V is for Vernacular, Vision, Veracity and Voysey

In Part 1 this week, Lucy Greenslade visits two houses in Wandsworth on the trail of C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941), architect and designer of furniture and textiles.

I wanted to link the word ‘vernacular’ – the language spoken by the people of the country – with Charles Voysey, an architect still best known as a designer of English country houses. Not all his houses were located in rural landscapes but you could say he designed them as if they were. With the exception of two town houses in Knightsbridge, Voysey didn’t do ‘urban’. The two buildings I have visited this week are both on the edges of Victorian suburbs and both face wooded Commons. ‘Dixcot’ – at Nº 8, North Drive, SW16, – looks over Tooting Bec Common and The White Cottage in Lyford Road, SW18, addresses a quiet corner of Wandsworth Common. Both appear to be detached and singular, havens of calm domesticity, remote from the busy streets, squares and terraces not so far away in Battersea, Balham or Clapham.

Considering that Voysey built no houses himself after 1918, his influence over English suburban architecture in the 1920s and 1930s became quite extraordinary. You could say that Voysey’s architecture was “truly suburban” only in the sense of using traditional materials and being suitable for low-density housing. A large part of his later appeal was that he worked in what was considered to be an authentically ‘English’ style and that was what developers were eager to copy. It wasn’t Voysey’s fault that the architects of suburbia built row after row of near-identical semi-detached houses in what became known as the ‘Tudorbethan’ style (falsely half-timbered and sporting leaded glass in their casement windows). What these ‘semis’ offered was the illusion of living in country cottages. The houses appeared to be ‘traditionally crafted’ and – ideally – came with neat hedges and lawns and roses growing around the Victorian front door. Estate agents call it ‘kerb appeal’.

On the surface, Voysey’s creations are deceptively simple. He believed that the richness of a design should be expressed in its form and minimal details, not in applied decorations. His houses often feature roughcast render on the outside of brick walls and massive chimney stacks piercing sweeping roofs. They do not display the overtly classical proportions expected by many of his contemporaries. His period front doors and windows give horizontal not vertical emphasis to each elevation. He did not use elaborately decorated carved stone pediments and his roofs are not hidden behind straight parapet walls. He used buttresses rather than pilasters to divide and give order to his elevations. His furniture too was simple and functional. He preferred to leave wood with its natural finish rather than covered with paints or stains and varnishes.

Voysey 1 001
A truly massive chimney stack, with inset window, at 8 North Drive, SW16 dating from 1897. Little hips on the lower roof appear to fold around the base of the stack.
Voysey 1 003
The front entrance to 8 North Drive with its projecting Doric porch – unaccountably painted in a greenish gloss instead of the original white. Note the ‘signature’ Arts & Crafts strap hinges across the front door.
Voysey 2 001
68 Lyford Road, Wandsworth SW18 (The White Cottage) dating from 1903.

English Heritage describes this as:
“A 2-storey house, 3-bays wide, with stone dressings and hipped slate roof, the quadruple casement windows have stone mullions and leaded lights. The centre projects as a square bay rising through the eaves into a third-storey belvedere. The asymmetrically-placed 12-panelled London door, its top 3 panels glazed, is sheltered by a broad flat hood.”

Voysey 1 007
A London Front Door in the English vernacular style – The White Cottage.

In Part 2, Lucy pedals on through tempest, storm and flood to visit Chiswick and Hampstead…

 

Bespoke Front Door.

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The importance of doors

Some thoughts on the importance of front doors, well put, by Anna Tyzack in The Telegraph.

It takes just eight seconds to decide whether or not you will buy a house, according to the latest research. And at least four of them will be spent waiting at the front door. Lord Lloyd-Webber has a mahogany one, Richard Rogers has a white one, and Kate Middleton has just installed a pair of them, in black. “People look at a front door before they look at anything else,” says designer Cecilia Neal, of Meltons. “Your front door reflects what you think about the house. A door can sell a property.”

Victorian front door
One of our recent installations – a Victorian front door

An Oxford blue, Victorian front door with stained- and etched-glass panels and side windows sold a house in Putney to Susie King. “After being shown round by the agent, I drove back there that night, parked outside and just stared at the door. I wanted to live behind it so badly,” she says. A decade later, when it came to repainting the door, it took 12 attempts to mix the right shade of blue.

But a door can also jeopardise a sale. “We have had a buyer who refused to complete until we repainted the front door as it was green, which they felt was unlucky,” says Andy Buchanan, director of John D Wood, Chelsea.

A front door must be appropriate to a house, says Jeremy Musson, Architecture Editor of Country Life. Planked doors can work well on barn or warehouse conversions or new-builds. But there is no escaping the universal charm of the Georgian front door – “solid, well constructed, but at the same time curiously domestic and welcoming” – rather like the iconic blue London door belonging to Hugh Grant in the film Notting Hill. “The classic Georgian combination of solid, panelled door with a glazed fanlight over the top, as in London and Dublin, and Bath and Liverpool terraces, is just magic,” says Mr Musson.

Edwardian front door
One of our Edwardian front doors

There is nothing to say classic Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian period front doors cannot be used on new houses. Properties on the Wentworth and St George’s Hill estates, in Surrey, tend to use classical styles on a larger scale – taller and wider with vast porticos, illustrating that owners are happier to experiment with the size of a door rather than its style or colour. “Double doors are vital for new-builds over £2 million,” says Simon Ashwell, of Savills. “They give an impression of a much wider frontage. I will always tell a developer to put in a double door.”

