2 Willow Road
2 Willow Road
This house is one of Britain's most important examples of Modernist architecture; the former home of Erno Goldfinger, designed and built by him in 1939. It is also filled with furniture designed by Goldfinger. The art collection includes a number of significant 20th-century works by Bridget Riley, Max Ernst and Henry Moore among others.
BACKGROUND
Erno Goldfinger (1902-1987) was an influential architect in the British modernist movement. Born in Hungary, and educated in Vienna, Switzerland, and Paris, He worked under Auguste Perret, a pioneer in the use of undecorated reinforced concrete in buildings. In 1932 Goldfinger married Ursula Blackwell, whose parents owned part of the wealthy Crosse & Blackwell food company. The Goldfingers came to London in 1934, where Erno's austere designs drew praise, but also courted controversy. Though his architectural schemes at Elephant and Castle and Poplar eventually brought him national attention, it was arguably his design for his own house here in Hampstead that really made Goldfinger's mark.

But it was not, initially, a positive mark. The terrace of three houses, his own among them, were so unpopular among inhabitants of Hampstead that, it is rumoured, Ian Fleming chose the name Goldfinger for one of his most famous James Bond villains based on the public attitude towards the architect. The design was intended to act as a counterpoint to nearby Georgian houses which Goldfinger admired. The interiors of 2 Willow Road are lined with oak finished with highly polished wax, and are full of meticulous, carefully designed details. For example, door knobs and light switches are placed at waist level, and the steps that make up the main spiral stair are graduated in height rather than set a given distance apart. The overall effect is airy, simple, and elegant.

Goldfinger was not a prototypical aloof architect; in one famous episode he and his wife lived for two months in a block of flats he had designed at Poplar council flats on Rowlett Street. There the couple entertained tenants and gleaned exactly what they liked and did not like about the flats. Armed with this feedback, his next major project at Trellick Tower, west London, was designed with that feedback in mind. He also designed an office into the Trellick flats, where he worked for the last years of his career. Like many of his projects, Trellick was controversial, but then, controversy was never far away when Goldfinger designed his buildings. He seemed to think that if he was not raising people's ire, he wasn't pushing the boundaries of his capabilities.

Though the rebuilding of post-war Britain ought to have offered Goldfinger an opportunity to design large civic projects, his style of austere buildings were not to regain any real measure of popularity. His most important project was a mixed commercial and residential complex at Elephant and Castle, which drew praise from other architects but was panned by the public. His work was publicly reviled as the epitome of soulless modernity, devoid of warmth. Yet today, many of his designs, including Willow Road, are seen as some of the most important contributions towards modern architecture in 20th century London.

VISITING 2 WILLOW ROAD
The interior is small, so a timed ticket entry system is usually in operation. When we visited we just missed a guided tour, so we had to wait 45 minutes or so for the next admission. However, the location is wonderful, close to Hampstead village centre, yet secluded, and facing a belt of green trees and park. The tour was excellent; entertaining and informative - and short enough that younger visitors won't have time to get bored. A short walk from 2 Willow Road takes you to 17th century Fenton House, another National Trust property, and a printed walk pamphlet is available covering the historic highlights of Hampstead village.