575 Wandsworth Rd - A Folk Art Masterpiece

I'm a big fan of eccentric  house museums and individual collections and I seek them out everywhere we travel, after all who could resist a place like the Mario Praz Museum in Rome? I love  smaller, private houses that reflect the character and taste of the owner. In London, an old favorite is the unmissable home of the great  eighteenth century architect and collector Sir John Soane which we often revisit.  On our recent trip  I was thrilled to discover a few new places including  575 Wandsworth Rd and the Linley Sambourne House at 18 Stafford Terrace which I blogged about a few weeks ago. While the Linley Sambourne House is all about the preservation of a pristine High Victorian interior, the National Trust's 575 Wandsworth Rd is something quite different and something much more contemporary. Indeed I don't think it would be an exaggeration to call it a folk art masterpiece.

This is one of the most unique interiors I've seen  anywhere. The story of the house and the man who owned it is quite extraordinary and it's great that the National Trust has preserved the property - though it's only open for limited hours and you have to book months in advance. In addition they don't allow photography in the building so I've had to take these images from  the guidebook I purchased. 
Here the National Trust's description of the property, 

"This small, early nineteenth-century terraced house was the home of Khadambi Asalache, a Kenyan-born poet, novelist and civil servant. In 1986, he began carving wooden fretwork to disguise a persistent damp problem in the basement dining room. He went on to embellish almost every wall, ceiling and door in the house with fretwork patterns and motifs which he hand-carved from reclaimed pine doors and floorboards found in skips. Over the course of a twenty year period he turned his home into a work of art."

There's clearly a great deal more to this narrative, a story of an artist turned civil servant who came from Kenya and ended up in literary circles in London but this is apparently how he wished it to be presented and his partner isn't mentioned by name though their entwinned initials can bee seen on some of the fretwork and there's a small kennel for their dog next to the bed.
The fretwork is almost overwhelming in its intricacy, detail and sheer quantity. In an age of mechanical reproduction it's hard to image that this was all done by hand and finished so recently, in the 2000's. the whole place is exquisitely tasteful and in this regard it shares much with the Linely-Sambourne House. It's the home of a man with great taste and each item feels as is it was picked with aesthetics in mind. Everything in the house  feels mindful and deliberate. 
It's a fascinating blend of influences and objects, an African scene above, Afrocentric books, English antique plates, fretwork reminiscent of the Alhambra or Zanzibar. I found the whole place mesmerizing and the tour wasn't long enough for me though I found it painful not to be able to take any pictures for the blog!
The tour begins in the ground floor kitchen where apparently Mr. Asalache often entertained.  This was the room where he began adding the fretwork to cover up a damp spot from the launderette next door. What is so spectacular about the house is that the modest building completely belies the interior and the level of decoration within. Even the kitchen is exquisite as you can see and here as elsewhere in the house beauty and decoration are not separated from function.
We sat around this table while they introduced the history and story of the house.
I highly recommend visiting, it's something entirely different and if you are interested in design and interiors it's quite beautiful. It's nice to see the National Trust preserving something that speaks to the diversity of the British experience. But above all this is the home of a person of great taste and refinement and in that regard it reminds me greatly of the very best of house museums including the  Sir John Soane Museum.
Thanks to the National Trust for these images.