575 Wandsworth Road

Are you pinned out?  Sometimes I think the world has gone a bit Pinterest mad. Lately, it's inconceivable to plan a wedding, bathroom or kitchen extension without consulting our friend beginning with “P”. Don't get me wrong, I love it, and in my real job as a handbag designer it is an invaluable tool. There’s just a lack of middle ground with Pinterest, it swings from the ludicrously unachievable (unless you are a millionaire) to the “IKEA hack,” a world of “up-scaling” your Scandi sofa with teak legs -hardly the definition of creativity. 

But what if you visited an interior quite like anything you have ever seen on Pinterest or likely to see again in your lifetime.  An aesthetic born out of necessity - to cover up damp on the kitchen wall from the next door launderette.  Humbly crafted from ordinary pine floorboards found in skips, by a man who dedicated every spare moment of twenty five years to carving decorations for his house No 575 Wandsworth Rd.   At a time when the market wasn't flooded with cheap furniture and throwing Farrow and Ball at the walls wasn’t an option.  This was no quick fix either, we are talking a lifetimes' work, not a passing fad. 

On the day of my visit to 575 Wandsworth Road spring has finally sprung in London, and I'm bathed in optimism even as I crunch my way over last night's chicken bones. My own thoughts are drowned out by the deafening sounds of clapped out exhaust pipes on this busy stretch of South London. It's a bleak outlook; to the right desolate council blocks, flank modest Georgian houses, unloved and choking in fumes. I'm struggling to find the familiar green National Trust signage, until I see a tiny wooden board discreetly perched on the steps.  

he house was bequeathed to the Trust in 2006 by the owner Khadambi Asalache, a Kenyan born poet, trained architect, philosopher and civil servant by day.  On his death, The National Trust set about stabilising the property with the idea of giving tours to small groups of six people at a time owing to the size of the property and its delicate nature.  Book your tour today people, you might have to wait a few months, but I promise you it is worth the wait! 

The exterior of the house is unremarkable and gives nothing away of the private and exquisite fantasy world indoors.  Little prepares you for what lays inside; a giant lace cobweb of wooden fretwork spans every surface, from ceiling to floor. From a distance, the woodwork looks delicate and fragile, seemingly symmetrical by design.  Up close, it is crude and jagged, roughly sawn and modestly tacked to the wall.  Your eyes play tricks on you as you realise there is no symmetry to the fretwork design after all.  Ballerinas, giraffes, leaves, swans, African motifs and English Lustreware all randomly dance together in a celebration of European, African and Islamic cultures.  Marks, splashes of paint and glue seepage clearly didn't bother Mr Asalache either. 


I rather admire his style, which strives for perfection and yet none whatsoever, all at once.  There is an undoubtedly obsessive whiff about the place too, the kind only a man with no family or television could possess, toiling away in the evenings after a day at The Treasury.  All of which dovetails in with a niggling feeling I have, that we might look back on the age of social media and think we squandered our lives, when we could have been achieving something fulfilling.  So there is a lesson learned here for myself and possibly some of you; that instead of slumping in front of “Poldark,”after my long commute, I should crack on with upholstering that ottoman I’ve been meaning to do for the past year.  If you too are in need of some inspiration, 575 Wandsworth Rd might just be the place to spur you on to fire up the Black & Decker and fall in love with the modest versatility of wood.