|Detail bedroom window front - note the initials|
I was honoured to be invited to a private view the home of Khadambi Asalache at 575 Wandsworth Road, before it is officially opened to the public in early March this year.
Only six people can view the house at one time as it is a tiny Georgian terrace, two up and two down on the 77A bus route South of the river.
We were invited down to the kitchen in the basement of the house entered down narrow stairs. We all sat around a dining table in a cavern of delight. Fretwork everywhere, and the little lampshade over the table was like filligree lace casting light in such a way that the whole effect was like sitting in a shadow theatre.
I do not want to give too much away but this is where you are introduced to the house and its owner Mr Asalache. His devotion to decorating his house with recycled pine from doors and panels and then used for his epic carving hobby - 16 hours a day over a 4 day period. It is hard to believe how it all started, an attempt to cover up a damp patch! All will be revealed when you visit.
Khadambi Asalache bought the house in 1981 and was pleased with it because it was on his route to work, he was a Civil Servant at the Treasury in Whitehall. He was a man of many talents but he obviously enjoyed his time spent embellishing his home which he continued to do until 2005 when he announced it was finished.
It was his friends who encouraged him to think about leaving his fascinating home to the nation and I for one am so pleased he did.
Once you have visited the house you will have mixed feelings of your own. It is a very private affair even for the visitor. As you wander up and down and enjoy the exquisite collection of artefacts from quill pens to African carved bowls, crockery and kilims. Peep into nooks and crannies and check his shelves with his vinyl and cassettes, I spotted Ry Cooder, Aretha Franklin and Simon and Garfunkel, plus Bach and much more.
The influences are eastern and moorish - the African coral houses of Lamu, the Generaliffe of Granada, the Yali house of the Bosporus. As you become entranced by the decorative work on walls, ceilings, painted floors, corners, doors it is all about balance and harmony not symmetry - even some of the shadows will fool you! There are some areas which are three dimensional like a mini stage set, drawing the eye deep into the curves and motifs.
Many personal belongings remain like a pair of slippers. I will quote from the blog by the conservators that worked on preparing and refurbishing the house in preparation for the public "Each item is an integral part of the total work of art' (by Jess 16/06/2013).
Their careful protection of minute detail - e.g. tea cup posed on a non-matching saucer is not a mistabe but an aesthetic choice - this must be respected, and it is. Pay close attention to the lovely pieces in the kitchen.
The emphasis on the privacy of Khadambi Asalache by the guides adds to the mystery and may annoy some initially, however, there is plenty out there about the wonderful Mr Asalache that you can find beyond the walls of No 575. So just enjoy your visit in the spirit that it is presented, I personally found it a calm and meditative experience, for all the noise of the Wandsworth Road it is an interior of tranquil moving light and shadow. I wondered more about what he was thinking about during his long hours of carving on the back step? Was he putting the world to rights, I doubt it, he was most probably singing poetry in his head or solving some mathematical puzzle, or just enjoying the sheer pleasure of creating something with his hands.
A couple of things you need to know, you will have to view the house without your shoes on. Please wear socks or take some with you. By the time the property opens they are likely to have organised soft overshoes. But just in case, be prepared.
You will have to leave large bags, rucksacks etc in the waiting area. The walls are delicate and you will not be allowed to take your bags around the house with you.
Refreshments : After our tour we hot beverages and good plain food at the Savoy Cafe, 390 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 4TN. Very clean and has toilets. It is situated under the railway bridge on the left hand side of the road. Closed Sunday.