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Aesthetic interiors.

February 3, 2014

While the interminable process of buying a flat grinds on I thought I’d lift my spirits by seeking out a bit of Victorian interior design inspiration. Leighton House in Holland Park is one of my all time favourite spaces in London. I haven’t visited since the extensive restoration of 2009-10 so I took the opportunity of a random day off work to check it out.

It was built in various stages over thirty years between 1865 and 1895 for Frederic, Lord Leighton a hugely successful Victorian artist. Leighton is much less well known now than his contemporaries such as Whistler, Rossetti or Edward Burne-Jones. This is possibly because his rather classical style of painting doesn’t particularly appeal to contemporary audiences or fall into easy categories such as Pre-Raphaelitism or Aestheticism. Also maybe because his most famous painting Flaming June is currently owned by a museum in Puerto Rico.

The house he built however is something else. Designed with architect George Aitchison it is an object lesson in the Aesthetic interior of the 1870s and 1880s. It features rich dark colours, ebonised furniture and woodwork, a large north-facing studio and a purpose built ‘Arab Hall’ for the display of Leighton’s massive collection of antique arabic tiles from Syria which were supplemented by the work of a young ceramicist called William De Morgan.

While I don’t think I’m going to be tiling the hallway in peacock blue (well not yet anyway,) or painting the woodwork black (although I’d love to,) it would be great to somehow have a subtle nod to Aesthetic decoration.

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The peacock blue tiles are by William De Morgan, the tiles to the right are from Damascus.

The peacock blue tiles are by William De Morgan, the tiles to the right are from Damascus.

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The Silk Room with Leighton's studio beyond.

The Silk Room with Leighton’s studio beyond.

Watercolour design for the Arab Hall at Leighton House by George Aitchison (1880).

Watercolour design for the Arab Hall at Leighton House by George Aitchison (1880).

The Arab Hall

The Arab Hall

Leighton's modest bedroom, the only one in the house.

Leighton’s modest bedroom, the only one in the house.

Gothic Revival III.

January 12, 2014

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I have developed something of a renewed interest in Gothic Revival architecture recently –  mainly as I’m in the process of buying a flat in a restored Gothic Revival property in South London (of which more soon hopefully).  Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens was commissioned by Queen Victoria in honour of her consort Prince Albert who died of Typhoid in 1861 at the tragically young age of 42. Paid for by public subscription it was designed by George Gilbert Scott and unveiled in 1872, although the gilded statue of Albert was not installed until 1875. An OTT confection in stone, marble, mosaic and gold leaf, it is probably the perfect example of high Victorian vulgarity and can be seen to symbolise the artistic decline of the movement by this stage. By the late 1870s the Gothic Revival was becoming increasingly eclipsed by the Aesthetic Movement and the red brick Queen Anne architecture that accompanied it. Even so, on a bright december afternoon I have to say it looks rather impressive.

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Gothic Revival II.

January 2, 2014

Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand (1873-82). G. E. Street.

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A walk around Georgian Bloomsbury.

December 29, 2013

I have to admit that I am slightly addicted to buying vintage Penguin books on eBay. You can usually pick them up for a couple of quid, occasionally slightly more for particularly desirable copies. This is the first Pelican edition of Georgian London by George Summerson dating from 1962. The cover is by Herbert Spencer.  It cost £4. A bargain as the book is still in print – albeit in a glosser and more expensive edition. John Summerson (1904-92) was a leading architectural critic and curator of Sir John Soane’s Museum for almost forty years. This is an approachable and engaging account of the development of Georgian architecture in London between 1714 and 1830. It also has a very useful gazetteer at the back listing all the notable existing buildings by area.

Georgian London by George Summerson, Pelican 1962.

Bloomsbury is one of my favourite parts of central London, especially over Christmas when it is pretty much deserted. So what better for a seasonal constitutional than a stroll round Georgian Bloomsbury with Summerson as a guide. Starting at Bedford Row which lies just to the south of Theobald’s Road I take a northward path up towards the Euston Road, then westwards and finally back down Gower Street ending up in Bedford Square. You can really see how the architecture evolves, from attractive red brick into an altogether grander more formal style.

Bedford Row c.1720.

Bedford Row c.1720.

