Sunday, September 11, 2011
South Parade, London
It’s a surprise to come across this tall pale house of 1891 amongst the deep red brickwork of Bedford Park, not far from Turnham Green underground station in west London. Architecture buffs will recognise it as the work of Arts and Crafts architect C F A Voysey, a rare town house from this master of country houses (another of his London buildings is here). Reacting against the ornate brick gables, red tiles, and wooden window frames of the surrounding houses, Voysey covered the walls of this house, which he built for the artist J W Foster, in pale render, adding stone-framed windows that are arranged in horizontal bands to counterpart the vertical emphasis of the building as a whole. A few other touches – the roof of the bay, the little round window, and the brackets at the eaves – add some curves to relieve the straight lines that prevail.
Some early observers were nonplussed. They found the leaded-light windows and pale walls old-fashioned – perhaps they expected an architect who flourished in the 1890s and the early years of the 20th century to be flirting with the French curves of Art Nouveau. What they got was Voysey reworking the Arts and Crafts style that had been developed by William Morris and his colleagues a generation earlier. With hindsight it also looks rather modern – the minimal ornament, white walls, and strip windows would become familiar in a different form a few decades later. Not that Voysey would have seen it that way. Living on into the 1940s, Voysey disliked modernist architecture and remained committed to organizations, such as the Art Workers’ Guild, that supported the Arts and Crafts. His work showed that it is possible to be traditional and striking at the same time. And that white walls can look good next to red brick and green grass.