Another place I should have known about – it was on my doorstep for so many years but has taken me until now as a returning tourist to finally see. The Red House was commissioned and lived in by William Morris in the 1860’s. He was founder of the Arts & Crafts movement in Victorian England and well known for the wonderful designs that we are so familiar with today (particularly fabric and wallpaper). He and his fellow artists were very fond of all things medieval and helped to bring about a gothic revival in architecture. As you can see by the photo of his house it has a very gothic look to it:
The Red House – half an hour from the centre of London
Part of the garden
Morris married the young artists model Jane Burden who caused more than a bit of a stir in Victorian England by not wearing corsets! Jane was from very humble beginnings, her father being a groomsman but she was a great beauty and a favourite muse for the group of artists Morris associated with and Jane was seen as the perfect example of pre-Raphaelite beauty. Once she was married to Morris she re-invented herself, learning french and italian and learning to play the piano. Jane was also responsible for the beautiful embroidery hanging in the dining room:
One of the embroideries from the dining room
Detail of embroidery
Window seat in the bedroom
Front door designed by William Morris
Front door detail showing painted glass
I am always amazed how we can live for so many years in one place, oblivious to what is on our doorstep. This was very evident to me on my recent UK trip. I grew up just a few miles away from Danson Park in Bexleyheath, Kent and always enjoyed visits there as a child as it was a great place for a picnic or feeding the ducks on the lake or even hiring a rowing boat on a couple of occasions. I went to firework shows there on winter nights and to visiting fair grounds as a teenager. The most fascinating thing about Danson Park, however, was the large house on the highest point in the middle of the park. It was dilapidated even when I was a child and I remember the only bit that was open was a back door where you could buy ice-creams and drinks in the summer.
It was closed up completely by the 1970’s and basically left to crumble. Every time I saw it, I couldn’t help wonder about its history and what it would have looked like in its heyday.
Fast forward to 2012 and I finally got to have a look around this magnificent house that has been lovingly brought back to life and restored to its former glory by English Heritage. In 1995 it was deemed ‘the most significant building at risk in London’ and after 10 years of restoration they opened the doors to the public in 2005.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed and would urge anyone in the area to try and get there for a visit as it is a beautiful example of Palladian architecture and gives you a lovely glimpse of Georgian life (for the wealthy of course)! The original building was completed in 1766 by Sir Robert Taylor for wealthy sugar merchant Sir John Boyd.
Unfortunately I can’t get the aroma that goes with the picture but take my word for it, the smell of home baked cakes wafting through the house was too much to resist!
Beautiful home baked cakes
On the second floor there was an art installation (I think called Yellow Dress) which is there until 29th October 2012. The artist is Tom Gallant who has designed wallpaper (Iris) which was inspired by an 1892 novella called the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Here is a close-up of the wallpaper:
Following on from this theme was the yellow dress (Dress 09) which is a laser cut black dress by fashion designer Marios Schwab and artist Tom Gallant. It was really very beautiful and what looks like a shadow was actually stencilled onto floor and wall.
Finally there was a display on the walls by Fiona Curran called A Delicious Garden (2011) which was magnified 18th century floral patterns of icing sugar climbing up the walls of one room:
A Delicious Garden – Fiona Curran
Detail of A Delicious Garden