The Mail on Sunday: A 1.3 million time warp in Artists' Row
Sun 02 Dec 2012
With its thundering, round-the-clock traffic, Talgarth Road in West London is hardly the place you would expect to find a row of houses purpose-built for painters to gather inspiration. But it's on this section of the A4 in Baron's Court where you'll find a terrace of Art and Crafts-era dwellings known as St Paul's Studios, which were indeed created as artists' homes.
Amid the rows of conventional Victorian terraces that line this artery linking Central London, Heathrow Airport and the West, the eight houses stand out majestically with their soaring chimneys and red-brick and terracotta exteriors.
But their most distinctive feature north-facing double-storey windows provides the biggest clue to the fact that they were designed for artists. The muted yet constant light that comes through the expansive panes would greatly enhance the conditions for any painter's work. In 1891, when the eight houses were built, the area was an altogether more peaceful setting than now, and a colony of artists, including Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones, were already living nearby.
Landscape painter William Logsdail and illustrator Charles Sims were among those who made their homes here a century or so ago. The houses went on to attract residents from the arts in general most famously the great ballerina Margot Fonteyn, as well as Ernest Gebler, a bestselling author in the Fifties who is better known today as having been married to writer Edna O'Brien.
Anyone with 1.3?million to spend can purchase 135 Talgarth Road, a house at one end of the terrace, which has been put up for sale by 92-year-old American art dealer Dorothy Edinburg.
The terrace was built by architect Frederick Wheeler, who picked the location then called Colet Gardens because of what was an almost rural view looking out over the playing fields of the fee-paying St Paul's School.
Wheeler designed the houses for 'bachelor artists'. Each property had a bedroom, reception area and a bathroom on the ground floor for the artist, and a scullery, kitchen and bedroom in the basement for a housekeeper.
Upstairs, the artists would work in the studio behind the vast window. Though there was no major road nearby, Barons Court Underground station, which opened in 1874 to serve the District Line, lay immediately behind the terrace's small, south-facing gardens to provide a convenient transport link.
But in the Sixties, Colet Gardens became an extension of Talgarth Road, which was widened to become the A4 trunk road. Meanwhile, St Paul's School moved to nearby Barnes. First council flats were built on its old playing fields, followed in 1980 by West London College.
Dorothy bought No?135 in 1971. 'I had arrived in London from Boston and was determined to live in an area where there were artists and I found this community,' she recalls. 'None was for sale so I just knocked on the door of No?135 and asked the people who lived there if they were willing to sell. Fortunately they were.' No?135's layout remains almost as Wheeler built it, except for one key detail. The previous owner had put in a 'false' floor dividing the double-storey window, and Dorothy has never removed it.
Rather than modernising the house, which was given a Grade II listing in 1970, she set about restoring it to how it would have looked in its Arts and Crafts heyday.
'I scoured all the furniture shops in the area for items to recreate the 1890s look,' she remembers. As a result, walking into the house now, more than 40 years since Dorothy arrived, is like entering a time warp. There is no central heating and any potential buyer, while admiring the historic interiors, would probably be keen to bring it up to date.
While Dorothy was keen to reverse time inside No?135, she says that outside, things have improved since 1971, despite encroaching urbanisation. 'This area was a very different place back then,' she says. 'There were still bomb sites with rubble strewn around and car parks where houses once stood.'
Despite the grim environment, the house provided exactly what she wanted a seat in a buzzing artistic community.
'I remember Margot Fonteyn lived at the other end of the terrace and I had wonderful parties in the house with all the top art agents of the day,' says Dorothy, who has bequeathed her collections of Chinese ceramics of the Tang and Song dynasties and Old Master drawings to the Chicago Institute of Art.
Dorothy continues to be an active player on the arts scene but, with other properties in Chicago and Boston, she no longer needs her home in London.
Marsh & Parsons, 020 7605 7760, marshandparsons.co.uk