Sunday, September 11, 2011

South Parade, London

Turnham white

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.


Hels said...

Amazing house! I know European and Anglo Saxon architectural history very well, but even after staring at the town house, I didn't know what to make of it. My best guess was a 1930s Bauhaus home, softened by the addition of a strange bay-roof and curved brackets under the eaves.

So it is interesting that Voysey said he disliked modernist architecture

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Yes indeed. Pevsner (of whom more, soon) included Voysey in his Pioneers of the Modern Movement (later issued as Pioneers of Modern Design) - he saw the modern side of Voysey and viewed him as a precursor of Gropius and co. Today, people are more inclined to see Voysey as part of a more old-fashioned craft tradition, but there are these two sides to him.

Peter Ashley said...

Ah, Voysey. One of my very favourite architects. The man who wore collarless jackets before Brian Epstein thought of them for his Beatles combo. How often did I stand near this house waiting for my Routemaster.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Thought you'd like this one, as a former Bedford Parker, and all. I'd seen this house several times from the tube and one day thought I must get off the train and have a closer look. But I didn't leave myself time to explore the area properly, so a return visit is on the to-do list.

Amateur Reader said...

I featured English Buildings in today's art blogger appreciation.

Although I love the flashier buildings - the Naboberie and so on - these posts that encourage us to look carefully at more sedate buildings are even more valuable.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Amateur Reader: Thank you for your comment. I try to devote a substantial proportion of my posts to more modest or unregarded buildings – I want everyone to be aware of such buildings because there is so much of architectural and historical interest that many of us don't normally notice.