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Property News: Open House architecture - secrets to be revealed behind Greenaway home and other fascinating properties

The former home of Kate Greenaway
Tom Simon and his family outside their eco-home in Highgate Newtown.

Published: 15 September 2011

FROM her top-floor studio, the children’s books illustrator Kate Greenaway created some of her most famous works.

Now, as part of this year’s Open House architecture festival, the doors of her bespoke Hampstead home are being opened to the public.

French artist John Aldus now lives in the property in Frognal, and uses Greenaway’s rooftop studio to design his own work.

Greenaway’s books include an illustrated book on Christmas carols and another on the alphabet. She also illustrated John Ruskin’s Dame Wiggins of Lee and Her Seven Wonderful Cats.

She bought the acre of land in the 1880s for the then princely sum of £2,000 and spent a further £2,000 commissioning and building her home on the site.
Mr Aldus said he was vaguely aware of Greenaway’s works when he bought the home.

“Since I moved in I have read all about her work and life,” he said. “There was a very good biography published soon after her death in 1901 and there is a lot of information about her life and work.”

He said the Greenaway house stands out for two reasons: first, the fact it was commissioned by an artist and designed by a leading architect on a limited budget has made it the perfect space.

“Norman Shaw, who built it, designed it with an artist in mind,” said Mr Aldus.

“By the time it was built, Greenaway had become quite famous and well off so she could ask this important architect of the time to build her home.”
Yet despite her fame, Greenaway did not lavish funds on the project.

“She wanted a house but did not want to spend fortunes on it, so it was done economically,” he said.

This included using a tiled facade to cover up the cheap bricks used.

“This has made it actually more interesting as he it gave Shaw challenges to overcome,” said Mr Aldus.

“He had to find solutions. For example, the balcony is not elaborate.

“It means the house is quite basic – minimalist even. It does not look modern, yet the way he built it is.”

Greenaway’s work area is another aspect of the home. Shaw turned the room 45 degrees to give it as much light as possible.

“The space is quite inspiring,” said Mr Aldus.

“Shaw twisted it round and this helps create atmosphere inside. It means the architecture is very inspiring.”

Although he can see the private school UCS from the windows, the  majority of the views do not provide an urban vista.

“Apart from UCS, you simply cannot see any buildings,” said Mr Aldus.

“It is totally surrounded by trees – it is like being the depths of a forest.”

On Sunday, the Modernism of the Royal College of Physicians building, opposite Regent’s Park, can be admired from within.

Designed by architect Sir Denys Lasdun and now Grade-I listed, this is not only a chance to peek behind the facade of a leading medical institution, the medicinal gardens are packed with more than 1,200 plants associated with conventional medicine.

Visitors on the day will also have the opportunity to discover nearly 500 years of medical history through talks, portraits, and silver and medical artefacts that will tell the story of the Royal College of Physicians from its foundation by Henry VIII in 1518 through to today.

Other highlights include a tour of leading architects Stanton Williams’s offices, alongside the Regent’s Canal in Islington.

The firm, which has won such prestigious jobs as designing the public areas around the new Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road, and the new public square at the front of King’s Cross train station, create their designs from a converted Vic­torian building.

And two Camden homes that have been retro-fitted to cut down carbon emissions are also open to the public: dubbed eco-homes, they include a home owned by the council that has had super-efficient insulation and new boilers put in place. They can be found in Belsize Park and Highgate Newtown.

Open House takes place this weekend.
For more information, see the website


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