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Crossing Theobalds Road, Great James Street dates from the same period as Bedford Row, but the houses are on a slightly smaller scale. A number of these have recently been converted from offices back into private homes.

Great James Street c.1720.

Great James Street c.1720.

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Great James St plaque

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A short stroll across Guildford Street takes you about 90 years forward in time to Mecklenburgh Square, the red brick having evolved into a more ostentatious style of stucco and columns.

Mecklenburgh Square c.1812 by Joseph Kay.

Mecklenburgh Square c.1812 by Joseph Kay.

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Cartwright Gardens (originally Burton Crescent) c.1807 by James Burton.

Cartwright Gardens (originally Burton Crescent) c.1807 by James Burton.

Woburn Walk, just off the Euston Road, a purpose built shopping street for ‘people of quality’.

Woburn Walk c.1822 by Thomas Cubitt.

Woburn Walk c.1822 by Thomas Cubitt.

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Gordon Square c.1824 by Thomas Cubitt.

Gordon Square c.1824 by Thomas Cubitt.

And finally south down Gower Street to Bedford Square. I worked for a company based in one of the buildings here from 2002-2005. Even though it was an office in one of the attic rooms it was a lovely building to work in.

Bedford Square 1776-1783 by Thomas Leverton.

Bedford Square 1776-1783 by Thomas Leverton.

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Finally, as a bonus, Fitzroy Square which is not actually in bloomsbury – it is a short walk away in Fitzrovia (having given the area its name,) but I had include it here as it is so bloody gorgeous.

Fitzroy Square 1790 by Robert Adam.

Fitzroy Square 1790 by Robert Adam.

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Gothic Revival I.

December 20, 2013

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Today’s post is about one of many Londoners’ favourite buildings, St. Pancras, a railway station with a rather ace hotel attached. I pass it every day on my way to work and it is one of those buildings that no matter how grey the day manages to lift the spirits. Some people tend find gothic architecture a little, spooky and, well, gothic. For some reason it always reminds me of Christmas, and it looks absolutely sensational on a crisp and bright December morning.

Designed by George Gilbert Scott, the Midland Grand hotel represents the pinnacle of nineteenth century gothic revival architecture. It opened in 1873 and was one of the most luxurious and technologically advanced buildings of its day. Having fallen out of fashion during the 20th century, it was famously within a week of demolition in the 1960s and could have easily gone the same way as Euston and its eponymous arch. Thanks to the efforts of Sir John Betjeman and others however it received Grade I listing and was saved for posterity. That said, it did not reopen as a hotel until 2011.

There is a rather good book by Simon Bradley which gives the full background to the building of the station and the hotel, and while we’ll gloss over the slightly ersatz luxury hotel and apartments that now occupy the building, it is worth pointing out there is a very good cocktail bar designed by the late great David Collins, the perfect place to enjoy a festive drink.

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Christmas at Westminster.

December 13, 2013

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And so to Westminster Abbey. Like most Londoners I have not actually been inside before, but am very familiar with it as the setting for those great occasions of state. I am accompanying my friend Rachel who has secured some tickets for a concert of Christmas music by the choir. The programme is a mix of the usual carols and pieces such as Benjamin Britten’s twinkly Festival of Carols and the late Sir John Tavener’s The Lamb. The singing is excellent as you would expect, but maybe because of the lighting the abbey itself feels less grand that it does on television.

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Red House.

November 26, 2013

The Red House in Bexleyheath is a place I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. It was designed and built in 1859/60 for the designer, poet, retailer and revolutionary socialist William Morris by architect Philip Webb, and the origins of the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be traced directly back to this building. Originally set in an orchard in open countryside it was latterly encroached upon by development on all sides and now sits somewhat incongruously in a suburb of south-east London.  Although Morris and his wife Jane only lived here for five years, it remained in private hands and not open to the public until as recently as 2002 when it was bought by the National Trust. Very much a work in progress it has not (as yet) been over-restored by the Trust and still retains not just the imprint of Morris & Webb, but of the other residents who have lived here over the years. On a bright November morning it is totally charming.

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Stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones.

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Morris & Co. ‘Apple’ wallpaper.

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Always had a bit of a soft spot for the William Morris Sussex chairs. Original ones can still be picked up quite reasonably on eBay. The oak table is by Philip Webb.

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Original hand carved Morris & Co. pear-wood wallpaper printing block.

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