The Pearl of Metroland (Mondrian House)
- Original design
- Unknown, 1924
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme in July.
The house is a run-of-the-mill semi, built in 1924 for a family of four, like hundreds of thousands in outer London. It is in a row of twelve, all designed to the same pattern by one architect. It lost its character through conversion in the 1960s. In 2014 I decided to de-convert, returning the house to its original format as a single unit. The outside toilet had already been decommissioned, and I saw no point in reinstating it. Originally there were three or four open coal fires, long since blocked by previous owners in favour of now obsolete storage heaters, effective, even so, in winter, provided one kept the internal doors shut. I looked for a contemporary equivalent. I found that, even with indifferent building materials, and budget restrictions (original purchase price £600!), a great deal of thought had gone into the design.
As with many such houses, money is saved by having a lower roof line, and pushing the first floor ceiling height up into the roof space. Owners of houses that have this will have noted the condensation damage in the internal coving due to a lack of insulation in the roof area over the sloping part of the ceiling. Difficult, but you have to fix it! I decided to open up a double size room space, replacing a partition wall with an RSJ. Unlike most such spaces, it goes from side to side, rather than from back to front. It is therefore rather unexpected.
The extra space enabled me to make the kitchen the social epicentre of the house and create for it a 3 dimensional version of the paintings of Mondrian, an exact contemporary of the period of the house. This means that the basic shapes are all rectangles, and the colours strictly pure primary colours. I have obtained or made myself appropriate accessories. Elsewhere, I did the opposite of what Mondrian would have wanted, using complementary colour contrasts. This effect, much used by the Impressionist painters, particularly Pissarro, means that a primary colour is juxtaposed with the product of the other two primary colours, so in one room red is put next to green (the mix of blue and yellow), yellow features with purple in another, and blue with orange elsewhere. The effect is mutual enhancement, with a dramatisation of the otherwise prosaic spaces, and a first-time surprise on entering another room.
The application of colour contrast is also conspicuous in the exterior. I diluted green and red with white for the upper levels, with a darker green for the lowest band and a full red for the brick courses and the terra cotta inserts (the whole group has these but the other owners have painted them out). As the pink band is narrower than the other colour areas, it reflects the way the architect has played with the internal ceiling height. An unexpected result is the prominence given to the windows. Originally these were wooden casements. These rotted away to virtual collapse in the earlier years of my possession, and it was impossible to maintain the format with modern double glazing. I used the model of double-glazed replacements which best approximates to the original style (this in 2005). It was not possible to source guttering or downspouts in the appropriate colours.
My rôle in the refurbishment was Project Manager, choice and distribution of colours, and designer of the kitchen floor (plus footing the bill!).
I have called my house "The Pearl of Metroland", in memory of John Betjeman, the bard of Wembley.
1) To make people aware of the possibilities of colour in interior and exterior decoration. Most people restrict themselves to pastel shades, largely because they don’t have the confidence to make radical decisions. This has imposed a boring uniformity in design schemes, and in the availability of materials if you want to deviate from the norm.
2) To create something to talk about, particularly in the interior, other than fashionable objects and aspirational consumer goods. A bonus is that children particularly like a scheme like this, though that doesn't stop them giving it a hard time!
3) To show that even something as mundane as an unfashionable 1920s semi can be given a character compatible with its designer's intention by imaginative deployment of colour.