575 Wandsworth Road (London): will I ever look at my O’verlays the same way again?

The National Trust’s newest London house could divide opinion.

We were told that some visitors get lost in the story and mind of the creator of the interior and others (usually crafts people) focus entirely on the product.

What interior you may ask?

Well, the story goes that a man who worked as a civil servant took the bus to work.  While on the bus to work he noticed a house for sale and he thought that living on the direct bus route to work might be a good idea.  He bought the Georgian house, which at the time wasn’t in great condition because it had been occupied by squatters.

The kitchen was in the basement and one day he was pondering a damp problem on the wall with the adjoining dry cleaners.  He had tried to solve the damp issue but to no avail.  His solution was to ignore the issue and he decided to cover the wall with some pine floor boards that he had found in a skip.

The damp wall on the left.
From patrickbaty.co.uk

Having covered the wall, he thought the naked planks looked a little oppressive and he decided to decorate them.  He used a hand saw and made shapes out of wood to create shelves enclosed by niches, influenced by Islamic and Arabic architecture and design and drawing on his worldly experiences and abundant education (born in Africa, educated in architecture and mathematics, an author, a well-travelled gentleman).  He went to the ballet to see Swan Lake and upstairs in the lounge he carved ballerinas.

When the wall was finished he completed the kitchen and then moved around the house, even building a dog kennel.  He painted the floors.  He displayed his collections.  He walked the streets and salvaged pine.  Sometimes he worked at his kitchen table for 12 hour+ sessions of carving.

When he died in 2006 the house was left to the National Trust.  They didn’t accept it because it is a Georgian terrace, but because of the interior that Khadambi Asalache had created.

The National Trust have spent £500,000 on preserving the house.

Having raised the funds, the NT took up the floors to strengthen them, accepted they’d never make money on the house because groups no larger than 6 can enter at any one time and there’s no space for a shop or a cafe, and in 2013 online pre-booking opened.  I booked 2 months in advance for my slot (which sell-out almost immediately) and waited patiently.

I prepared to have my bike stolen as I left it outside.  Fortunately the NT let me leave it inside their locker room (which they rent in a building next door, an artists studio).

Sometimes I think there can be National Trust pretension about buildings such as this.  A reverence. No one dare criticise such a house or interior because the National Trust have deemed it worthy of their curatorship.

What is this interior?  A crazy ginger bread folly or a work of art? 

I’ve seen someone else compare the house to A la Ronde, another national trust house.  D and I really disliked that house’s interior (the ladies covered the interior of the roof with shells), although I liked the concept of the circular design of the house, allowing the occupant to move around the house as the warm of the sun moved across the sky.

My initial impression of 575 Wandsworth Road is that it’s a dirty place.  NT have deliberately left the grime on the light switches.  The windows weren’t very clean. I don’t like to see a Georgian house with this kind of interior.

Khadambi Asalache didn’t smooth the edges of his carving, leaving it rough, and while he sought balance, his designs were not mirror images.

We were denied our possessions and told to take our shoes off.  We were told to watch out for the panel pins that stick out of the walls as Asalache didn’t nip the nails off with pincers, but instead left them protruding, burglar catchers.

Sure, if this house had been sold the new owner would have ripped out the interior and made a white box of it.

I make this list of disjointed statements but I have failed to reach a conclusion on the house as a whole.  Certainly it is different and it made me think about how I decorate my own home – should it be what is acceptable to the masses or can it be a bit crazy or unique to my particular taste?

But still, I don’t like a dirty house so I suppose I don’t like this house.  I like smooth edges on my wood.  I would have snipped the nails off so they didn’t stick out.

Sorry masses, I just don’t like it.  Sorry to the lady who was on my tour who declared it to be her favourite National Trust house.  Actually, no, not sorry, I’m entitled to my opinion.  I like clean, elegant, simple and light.

I do not like this house.

I like the concept, but I don’t like the actual product, the finish, the quality, the fact it’s been placed in a Georgian house (which should be elegant and light!) or the extent of the designs.  And shame on you National Trust, you need to tidy up the garden!

Sitting around the table downstairs at the beginning of the tour I could sense what it would have been like when Khadambi Asalache lived at 575 Wandsworth Road.  Looking at his picture of an apparent authentic Egyptian drawing on the lounge wall one gets a idea of his sense of humour upon realising that the sitters are on the telephone.  It’s a tacky piece of memorabilia.

I therefore I have to admit that I’ve fallen into the camp of someone interested in the mind of the maker rather than the product.  What made him decide to commit to covering his entire house?  Because I like Georgian houses very very much, I could never conceive of changing the interior to that of a Moroccan boudoir.  While I would have respected the interior in an Arts & Craft house or at somewhere such as the Leighton House Museum, it irks me in an early 1800s house, particularly the rough edges of the wood.

As we asked questions of our guides, they said they could offer very little by way of answer to any of our questions about Khadambi Asalache.  We were told they know very little about him.  There isn’t a picture of him in the house.  He didn’t leave a journal or even a document that could be given to visitors.  I asked if he negotiated with the National Trust before his death or if they knew of the bequest before Khadambi Asalache’s death.  That question went unanswered.  Since my visit I’ve done a little research and learned that the NT didn’t accept the house until 2010, so I can only imagine the gift came as a bit of a surprise and there were many endless meetings at NT HQ to decide the house’s fate.

All we were actually told was that in 2005 Khadambi Asalache announced that the house was finished and he died in 2006.

From http://www.theworkhousegallery.co.uk/post.php?s=2012-03-21-575-wandsworth-road

If you’ve come with me this far you might wonder about the title to this piece.  Why do I mention O’verlays?  Take a look here – http://myoverlays.blogspot.co.uk/.  I too have a bit of fretwork at home.  I really like a GREEK KEY and so I ordered a bit from the States via O’verlays.  I thought it a bit much in truth but I stuck a bit on the boxing around the boiler flue and painted it the colour of the wall.   It’s very subtle but if I glance up and notice it, it might well remind me of 575 Wandsworth Road.

Photos aren’t allowed inside but I found some on Flickr from “Shakespearesmonkey” so click here.

There is also some helpful detail on Patrick Baty’s website: here.

When visited: July 2013

Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/575-wandsworth-road/

House * out of 5: **

See more here: http://575wandsworthroadnt.wordpress.com/

See more here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz57GaOO-9w

Theme tune

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6 thoughts on “575 Wandsworth Road (London): will I ever look at my O’verlays the same way again?

  1. Thank you for your review of 575 Wandsworth Road. I will be in London next Spring & had it on my itinerary. After reading your review, I deleted it.

    John, in California

    1. No problem! Although it is interesting enough that I have visited twice now. It just depends on what else in london you haven’t yet visited. Spencer House, Ham House, Sir John Soane Mueseum and Buckingham Palace are all ahead on the list. I am guilty of still not having visited Banqueting House, Kenwood House since the renovations or Benjamin Franklin house. London is indeed a treasure trove.

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