which I’d previously seen featured in the Evening Standard, is currently owned by the founder of aspirational Scandi furniture store Skandium and so was beautifully furnished with a mixture of furnishings and design objects appropriate to the era of the building.

img_6944img_7732img_6930img_7739

I have no idea how much something as special as the penthouse would cost but one bedroom flats and studios have come onto the market before and sold for between £500-600k, which I think is a fair price for living in such a stunning Grade I-listed piece of architectural history in a very nice area of North London.

28066240_unknown

Lambert Jones Mews, The Barbican EC2

Lambert Jones Mews, The Barbican EC2
Four bedroom family home on the Barbican Estate
Architect: Chamberlain Powell & Bon
Year built: 1974

I have come to terms with the fact that I am very unlikely to fulfil my dream of living on the Barbican estate in my lifetime: given my current situation, the studios and one bedroom flats are too small and anything larger than that is either bad value for money (the average price for a two bedroom flat appears to be around £850-900k) or just completely unaffordable.

The Lambert Jones mews houses are definitely an example of the latter so when I saw that one of the houses was open to the public as part of Open House this year, I seized the chance to have a nose around a house completely out of my reach.

28065248_unknown-1img_7244

The house, one of only eight on the entire estate, was accessed via a residents’ stairwell and private cobbled street (apparently designed to resemble fashionable West End mews housing) usually sealed off to members of the public.

28065280_unknownimg_7246

The ground floor contained two bedrooms, one of which had direct access to the residents’ gardens, a bathroom, the integral garage which the owners had converted into a further bedroom and the main reception room which had a double height ceiling and window overlooking the gardens.

28065920_unknownimg_7250

An open tread iroko staircase led upstairs to a galleried dining area (from which you could look down over the main reception room), a second bathroom, the master bedroom with some nice views over the gardens, the kitchen and another bedroom, both of which had double height ceilings and led out onto a small balcony. From here, a further flight of external steps led up to a private roof terrace which was connected by a communal walkway to the roof terraces of the neighbouring houses and looked out over the residents’ gardens and the Barbican Centre.

28065856_unknownimg_724928065840_unknown

The house was full of the details associated with Barbican properties: sliding partition doors separating living and sleeping areas, strategically placed windows, exposed concrete and brickwork, that handy cupboard by the front door for storage, postal deliveries and rubbish collection and all of the original plug, light and switch fittings. While there was a lack of light (perhaps due to these houses being slightly walled in by the rest of the estate?) and the (possibly Mondrian-inspired?) colour scheme and refitted kitchen and bathrooms weren’t all to my taste, this was a very special, rare house and clearly one of the most prestigious residences on the estate. 

As one of the owners put it, Barbican residents often progress through a “Barbican food chain” from studio flat to one-bedroom flat to two-bedroom flat to three-bedroom flat in one of the towers and then if really fortunate, to one of these four bedroom mews houses at the very top of the chain (!).

28065712_unknownimg_7251

The Lambert Jones mews houses do occasionally come up for sale. This more neutrally decorated example was sold for £2.5 million earlier this year.

28065488_unknown

The Rotunda, Birmingham B2

The Rotunda, Birmingham B2
Grade II converted apartment block
Architect: James A Roberts
Year built: 1965

Completed in 1965 as a mixed-use office block as part of the James A. Roberts-designed post-war Bull Ring Shopping Centre development, the Rotunda is one of the few mid-century buildings left standing in Birmingham after years of regeneration which has seen the 1960s station, shopping centre and numerous John Marin brutalist buildings demolished to make way for glass and steel replacements.

img_6817

The Rotunda almost met the same fate when it was threatened with demolition in 1993 but was saved by English Heritage and was given a Grade II listing in 2000. It sat empty for a number of years before being refurbished and partially converted for residential use by developer Urban Splash and Glenn Howells Architects. The refurbishment involved updating the façade by fitting 72 floor-to-ceiling height glass panes, each placed at 5° to the neighbouring window and carving the internal space up into 232 luxury apartments. All of the flats except those on the top floors, which are let out as serviced apartments, were bought up by eager buyers (most of them buy-to-let investors) in just three hours at the height of the market in 2005 – these buyers were to end up losing out in spectacular fashion when the credit crunch hit in 2008.

