Under current owner restaurateur Richard Caring’s watchful eye, Daphne’s was given the full Martin Brudnizki treatment half a century after it first opened. The Swedish interior architect puts it succinctly: “Minimalism, maximalism, modernism, classicism – I’ve done them all. For me they are the four pillars of design. I take a bit of each and mix them in different strengths depending on the client.” Dublin born designer David Collins, who died prematurely in 2013, transformed a swathe of hospitality interiors in London. A fresh eclectic glamour upped the stakes and steaks at The Wolseley restaurant for starters and Artesian Bar at The Langham Hotel for nightcaps. Martin Brudnizki upholds that tradition, from giving minimalism a Scandi twist at Aquavit restaurant to maxing out maximalism at Annabel’s club.
Daphne’s interior floats somewhere between minimalism and maximalism, blending modernism with classicism. A vivid palette of pinks, yellows, greens and oranges recalls the hues of sun drenched Verona gardens and rooftops. The conservatory dining room is a light confection of bevelled mirrors, linen awnings, 1950s Murano chandeliers, modern European art and a baroque style green marble fireplace.
It is one of the greatest flowerings of Greek Revival architecture in Europe. Yet it wasn’t purpose built: it’s a radical remodelling of an earlier building. This is the story of how a Restoration house in rural Hampshire became a Greek temple (make that two Greek temples: minor and major) and after a few additions and a few subtractions became a theatre and a theatrical backdrop for an opera festival.
He relates, “My father the 7th Baron Ashburton bought back the house and park for £157,000. That was for 660 acres and a crumbling house. Big houses were impossible to live in then under taxation rules. The house now gives so much to the feel of the opera!” Michael agrees: “It’s all about the setting in the landscape.” The inaugural opera festival was held on the estate in 1998. Four years later the orangery cum picture gallery (minor Greek temple) was opened as a theatre. Studio E were the architects for the conversion. The conservation architect was John Redmill who cleverly advised reinstating the Robert Smirke façade. “This reconnects the two temples,” John explains, “and acts as a screen to hide the modern building behind.”
We’re under contract so for once our lips are sealed. Sound. Film rolling. Let’s just say it was a good day for the cut. The Macaronis are coming to town. This summer. Leading our best lives, being our most amazing selves. We’re feeling like Carping the Diem. In the meantime, here are some handsome houses (and an inn missing an apostrophe) to drool over…
Question. What are the only two Grade I listed buildings in London to be converted into apartments? Answer. St Pancras Hotel (the upper floors) and Roehampton House (all of it). They couldn’t be more different. Harry Potter v Brideshead. Northanger v Mansfield. Gothic v baroque. St Martin’s v Queen Mary’s. Gritty regeneration hotspot v leafy southwest suburbia. The one thing they do share, along with all fellow listed buildings, is the challenge of adapting to suit contemporary lifestyles. Dreaming up a bedroom out of a circular space for Apartment 15 was just one minor Roehampton House brainstorming success. An island of wardrobes backing onto a freestanding wall solved the what-about-storage and where-do-we-put-the-bed dilemma in one fell swoop.
City boy Thomas Cary seemingly built the original block in 1713. Thomas Archer was the architect. City boy Arthur Grenfell seamlessly added new wings in 1913. Edwin Lutyens was the architect. City developer St James seamlessly reimagined the enlarged house as 21 apartments in 2013. Nick Davies was the architect. This heritage asset has never looked hotter, set off by pristine landscaping. Not a leaf out of place. The twin gatehouses have been revived and six contemporary garden villas continue the fine building tradition. Now for more questions and answers with the latest architect to display his talent at Roehampton House.
When Roehampton House and the former Queen Mary’s Hospital site came to the market, St James was the only organisation from the parties bidding who recognised that once restored the house could create real value. Plus it is a magnificent setting and centrepiece for the adjoining new development. All the other parties saw the house as too great a challenge. St James was the only party who was serious about taking on the restoration and conversion of the Grade I historic building.
