Every morning I pass Trellick Tower on my way to work. One of London’s most famous high-rise housing blocks looms large over North Kensington and the Grand Union Canal. Since I moved to this area, I read about the controversy when it was built and that there were many issues with safety and security in its early years. Nowadays it is a very popular building to live in. Last week I saw a three bedroom flat on the 30th floor for sale for £400,000!
I knew that the tower was designed by architect Ernö Goldfinger but didn’t know much about him. All this changed with a visit to his Hampstead home.
Goldfinger was born in Hungary and studied at the École nationale supérieure des beaux arts in Paris in the 1920s where he was influenced by architects including Auguste Perret, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. He met his British wife Ursula in Paris and they moved to London in 1934. The house at 2 Willow Road in Hampstead was built between 1937 and 1939 and was occupied by the Goldfingers until 1991. It was given to the National Trust and has been left pretty much as it was during their lifetime.
2 Willow Road is actually the middle house of a terrace of three. Goldfinger sold the two end properties to raise money for the project and to this day they are owned privately. By today’s standards the building itself, which is three storeys high at the front and four at the back, looks quite small. From the outside it does not look particularly exciting. With its brick finish it fits in with the neighbouring Victorian houses, concealing its concrete structure from the unassuming visitor. During the summer months there are hourly tours of the entrance hall and the three upper floors. The ground floor, which was originally used for the main kitchen and servants’ rooms, was later converted into a self-contained flat and is not open to the public.
At first we watched a short film about Ernö Goldfinger in one of the two garages. During the tour our knowledgeable guide demonstrated how the use of concrete and steel allowed Goldfinger to have large horizontal windows across the building. We also heard that many of the walls between the first floor rooms can be folded back to transform it into an open-plan space. The Goldfingers were great entertainers and I found it hard to image how Ursula would have found space in her tiny kitchen to prepare meals for their guests!
I was really impressed by the attention to detail and the space-efficient and practical design of storage spaces and furniture. Ernö and Ursula were great art collectors. Works by friends and contemporaries are displayed on the walls besides large bookshelves with books in English, French, German and other languages. The window sills and sideboards are filled with sculptures and small collector’s items. I particularly liked a small wooden piece called Elm Head by Henry Moore in the living room. On the top floor the rooms get smaller and the ceilings lower. Skylights are used to provide natural light for the main staircase and two top floor bathrooms.
After this delightful tour we made our way to nearby Fenton House, another National Trust property with a spacious garden. We had a look around the house where the very helpful National Trust guides made us feel very welcome. One of the guides made sure we wouldn’t miss the view over Central London from the balcony. I left the big camera downstairs but took a picture with my phone instead. As it was a very hot sunny day, we were really drawn towards the garden. From the windows we could see people sitting on orange deckchairs in the shade. One woman had found a wonderful spot for her deckchair under the apple trees in the small orchard. We’ll definitely be back!