Sutton House

If like me you have a liking for layers of history and secret things hidden behind doors and panels, then Hackney’s Sutton House is just the thing. Built in 1535 – making this National Trust property East London’s oldest domestic dwelling – it’s one of those London places you keep meaning to visit and then wonder why you’ve left it so long when you do.

The first thing that struck me about Sutton House was just how very old it felt. As a Tudor building it is of course significantly older than the many Georgian dwellings you can visit around London – and it very much feels like it. The magnificent wood panelling of the Linenfold Parlour – carved to look like draped linen – which greets you in the first room is quite stunning. It’s not surprising to learn that back in the day people often took their wood panelling with them when they moved house, as it would have also been very expensive.

Originally built as a home for courtier Ralph Sadleir, Sutton House has seen a wide variety of residents over the years, including schools, the St John’s Church Institute and a group of squatters in the 1980s. One of my favourite aspects of the house it how it still represents so many of these groups. So while many of the rooms are in the Tudor style, there is also a Georgian Parlour, a Victorian Study and a chapel in a cellar to represent the residents of those eras. Remnants of some of the other groups remain in the form of a wall mural painted by a squatter, while a 17th-century fireplace peaks out from behind a staircase. Wooden panels and doors scattered throughout the house open to reveal previous brickwork, fireplaces and doorways. The past is not lost, it’s just tucked away beneath the layers.

Sutton House is surprisingly extensive, and as well as the many period rooms there is a lovely café (housing a second-hand bookshop) to revive yourself in afterwards. As you can probably guess from the abundance of exterior shots, photography is not allowed inside for conservation reasons, so this is one property you really will have to go and see for yourself. So put off your visit no longer –  though if you do wait just a little while you should be able to enjoy a new garden and eating area that is being constructed next door on what was once a breaker’s yard. This too will contain reminders of that site’s history – and a reference to a lost waterway – and will make a visit to Sutton House an even more attractive proposition than it already is.

For opening times, check Sutton House’s website, as they can vary slightly. The house is located roughly equidistant between Hackney Central and Homerton on the London Overground. I’ll publish an update once the new garden is open.

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2 Willow Road

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A good place to start this blog is with one of my favourite architectural sites in London: 2 Willow Road. London is not known for its modernist architecture, and there’s even less of it than you can actually enter (especially outside the confines of the Open House weekend), but Willow Road is a happy exception to this rule.

Located in leafy Hampstead, Willow Road was designed by Erno Goldfinger (of Trellick Tower fame) and completed in 1939. It has the strong, clean lines, concrete supporting columns and window walls we would expect of a modernist house of this era, although the brickwork was a concession to not straying too far out synch with the neighbours. Goldfinger had originally designed a block of flats for the site, but after this failed to receive planning permission, he scaled the design back to this group of three ‘terrace’ houses – the Goldfingers moved into number 2 (in the centre) with separate tenants to either side in 1 and 3.

Much of the built-in furniture and door furniture was designed by Goldfinger himself. A strong feature of the house is the use of movable partitions between rooms, allowing space to be opened up or closed down when required. But life at number 2 wasn’t obsessively modern – when Goldfinger’s mother moved into the house later in her life she filled up her room with her ornate Austro-Hungarian furniture! The house was clearly designed as a place to live – it housed four generations of the family at one point – and also to work, featuring a studio (originally for Goldfinger’s wife) and study.

2 Willow Road is now run by the National Trust and open to visitors from March to November each year (in 2012 it will open from 3 March to 4 November, Wednesday to Sunday from 11am-5pm, with entry by guided tour on the hour between 11-2 and self-guided viewing from 3-5). You can also pick up a copy of a good self-guided walking tour of Hampstead’s modernist architecture on site. And keep an eye on the National Trust’s website as they also run excellent guided walking tours on this theme. I did one earlier this year and can highly recommend it – but that’s another post…

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2willowroad

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