 

Let the light in

Have you ever wondered why some doors have glass in them and some do not?

The Victorians were the first to make glazed doors the norm. Prior to the Victorians, front doors were generally made of solid timber and without glazing. For example the classic Georgian front door pictured below:

IMG_1444
A Georgian front door

Doors without glass were considered more secure. The glass that was available in those days, such as float glass or leaded light was fragile and offered zero resistance to a cudgel-wielding nobbler! So what changed?

Prior to the mid-1850s most (terraced) housing had a relatively short foot-print. That is to say that the distance from the front to the rear of the property was quite short, as we can see from the side-section of a Georgian house below.

georgian house cross section

A window, positioned on the first half-landing, at the rear of the house, could flood the ground floor hallway with light. In the mid-1850s the Victorians innovated with terraced house design and began to add rear additions to their houses. These lengthed the footprint of a building but the new, rear rooms prevented light from reaching the hallway. As we can see in the floor plans below:

Victorian floor planVictorian forst floor plan

Victorian hallways would have been plunged into darkness and so front doors with glass were introduced. The additional living space was prioritised over reduced security and hallways enjoyed the light they needed.

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A Victorian four panel front door

This architectural back story is the reason why Georgian front doors very rarely have glass, whilst Victorian front doors and later, Edwardian front doors, almost always have glass. If you ever need to identify a period front door‘s architectural era, this is the first test to apply.

 

 

Going global

Front doors have such significance in all our lives that they are used as a means of self-expression and not only identify individuals but also cultures and nations. Here in London we are so desensitised to how we express ourselves, via our mostly Victorian front doors, that we sometimes scarcely notice them. In the same way that we scarcely notice anything else that makes us Londoners or even British.

They say travel broadens the mind and doors from other places cause us to gaze inward and see our own period front doors with fresh eyes and appreciate how beautiful they are and what they tell the world about us. So here are some front doors from far and wide together with two of our own for you to ponder. Can you spot which they are?

London doors

 

bespoke front door

 

London front door

 

Handmade front door

 

Georgian Duo Front Doors

 

Period front door

 

bespoke front door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paint colours in 2017… the story so far

What’s trending right now?

Choosing paint colour, whether it is for furniture, walls or your Victorian front doors can be baffling at times. Read our earlier post about colours for some advice and guidance. If you are someone who likes to keep up with the Bespoke Front Door, we’ve put together a list of the most popular colours chosen by our customers so far this year:

1. Down Pipe Gray no. 26 by Farrow & Ball

This grey, that imitates the lead on exterior iron work has staying power. It seems like every day we meet some one who says, “I’ve always wanted a dark grey Period front door.” Despite interior trend bibles predicting strong bright colours for 2017, the people of London still love a strong grey.

 

2. Stiffkey Blue by Farrow & Ball

This dark, dusty blue has proved a big hit with our customers since its launch by Farrow & Ball in September 2013. It combines beautifully with polished chrome, brass and black iron door furniture.

Victorian doors.JPG

 

3. Colour q6.09.81 by Sikkens

The enigmatically titled ‘q6.09.81’ by leading paint manufacturers Sikkens has been in demand since the summer of 2013. This very pale but vibrant blue, in a rich satin finish can be seen on the centrepiece front door .London door.jpg

Bespoke Front Door.

Welcome home

welcome-mat

Well there isn’t any point having a gorgeous, new, period front door and ignoring everything around it is there? There are many ways that we can accessorise our door ways. For example, if you have a Victorian front door you may compliment it with pretty Victorian mosaic tiles. Some London doors are contemporary and are flanked with stylish outdoor lighting. Whatever type of door you have, the chances are you will need a mat to wipe your muddy feet on and in this blog post we bring you some entertaining examples.

home-mat

Some mats are positioned inside your front door:

straightener-door-mat

Others go on the outside:

home-matdark-side-matreverse-lettering-mathello-door-mat

Goodbye you lovely people!

Silence is golden

It is sometimes the case that a door is required to close as quietly as possible. For instance, in communal buildings the occupants of the ground floor flat, whose bedroom may be adjacent to the communal entrance door, may find themselves perpetually irked by the banging of the main front door as their neighbours’ arrive home late in the evening. So what can be done?

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A magnetic door lock

First we must identify the causes of the noise. Usually there are two of them: the sound of wood banging on wood as the door hits the door stops on the frame and the sound of the lock striking its lock keep. There is sometimes a third cause of noise in communal front doors – the buzzing of an electronic entry lock. If a new front door is being fitted then we can eliminate or reduce the effect of each of these in turn to make a significant reduction in volume.

  1. Locks – replacing the communal lock for a magnetic lock eliminates the sound of the lock hitting its lock keep and any buzzing sounds. Many magnetic locks have an entirely silent operation.
  2. Replace the doorstops for new ones that incorporate a generous, soft draught excluder. This prevents the wood-on-wood impact noise created when the door closes.
  3. Overhead door closer – install an overhead closer that is fitted with a brake. This will swing the door closed at a brisk pace but arrests its motion just before contact with the door frame is made. The door then moves slowly for the final few centimetres so that contact with the cushioned door stops is gentle and quiet and then the magnetic lock anchors the door in the closed position