Tucked onto Willow Road, just on the fringes of Hampstead Heath, is one of the neighbourhood’s most modern houses…
…built in 1939.
Sticking out like a minimalist thumb from the surrounding streets of Georgian villas, Nos. 1-3 Willow Road make up a self-contained terrace of modernist houses designed by Ernö Goldfinger in 1939. And if that name rings a bell, it’s probably because:
1) He also designed many of London’s most iconic postwar buildings, including Trellick Tower in Ladbroke Grove, and Poplar’s Balfron Tower; and
2) Pretty much everyone failed to ‘get’ his stripped-back modernist aesthetic, and Ian Fleming used the name for his best-known Bond villain precisely because he was so unpopular.
Goldfinger’s Willow Road houses courted plenty of controversy at the time, but Ernö and his wife Ursula lived at No. 2 quite comfortably until his death in 1987. A few years later, it was donated to the National Trust by the son of the Hampstead MP who had waxed lyrical about how hideous it was decades earlier.
Now that midcentury interiors and brutalist architecture are enjoying a revival, 2 Willow Road makes for a unique place to visit next time you’re tramping around the heath or looking for some design inspo. Inside, there’s all kinds of beautiful features, like the Danish-designed spiral staircase that winds round like an ammonite fossil; the warm, varnished oak walls and sliding panels; and the continuous window stretching across all three residences and looking out over the heath.
Just like London’s other eccentric architect/artist-owned houses – chiefly Dennis Severs’ House and Sir John Soane’s Museum – the interiors are pretty much perfectly preserved from the Goldfingers’ time here, and it feels a bit like they’ve just popped out to the shops. Curios collected on their travels sit next to family heirlooms, architectural models, and an old, half-used packet of Gillette razors. No small part of the furniture was designed by Goldfinger himself, and the house is filled with work by influential 20th century artists like Bridget Riley, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Eduardo Paolozzi.
Unlike the stately homes that make up most of the National Trust’s properties, this is an actual, family-sized home, so you’ll need to book an entry slot in advance and will be taken round the house on a short guided tour. The guides are insanely knowledgeable, though, and it’s genuinely fascinating to hear about this controversial, highly talented figure.
Just resist the urge to go ‘bwa bwaaa bwah!’ every time they say Goldfinger.
NOTE: 2 Willow Road is closed until March 2022. Tickets are released 2 weeks in advance, with entry times between 11am and 3pm on Thursdays and Saturdays. You can find out more, and book, HERE.
2 Willow Road | London, NW3 1TH
Main image: Steve Cadman
Like going round the houses? Take a look at 575 Wandsworth Road.