The magical interiors at Alexander Place
Words by Leo Russell
We tour a unique house in South Kensington that mixes Georgian, interwar and contemporary taste
Not like any other home
Alexander Place is a smart street to the east of Thurloe Square. The houses have white stucco bases, jointed to look like stone, with brick facades above.
From the outside, this home resembles the other properties, with a first-floor balcony and a door flanked by Doric pilasters. However, look up and you might just see a top-floor extension with an arched window – the only one on the street. Or, step inside, and you will find one of the most remarkable interiors in South Kensington. Double reception rooms, panelled and painted walls, vaulted ceilings and ornate cornices all combine to create a special space.
The street was originally called Alfred Place, but was renamed Alexander Place in 1920. This was a reference to William Henry Alexander, a philanthropist who donated the money required to build the National Portrait Gallery. The Alexanders owned several plots of land in South Kensington and were responsible for constructing nearby Alexander Square in 1829.
That was also the year that the first houses were built on Alexander – then Alfred – Place. The rest were built a decade later, including this one. This was the early Victorian era, and the new houses were taller and plainer, yet they preserved the Georgian proportions of their neighbours.
The interiors date back to the late Twenties and early Thirties. At the time, the house was owned by one Mrs Morley, who hired an architect named Douglas Wells to redesign the place. Inspired by its Georgian origins, the internal walls were knocked down to create a series of large rooms running from the front of the house to the rear. He also added the fourth floor, with a rear balcony giving views towards the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Rejecting the aesthetics of the Victorian era
The changes at Alexander Place were recorded in a Country Life article dated April 26th 1930. Soon after the work was completed, a journalist visited the house for the magazine, admiring the 'sense of dignity and proportion.'
During this period, many artists, architects, art historians and interior designs were rejecting the aesthetics of the Victorian era. They had often grown up in dim and cluttered Victorian homes, but now wanted to live in bright, open spaces. For some this meant the minimalist designs of Modernism, for others it meant reviving the principles of the Georgian period.
As the current owner of the house explains, during the Georgian era, ‘light was such a special resource.’ In an age before electric lamps, large windows and open layouts were necessary to maximise the available illumination, while classical proportions and modest amounts of furniture added to an impression of order and calm.
A single oak beam
Most of the interwar renovations remain, including the plaster-barrelled vault on the first-floor ceiling and the panelled walls taken from demolished houses in Kensington. In addition, the article notes how the pillars at the base of the bannister – which gives a more substantial feel to the entire staircase – were all taken from a single oak beam. Though much of the furniture has been replaced – including a rustic dining table and a George I oak dresser – the layout is recognisably the same.
The property has had several distinguished owners over the years. They have added personal touches, yet respected the changes made in the interwar period. Today the house is Grade II listed, meaning many of those changes would no longer be allowed.
Introducing more colour
For the current owner, the priority was introducing more colour, and so the celebrated artist Alistair Erskine painted the walls with murals. In some places they resembled wallpaper, in others had a marble effect, and elsewhere creating mythical landscapes and scenery. In addition, underfloor heating was installed in the bathrooms and a gas-fired Aga was added to the kitchen, along with a worksurface of blue Brazilian marble.
Finally, the furniture and decoration were chosen to fit the classical tastes of the interwar owner and the Georgian proportions of the original house. ‘I’m a great believer in patina,’ the current owner explains, which is the perfect word for this property’s unique interior, where the layers of history have gathered over time to create a rich and precious texture.
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