Sunday, February 7, 2016
Great Marlborough Street, London
The light was already going when, just before Christmas, I walked past Liberty’s along Great Marlborough Street, glanced for the umpteenth time at the building formerly known as Ideal House, and remembered that I’d never taken a photograph of it. So the conditions were less than ideal for capturing this monumental art deco block, built as offices for the National Radiator Company in 1928–29, but I went ahead anyway, doing my best to avoid bumping into people as I backed towards one of Liberty’s windows to get the building in the frame.
Ideal House (it’s now called Palladium House) was designed by Raymond Hood and Gordon Jeeves as a smaller cousin of New York’s headquarters of the American Radiator Company, of which the National Radiator Company was the European offshoot. The company started in the 1890s, just as central heating using boilers and radiators was catching on, and did well in both North America and Europe. In the interwar period, more and more houses were being fitted with central heating: to many people it seemed like the latest thing, even though it had been around for decades by then, and a landmark building in the latest, swankiest style must have seemed to project just the right image.
The most lavish finishes were employed. The walls are covered in polished black granite (in the right light it looks very black) and the cornices and lower window surrounds are done out in gold enamel cladding with touches of red and green. These details are in the Egyptian style (art deco could be very modern and very ancient at the same time): Egyptian decoration was very fashionable in the late-1920s, in part because the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb had got so much publicity. So the radiator-makers would have felt they were getting the latest thing – and in their corporate colours, black and gold, too. Nearly 80 years on, the building is still an eye-catcher, even if most passers-by have eyes only for the seductive windows of Mr Liberty.