Grade I listed buildings are comparatively rare. They comprise less than 3% of all listed properties and in law everything extant at the point of listing is protected. As with all older buildings, many changes and additions had been made over the years. The challenge of unravelling what should be retained and what can be changed is a long process of evaluation and discussion with English Heritage and the local borough conservation team. There was a desire to restore many of the original rooms that had been subdivided to their original proportions, particularly the panelled rooms that had survived in the Georgian part of the building. St James removed an intrusive steel frame which had been put into the building to strengthen it in the 1980s and had destroyed much of the historic structure. We also needed to put approximately 50 new bathrooms and nearly half as many kitchens into a building which had had very few services whilst preserving and conserving as much of the surviving historic fabric as we could. That was quite challenging.
The surviving pleasure grounds and walled gardens have been restored to their former glory and provide both the setting for the house and the framework around which the masterplan for the new surrounding development was shaped. The houses and apartments are traditional in design but not direct copies either in style or materials of the house itself. They also provide the transition between the character of the historic house and the adjoining suburban roads of Roehampton village which were developed in the early 20th century.
Although the costs of restoring a building such as Roehampton House are very significant, the sales values per square foot generated for the apartments have exceeded new build values so there is a genuine cachet for living in this type of historic property. It is also hard to quantify how much uplift the setting of the house has given to the sales prices in all the adjoining new properties but clearly they have also benefited from the overall setting and sense of place… their values reflect this. As with all historic buildings many of the problems you will encounter remain hidden from view. Control of costs is very hard with these unknowns. Many however can be anticipated with proper research and investigation into the history of the building. Using the right professional consultants and sourcing craftsmen skilled in historic building construction techniques is vitally important in managing this process and winning the support of English Heritage and the conservation officers.
The design of the garden villas evolved from the discussions with English Heritage. Firstly, the rebuilding of the boundary wall on the north side of the pleasure grounds to reinstate this feature at the rear of Roehampton House had left a small piece of land. This land is sandwiched between the site boundary and the new hospital to the north. The original hospital buildings had in fact encroached into the area of the historic pleasure grounds. A key part of our planning strategy was to reinstate the grounds to safeguard the future setting of the house. English Heritage was very keen for this too so that the original frontage of the house could be kept clear of vehicles. To finance the cost of underground car parking it was agreed that a suitable form of development could be designed for the area now occupied by the villas. English Heritage was keen not to confuse the history of the house. It felt that a very simple contemporary design solution which sits quite low behind the wall and is quite self effacing is therefore an appropriate architectural response to the setting of the building. This raises all sorts of views about whether buildings in close proximity to listed buildings should be in the manner of them or totally contrasting and of their time. These are the philosophical discussions you always get into in matters of conservation.
In restoring the building we had to respect the original hierarchy of the rooms in the house and the level of decorative detail that would have been present in these which we could put back, even where this had entirely disappeared during subsequent alterations in its later history. This even extended to us undertaking a full historic paint analysis of the most historic panelled rooms to understand the original decorative schemes that had existed when the house was built. There were three centuries to inform our choice of colours for decoration. Many of our big cost items were still hidden from us behind historic construction that we could not disturb prior to acquisition. If it can be arranged, pre acquisition survey work is essential in minimising risk and cost overruns. Even with the best knowledge it is not possible to anticipate all the problems you may encounter as you peel back the layers of history.
So far we have experienced a particular interest from local residents looking to stay in the area but downgrade on size. This is noticeably different to other St James developments which attract a more international audience. Perhaps because of Roehampton House’s heritage and Grade I listed status it draws more British buyers. This could also explain the interest from retired couples who like the idea of living in a grand country home but don’t want the upkeep.
Some buildings are so ugly they are just asking to be covered by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (the artists who wrapped the Reichstag a while back). With others, it’s down to a matter of personal taste. Take Tate Modern‘s plans for an extension designed by Herzog + de Meuron, the team that conjured up the original gallery from a former power station. The gallery’s monumental success wasn’t planned for and the new extension would offer much needed space to breathe.
