Maestro of modernism: a look at Erno Goldfinger's North London lair...

The Man:
Erno Goldfinger (1902-1987) was an architect synonymous with the most brutal of London's Brutalist tower blocks, and for inadvertantly giving his name to a James Bond novel and villain.

To park the last point first - Erno Goldfinger married Ursula Blackwell - heiress to the Crosse & Blackwell soup and pickle empire - and Ian Fleming heard the name during a round of golf with Ursula's cousin. When Goldfinger was published in 1959 the real Goldfinger (6'2" and donineering) spoke to his lawyers, asserting that the fictional namesake (5' and maniacal) was bringing his name into disrepute.

Fleming parried with the suggestion that he'd change the title to 'Goldprick' instead, but in the end, Erno Goldfinger settled for an 'all characters in this book are fictional' disclaimer, legal costs and somehwat bizarrely, six gratis copies of the novel.  

By all accounts, Hungarian born Erno Goldfinger was a humourless man who was prone to impatient anger, especially with employees and associates. He progressed through the French Ecole Nationale, befriended notable architects like Le Corbusier, and then move to London with his wife.

The spiral staircase leading from the entrance to the living room. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Apart from his Hampstead flat, Goldfinger's London legacy is dominated by the Brutalist towers that he built to help solve the acute post war housing shortage - the 18-floor Alexander Fleming House at the Elephant and Castle, the 27-floor Balfron Tower in Poplar, and the 31-floor Trellick Tower in Ladbroke Grove are the most famous/infamous.

The towers proved immensley controversial and Goldfinger himself was moved to live in a top floor flat at Balfron Tower for two months in 1967 - just months after the explosion at the Ronan Point tower block. 

The excellent guided tours last about an hour and are booked on the day. Photo My Bathroom Wall

He held cocktail parties for other residents, which he was known to refer to as ' my tenants', to harvest their take on the tower's liveability. Imagining this dour urbane Magyar quaffing nibbles and booze with the tower's original East Ender inhabitants, it's hard not to recall J.G Ballard's main character (beside the building itself that is) of Anthony Royal, in his 1975 novel 'High Rise'. In the book, Ballard's fictional architect lives on the top floor of the doomed ivory tower, powerless to hold back the ensuing chaos. 

The concave fireplace in the lounge. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The controvery continues to this day at the Balfron Tower in London's East End district of Poplar. The National Trust - in conjunction with Bow Arts - opened flat 130 to the public for two weeks in October 2014, and kitted it out in period decor. This was possible because the block has been emptied of its social housing residents. They were promised they would return, but they never did. Instead, surprise surprise, the block is now being remodelled as luxury flats - the original occupants and their lack of riches deemed to be surplus to requirements presumably.

The National Trust and Bow Arts used perky period decor in their 2014 project

The House:
The couple set up home in leafy Hampstead, in an apartment designed by Erno and completed in 1939. 1-3 Willow Road is a relatively modest four story Goldfinger building that houses three apartments - the central one was the home of Goldfinger and his wife Ursula, and children, while the smaller properties - one on either side - are private residences the sale of which was used to fund the development with.

Main settee and art enselmble in a wooden showcase. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It's possible to think of the National Trust - which now owns the Goldfinger flat - as the preserve only of large stately home style piles. But this intimate and wonderfully decorated home is a magnificent glimpse into the mind and lifestyle of of of the world's most famous modernist architects.

Willow Close defies its age and is a fascinating peek into the mind and lifestyle of this most controversial of architects. The view is pleasant and the aspect peaceful, but yet there is something rather blanched and cold about the interiors - a genius for functionality is at play indoors to be sure, but with so much wood and muted artworks, the effect is ever so slightly chilling.

The study area, with raised wooden platform leading to the lounge. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The locale: the property is on a small sidestreet in the very well-to-do north London village of Hampstead, and overlooking Hamspead Heath.

Hampstead gives the lie to London not being entirely flat. It's wealthy tangle of streets wind up toward the top of Hampsted Heath. The area has some lovely places to eat and some interesting boutiques, and is a delightful place to head for a stroll.

Nearby and directly across the Heath is the similarly affluent and interesting hilltop village suburb of Highgate, famous for the spooky and historic Highgate Cemetery, and Waterlow Park. In between them lies Kenwood House, a grand 17th century stately home with ancient woodland and large scale sculptures in the grounds.

After the house tour, I headed straight for Sunday Lunch and a pint at the decidedly cosy King William IV.



Willow Road, Hampstead, faces Hampstead Heath and is a 5-minute walk from Hampsted Heath Overground station, and a 10-minute walk from Hampsted Tube Staion on the Nothern Line. Highgate is also on the Northern Line, though on a different branch.

35 It is run by the National Trust, which offeres guided tours at 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm; and self guided viewing from 3-5pm. It costs £7.20pp to visit, and tickets can't be booked in adavance, but only from the entrace of the property on the day: see National Trust Willow Road. Other good pubs nearby include the Freemasons Arms, the Holly Bush, The Wells and The Spaniards Inn. See Hampsted Village for a taster.