Goldfinger’s House at 2 Willow Road, London

U.K. architect Erno Goldfinger’s striking and controversial 1939 design at 2 Willow Road in London was the first Modernist structure acquired by the National Trust.

Although the building it replaced was a dilapidated ruin, local council and residents fiercely opposed its construction. Author Ian Fleming, a Hampstead Heath neighbour, disliked the plans for 2 Willow Road so much he named a Bond villain after the avant-guarde architect. But Goldfinger’s creation has an enduring appeal.

Goldfinger and Contemporary Architecture

Goldfinger was born in Budapest in 1902 and studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He supported contemporary ideals but favoured structural rationalism – that is, wood must look like wood, steel like steel – over Le Corbusier’s white box approach.

Even so, Goldfinger tempered his plan by covering the concrete at in red brick and painting the metal windows white in order to maintain harmony with the surrounding Georgian houses.

Inside 2 Willow Road

Visitors enter this former family home through a small, dim foyer. An initally intimidating spiral staircase demonstrates Goldfinger’s attention to ergonomic detail. The treads are wide enough where needed and the risers are shorter than expected, making the climb easy.

The reason Goldfinger designed a tiny entry is evident once the main floor is reached. A wall of north facing windows captures light from the heath across the street all day and combined with the higher ceiling, creates a dramatic contrast.

Modernist Designs and Materials

The living room, dining room and Goldfinger’s office are all on this level. A series of folding and sliding doors allows them to become one large area for entertaining. These rooms are masculine and imposing, like the man himself. Walls are covered in oak or mahogany-veneered plywood or painted in colours from the palettes of artist friends like Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, whose works are displayed here.

Ingenious built-ins preserve the sense of pure volume in this space and the furniture, designed mainly by the architect himself, has an industrial edge.

The all-white master bedroom is on the top floor. Small windows create an intimate feel though the room is bare except for a low futon bed, a chair and a bank of bookcases. Capacious storage is hidden behind a wall of doors.

Goldfinger and His Plans for 1, 2 and 3 Willow Road

Along with charts marking the heights of the Goldfinger children as they grew, the upstairs nursery now contains models and floor plans of 1, 2 and 3 Willow Road. This historic house is sandwiched between two smaller terraced residences the architect built in order to fund the entire project. One was initially sold while the other was first rented and later sold.

National Trust Legacy of Goldfinger

Goldfinger died in 1987 and his wife Ursula stayed in the house until her death in 1991. The National Trust acquired the house in 1994 when the Goldfinger children left it to them via the Treasury, in lieu of paying inheritance tax. Most of the contents, including tea bags and Christmas pudding, were in the bequest. Magazines and drafting tools are lying about and it seems as though the family might return at any moment.

Since 2 Willow Road was opened to the public in 1996, acceptance and admiration of Goldfinger’s work has grown. The building that was once reviled is now a modernist jewel in the National Trust’s crown. Joint tickets are available with nearby 17th-century Fenton House.

© 2012 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.

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