Mon 19 May 2014

Flexible living pioneered in Hampstead

To paraphrase Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good deposit must be in want of a flat’. That shouldn’t be a problem in our property-owning democracy, should it?

If you read through enough sales brochures you’ll probably come across this phrase: flexible accommodation. What does it mean? Good question, in the majority of cases it means that there’s a nice open-plan kitchen/family room. Ideal for ‘modern lifestyles’ - usually with enough space for a yoga mat if you want to take it literally.

In some cases, if the developer has considered lifetime homes criteria, it might mean that the downstairs cloakroom has been plumbed in such a way that you could install a shower - should one of the household have, or develop, mobility issues.

Rarely will it include real flexibility - the potential to move walls simply to reconfigure living spaces. The recent Strutt & Parker Housing
Futures report described the need for a ‘properly flexible dwelling’ to accommodate ‘alternative households’ - a growing section of the population.

It’s easy to think that these are new problems and that a house with moveable walls would feel radically different and modern. Which is interesting, because as the saying goes ‘there’s no such thing as a new idea’, and this sort of pioneering house has already been built - in 1939 by Hungarian émigré and modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger.

Step forward 1-3 Willow Road (2 Willow Road, Goldfinger’s own home for 50 years, is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public). A concrete frame allowed the floors to be opened up and moveable partitions and folding doors are a feature on the first floor.

Perhaps we’re not quite ready for properly flexible spaces - most of the partitions in 2 Willow house were apparently kept closed during the winter - and anyway, the majority of London houses have load-bearing internal walls which need serious structural steels if you want to move them.

But, if you’re looking for some space-planning inspiration, you could do far worse than taking a trip to this iconic Hampstead home. Just don’t blame us if you’re humming Shirley Bassey’s James Bond theme tune for the rest of the day.


2 Willow Road, Hampstead
Visit the National Trust website for details of opening times and guided tours.

Check out the full feature on page 26 of MoveTo London