In honour of Open House London, the fantastic annual event that literally opened hundreds of doors in the Capital last weekend, we’ve dug an article out of our archives on 2 Willow Road, the Modernist home that Architect Erno Goldfinger designed for his family in the 1930s. Writer Katie Treggiden gets the guided tour…
View of the exterior of 2 Willow Road at night, ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger: 2 Willow Road
I love Open House London — it democratises architecture and design by opening buildings that aren’t usually accessible to the public, and making us aware of those that are. A must-see on my list was 2 Willow Road, Hampstead, London. I was very lucky to be given a tour by National Trust volunteer, Robert Rimmel; a man whose affection for the architect, Erno Goldfinger, is infectious.
View from the studio to the living room at 2 Willow Road, ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger: The interior
The terrace of three is a Modernist building with classical elements. Originally planned as a block of flats and then a terrace of four, Goldfinger decided to merge the middle two into a home for his own family (now number 2), who moved there in 1939.
As was his style, the concrete columns are structural and part of a reinforced concrete frame. This gives the space inside flexibility because none of the walls are load bearing — and many of them are literally folding screens. For instance, the children’s room was open during the day and split into three rooms at night.
The rear wall is glazed and folds away to create an open façade. Peckham Health Centre, built three years previously, pioneered fresh air and sunshine for good health and was undoubtedly an influence. The front window, spanning all three properties, was designed to be constructed entirely from glass, but the planners wanted more subdivision. Erno Goldfinger added a horizontal concrete shelf, but, not to be defeated, painted it white to bounce light into the back of the room. In doing so, he created a light-filled studio for his artist wife.
Top of staircase at 2 Willow Road, ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger: the spiral staircase
But this building is more than just an open plan design. Must-sees include the spiral staircase. The treads are concrete wedges cantilevered from a surrounding drum, removing the need for a central column. A skylight floods the space with natural light. The children were in charge of tightening the string balustrade, now pretty loose!
Detail of the spiral staircase on the top landing at 2 Willow Road, ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger: furniture to fit
Another is Erno Goldfinger’s desk, which he designed himself. The drawers pivot on the legs, creating a semi-circle, so they can all be accessed at once. It’s an ingenious piece of design. And I loved the tiny details that give an insight into Goldfinger’s character – his car keys hung on a simple hook with ‘Rover keys’ written above in pencil.
Entrance Hall at 2 Willow Road showing the opaque glass wall, ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
Modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger: elegant design solutions
I believe design is about elegant solutions to problems — about making people’s lives better. Whether that’s natural light in every room, being able to see into all your drawers at once, or simply not losing your keys; sometimes you need to see it in the flesh to appreciate it.
The garden front of 1-3 Willow Road, ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
2 Willow Road is open Wednesday to Sunday 9am–5pm, with tours from 11am–2pm and free exploration from 3pm–5pm. See nationaltrust.org.uk for more information
Read our article on the other Modernist National Trust property The Homewood