img_6735img_7001

A trip to visit friends in Birmingham last weekend provided us with the perfect opportunity to stay in one of the serviced apartments on the 19th floor of the tower. The building looked almost completely contemporary in person, perhaps due in part to its new glass facade and renovated lobby area, a gently sloping stone ramp with a rather busy light display overhead.

28064912_unknownimg_6811

The flat itself consisted of a large open plan living area and sleeping area separated by a sliding wall. A “jack and Jill” bathroom (i.e. with a door at each end) ran down the side of the flat, providing a direct route to the sleeping area from the front door.

28064640_unknownimg_7002img_6792

This space-optimising layout together with the sparse yet tasteful furnishings (slightly naff colour scheme and artwork aside) and curved floor-to-ceiling windows made the flat seem a lot larger than it actually was. The views over Birmingham city centre were fantastic as well.

img_6770img_700428064864_unknown-2

Flats in the building occasionally come up for sale. Even post financial crash, they’ve been pretty expensive for Birmingham (£350,000 for a two bedroom flat – this would buy you a sizeable semi-detached house elsewhere in the city). That said, if I were to move to Birmingham, I certainly wouldn’t mind living here.

img_6741

 

Hoover Building, Perivale UB6

Hoover Building, Perivale UB6
Converted Grade II* listed Art Deco factory building
Architect: Wallis, Gilbert and Partners
Year built: 1933-1938

Despite not being a particular fan of Art Deco and having no particular desire to relocate to Perivale, West London, I was sufficiently convinced by the slick marketing materials for flats in the converted Gilbert and Partners-designed Hoover Building to trek across London to attend the open day.

27536224_unknown27536352_unknown

The Hoover building was built for the Hoover Company in 1933 and was used as a factory until the 1980s at which point it was sold on (though thankfully not before receiving a Grade II* listing), some of it to Tesco, which explains why there’s an unusually Art Deco-styled Tesco superstore and car park to the rear of the site.

27537072_unknown27536368_unknown27537040_unknown

Come 2017, IDM bought up the front section of the main building to convert into “luxury” flats with the intention of salvaging and reusing as many of the original Art Deco features as possible throughout the building in order to retain the ‘full glory of the stunning architectural treasure’ (to quote the marketing materials).

The redevelopment was only partially complete on the open day. While the location of the building wasn’t fantastic (busy road; not much else nearby), the exterior of the building was a striking Art Deco fortress of white walls and green-framed Crittall windows – as were the communal areas and rather dramatic staircases.

27536304_unknown27536944_unknown

The flats themselves were a mixed bag. One of the main problems that I usually have with conversions of any kind is the tendency for them to have irregular floorplans, oddly placed/sized windows and weirdly proportioned rooms. The first flat featured all of these pet peeves: it had two bedrooms (one with a high window which looked out onto nothing and so had been fitted with an frosted pane) and an irregularly shaped open plan living area with yet more completely frosted windows and a random raised area (probably housing some pipes or something) by an actual window which looked out onto that busy road.

27536448_unknown

The second flat was much more attractive but this too had a strange layout. Upon entering, you ascended a flight of stairs to a landing area which led to one of the bedrooms, the bathroom and the living room (which opened out onto a generously sized terrace).

27536736_unknownimg_673227536816_unknown

The second bedroom was accessed via a rather flimsy-looking spiral staircase in the middle of the landing area. This bedroom had its own ensuite and a second terrace which could only be accessed by crawling through a waist-height window. This particular flat had been dressed to the nines in a sort of old Hollywood Art Deco style which gave me American Horror Story: Hotel vibes – probably not the intended effect.