But the 11 storey ‘ziggurat’ as everyone’s calling it, would apparently ruin views that no one gave a toss about until the Tate Modern came along. It may be that some of the sniping is part of the backlash against the grandiose projects of the ‘starchitects’. The furore is enough to make the 1960s controversy over Francis Pym’s bold and brilliant Brutalist extension to the Ulster Museum look mild. Recently, plans to enlarge this 20th century modernist wing caused a stir. Not to mention painting the concrete ground floor wall white. Sacrilege.
When it comes to houses, things get even worse. They are not so much castles as minefields. We left the caves for our first built homes about 11,000 years ago yet there still is no general consensus on domestic architecture. Flaubert said all architects are imbeciles because they are always putting stairs in the wrong place.
In the 1930s Eltham Palace attracted lots of architectural criticism. Initially, Seely + Paget’s proposal for resurrecting the ruinous medieval royal palace was welcomed as a means of halting the creeping suburbanisation of southeast London. There was, of course, inevitable debate surrounding the propriety of building on an ancient monument. But it was the design of the Courtaulds’ new house that polarised opinion.
A leading article in Architect and Building News was headed ‘Romance dies at Eltham’. The architect Herbert Baker was critical; the artist Gilbert Ledward countered, pointing out that at Soane’s Bank of England building Baker had destroyed ‘really beautiful work, while at Eltham everything of historic interest and beauty had been saved’.
More criticism came from the historian G Young who moaned in The Times, “In order to provide the tenant with a modern mansion, three distinguished architects [Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments Charles Peers acted as a consultant for Seely + Paget] united their talents and intelligence to destroy one of the most beautiful things remaining in the neighbourhood of London… The other day I found myself confronted with what at first I took to be an admirably designed but unfortunately sited cigarette factory.”
We chatted to Jon Wight, caseworker for The Twentieth Century Society, about changing taste in architecture and how to sway it. “The Society was founded in 1979 as The Thirties Society and indeed Art Deco buildings were one of its first major concerns, alongside other buildings from the Modern Movement. In many ways that battle has been won. We became The Twentieth Century out of necessity to try and give weight to buildings from later periods.”
“We strive to inform, educate and promote 20th century architecture to the public wherever possible,” says Jon. “There are other reasons why the Society has registered as shift in public perception. Most obviously, the older a building or style is, the easier it is to assess. We’re now reaching a stage where post war buildings are being looked at and considered in a way they’ve not been before.”
“There are many styles of architecture that are not seen as important at the time of construction, but which subsequently become revered,” he continues. “The Society strives to judge buildings on merit, through the medium of casework. We are concerned as much with the re-appropriation and re-use of buildings as with the straightforward conservation of them.” As a result, some structures are now getting the plaudits they deserve.
“Eltham Palace is an interesting example of two seemingly disparate styles in some degree of harmony with one another,” enthuses Jon. “Seely + Paget were well known for their mastery of styles. Indeed, they designed many ecclesiastical buildings which melded modern styles with more traditional church architecture. It’s a building that illustrates that if we are to judge architecture as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it shouldn’t be a stylistic decision. ElthamPalace is a hybrid. It proves how careful consideration of existing fabrics and sympathetic planning can result in noteworthy architecture, whatever the style.” Screw G Young, then.
London has no Hamptons or Punta del Este. Instead, the Courtauld family created their own slice of upscale nirvana, a totemic presence in a sensitive setting. It’s a landlocked Queen Mary liner. But from the Louise Brooks bowl haircut-dome in the entrance hall onwards, the cutting edge design and bespoke craftsmanship of Eltham Palace has enough wit to charm. Much of the décor was by Rolf Engstromer, the David Collins of his day. This fertile profusion of Art Deco, Moderne and vintage Venetian draws a parallel with the mélange of styles around today.
‘Good & Bad Manners in Architecture’ by Trystan Edwards was a pocket-sized book published in 1924, a decade before Eltham Palace was completed. The author writes, “This book asks the novel question, how do buildings behave towards one another? It contrasts the selfish building, the presumptuous building and the rude building with the polite and sociable building; and it invites the public to act as arbiter upon their conflicting claims.” But taste evolves. While yesterday, Eltham Palace was viewed as an unwelcome aberration, today it’s a respected poster child for the Jazz Age.”