Modernist houses in Hampstead

Hampstead has, for a long time, been one of the more affluent areas of inner London. It’s always attracted residents from  intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary backgrounds, more receptive to new ideas. As a consequence in amongst the more traditional Georgian and Victorian buildings, there’s a significant number of modernist style houses built between the wars.

One notable example is 2 Willow Road, the former home of the architect Ernö Goldfinger, which is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. We’d visited previously a couple of years ago (report here) but had another look round during our recent break in Hampstead.


There are plenty of other examples of Modernist architecture within a short distance of Willow Road, most of which are still used for their original purpose as places to live.

One particularly notable building is the Isokon flats on Lawn Road. Designed by Wells Coates, they were completed in 1936

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Famous residents include the author Agatha Christie and Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school and an architect himself.

The building was allowed to deteriorate but was refurbished and now house 25 shared ownership flats for key workers and 11 for private homes.


This house is tucked away in Downshire Road, just round the corner from 2 Willow Road and Keats’ House, on a street of more traditional buildings, just opposite St John’s church.


It was designed by Michael and Charlotte Bunney as their own home in 1936. It’s attached to a Georgian house and could almost be taken for an extension.


There are many similarities between the simple design of Modernist houses and some of the typically Georgian buildings, of which there are many in Hampstead. The simple geometric shape, the proportions, the minimalist ornamentation and the white rendering.

Number 13 blended in so well, and was almost hidden by the high hedge and trees, that we almost missed it as we walked past. But the distinctive Modernist style gate gate it away.


Frognal is a particularly prosperous area of Hampstead and there are number of Modernist houses there.

This is “Sun House” halfway down Frognal Way, one of Hampsteads more desirable streets to live in (it’s a private cul-de-sac with a barrier at the end of the road).


It was built in 1936 to a design by E Maxwell Fry.

This house, 66 Frognal, is on the corner of Frognal Way. Built in 1936 it was designed by Connell, Ward and Lucas, a pair of Kiwis and a Brit who were leading Modernist architects.



Frognal Close is a small cul-de-sac of five houses designed by Sigmund Freud’s architecht son, Ernst. They’re just around the corner from Freud senior’s London home in Maresfield Gardens.


This house at 13b Arkwright Road, was designed by Godfrey Samuel of Samuel and Harding.


It’s one of a pair of houses that probably replaced an older, larger, (and probably not particularly attractive) Victorian period building similar to the others in the road.

There are many other . Those pictured above are some of the more notable Modernist houses in the district, but there are plenty of others. We spotted this one, at the top of Willoughby Street, as we were walking along the main street leading up to the Tube station.


We also spotted this interesting looking building just down the road from Belsize tube station. It’s the entrance to a deep air raid shelter from World War Two.


Goldfinger’s House


A few weeks ago we had a long weekend break in London. Intent on seeing things other than the main tourist attractions we took the tube up to Hampstead to visit a couple of National Trust properties well off the tourist trail. One of these was the Goldfinger’s house at 2 Willow Road. One of the few Modernist houses open to the public in Britain.

Inevitably, the name Goldfinger brings to mind the evil mastermind from the Ian Fleming book and James Bond film of the same name, so you might imagine that we would find some underground complex where the anti-hero and his henchman Odd-job hatched their devious plan to take over the world. Well, of course, this isn’t the case. Ernö Goldfinger was a Hungarian Modernist architect who moved to Britain in the 1930’s and settled in London. He designed a home for his family in Hampstead that was finished in 1939. One of his neighbours was a certain Ian Fleming, who was one of the objectors to the building of the house, which required four older cottages that had occupied the site to be demolished. It is said that it named his character after the architect as a way of seeking revenge. Goldfinger and his family moved into the house in September 1939, and lived there for the rest of his life.

Erno Goldfinger

The house is open in the afternoons from 12 until 5 p.m. Thursday to Sunday from March to October, and weekends only for the rest of the year.  There are guided tours at 12 noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m, with self guided tours from 3 till 5. It still has it’s original furnishings and contents in place, including a small collection of Modern Art.

The National Trust is normally associated with large stately homes previously occupied by the aristocracy. However they also own a number of notable smaller houses, of which this is one. I often find these much more interesting than the larger properties, as they give a glimpse into the lives of more ordinary people – well, at least people other than the aristocracy. Goldfinger wasn’t exactly working class. He was a relatively successful professional, married to an Englishwoman, Ursula Blackwell, from a wealthy family, living in a prosperous part of London. They mixed with the artistic community who had colonised Hampstead after WW1, and were friends with a number of them, including Roland Penrose and Lee Miller. Politically, they were on the left

The house, which overlooks Hampstead Heath,  is a 10 minute walk from Hampstead tube station. We arrived in time to book a place on the final guided tour of the day. It’s well worth catching the guided tour as you learn a lot more about the history of the house, its contents and owners than you would by wandering around more aimlessly on your own.

The house is part of a building of three houses – numbers 1 to 3 Willow Road. Goldfinger’s is the larger of the three and is flanked by the other two, which are still occupied today. Unlike most Modernist buildings, it isn’t a white box, but is clad in brick. The front elevation faces the north, and as there are no buildings on the other side of the road, it overlooks the Heath. There are three storeys at the front but as it is a sloping site, there is another floor at the back of the building, which overlooks a good sized garden.

Structurally, it has a concrete frame, designed in conjunction with the Danish engineer Ove Arup. This meant that the need for supporting walls  within the building was minimised allowing for large flexible spaces inside with moveable partitions.

At the start of the tour you watch a short film about Goldfinger and the history of the house in one of the two garages belonging to number 2, which has been converted into a small cinema.  You then enter the house through the front door, going into the relatively small entrance hallway, and proceed upstairs to the first floor via a spiral staircase, The stairwell provided interior structural support and removed the need for large landing spaces upstairs.

At the front of the house on the first floor, overlooking the Heath, there was the dining room and a studio, originally used by Ursula, who was an artist (although it was later taken over by Goldfinger). The large, continuous, windows allowed in a lot of light meaning that the rooms were very bright, despite being north facing.  The partitions between the two rooms could be opened up creating a larger space for entertaining guests. The kitchen, though, was tiny.  The south side was occupied by the lounge and a small office/study used by Ernö.

Another spiral staircase takes you to the top floor and the bedrooms. The master bedroom and a guest room are at the front, with the south side occupied by the children’s bedrooms. There were a number of interesting features such as an en-suite bathroom and built in wardrobes, a bed that  folded up into the wall in the guest room, and moveable partitions between the children’s rooms which could be opened up to create a large nursery space during the day (also helped by originally having beds that folded away into the wall).

As is usually the case in National Trust properties, taking photographs isn’t allowed. However there are some pictures of the interior on the NT website here and also here.