27536688_unknown27536832_unknown

The flats were reasonably affordable but all of the ones with decent floorplans had already been reserved off plan (including all of the ones resembling the second show flat) leaving windowless dregs like the first show flat. As such, a move to Perivale is not on the cards.

Du Cane Court, Balham SW12

Du Cane Court, Balham SW12
Art Deco apartment block
Architect: G. Kay Green
Year built: 1935-1938

Du Cane Court is a distinctive 1930s Art Deco block on Balham High Road. Reportedly the largest privately owned block of flats under one roof in Europe, its distinctive footprint was used as a navigational landmark by German pilots bombing London during the Second World War and was also a popular place to live for many music hall stars in the 1930s and 1940s.

img_2819

I’ve never been a huge fan of Art Deco as I find the aesthetic a bit too fussy and vintagey but Du Cane Court is such an iconic block in such a convenient location that when two flats came up for sale in my price range last year, I was intrigued enough to want to view them.

img_6543img_2794

First impressions were good. The block, vast and uniform, looked imposing from the road and was complemented by some attractive Japanese-style landscaping. The glamorous if slightly kitschy communal lobby was like something out of a Agatha Christie novel set in the 1930s with period furnishings, a lot of curved surfaces, pillars and gold accents.

img_2705img_6555

The flats themselves were rather less impressive. The first was a 2 bedroom flat on one of the lower floors of the building, accessed via a very long, drably carpeted corridor. Like a lot of flats from this era, it had a lateral layout with all of the rooms lined up in a row, accessed via one long corridor down the side.

img_2710img_2720

The combination of layout and the fact it was on a low floor gave the flat a slightly oppressive, gloomy feel. Looking out of the windows into the internal courtyard and the hundreds of other flats in the block (all of the rooms had the same outlook given the lateral layout) was a bit prison-like.

img_6541img_2716

The other flat was a self contained split-level maisonette with its own front door accessed via the side of the block. This was marginally better but there was something strange about the way it had been converted and renovated, particularly the downstairs kitchen and living area which was sort of open plan but sort of not. The existing owner had tried to decorate in a way that was sympathetic to the era but the aesthetic wasn’t quite to my taste.

img_2761img_6540img_2732

Although both flats were reasonably affordable and in a really convenient location from my perspective, I didn’t like either of them enough to put in an offer.

I’ve since seen a really nice example of a one bedroom flat in the block on the Modern House website. The vendor had done a very high-spec all-white renovation job, which gave the place a far more contemporary (yet still fitting) look compared to the slightly dodgy ones that I saw. Anyone seeking to renovate their Du Cane Court flat should take note!

img_2807

Mid-century dining table

After ten years of daily use, the faux-tulip Docksta table in my living room was starting to resemble a slightly grubby and scuffed piece of garden furniture (Ikea furniture isn’t generally built to last) so I thought it was time to invest in a replacement.

I’d long admired and lusted over that Hans Olsen dining set with the triangular-shaped chairs that slot neatly under the table, especially after having seen a beautiful white topped version in a flat in Stoneleigh Terrace on an Open House tour. However, I recall sitting on one of the chairs at a furniture fair and finding it really uncomfortable, especially across the back. I also thought that the combination of wooden Royal system and wooden dining set in my living room might be a bit much.

Retro Livingimg_6174

The other option was to upgrade my faux-tulip table to the genuine article in Arabescato marble, another design item that I’ve been lusting after for a long time, which would allow me to keep my hotch potch of dining chairs.

img_6163img_6181

It so happened that a really nice example of both a white-topped Hans Olsen dining set and a genuine Knoll marble-topped tulip table in exactly the right size appeared on eBay at the same time.

After a bit of pondering, I decided to maintain my current living room aesthetic and went for the tulip table, which as luck would have it, ended up being a bit of a bargain. As you can see, it looks almost exactly the same as the old one, just a bit nicer.

img_6145
27801040_unknown

At the time of writing, the Hans Olsen set is still available to buy on eBay.

Photos of Hans Olsen table above courtesy of retroliving.co.uk