A somewhat shabby-looking terraced house on a busy road in Wandsworth hides an artistic marvel, an entire house filled with hand-carved wooden decoration.
This is Wandsworth Road 575, an otherwise nondescript Georgian terraced house bought in 1981 by a Kenyan-born writer who almost accidentally turned it into a home of such importance that it has been preserved for generations to come.
The owner, Khadambi Asalache, was born in Kenya in 1935, learned Shakespeare while tending livestock and later went on to university in Nairobi. On a scholarship he traveled to Europe to study art and architecture. He settled in London in the 1960s as a writer and poet, and today, although largely forgotten in the UK, his writings are still hailed in Kenya as early works in English by Kenyan natives. He later took a job as a Treasury official, and while house-hunting for an easy commute, he bought a dilapidated house on Wandsworth Road, close to the 77 bus to Waterloo.
It had been squatted for years and apparently the owners had kept a small barnyard in the very small backyard before that, even having to run a horse around the house to get it in and out for exercise.
Asalache moved in, and while he was trying to sort out the moisture problems in the basement, he decided to clad the wall with some well-seasoned floorboards bought from a local house that was being renovated.
Ordinary wood is ordinary, so he decorated it.
And then more, and more, and more—until the whole house was filled with its wood panels and carvings.
The house was donated to the National Trust when Asalache died in 2006, and is now open for small tours to look inside. The tours have to be small as it is a small house and also very busy with decoration that is not just over the walls and ceilings but even the floor so they limit the number of people who can visit each year to help preserve the.
So, walking down Wandsworth Road, and up to a very ordinary house, and if it weren’t for the little National Trust sign on the door, you’d never guess there’s anything special here.
You now enter through the basement, not through the front entrance, for reasons that will become clear later. Take off your shoes, put on socks and put the camera away.
The basement looks quite richly decorated, with wooden moldings everywhere and a deliberate lack of symmetry that makes you look and think it’s not quite right. But that’s its appeal, it’s so lavishly decorated that your eye constantly wanders across the room.
But upstairs it’s overwhelming.
The staircase is absolutely stunning to look at, with carvings along all the walls and a three-dimensional wallpaper to delight the eyes. It’s best not to look too closely, not because the carving has been left rough and unpolished, but mostly because the spaces work so much better when you step back and just take in the whole vision of what one man has created here .
Kept in darkness to preserve the paintwork on the walls, the bedroom feels like a raised tent, with rich curtains down the sides, and incongruously a modern telephone on the desk sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb.
Stop in the bedroom and face the stairs, with the doorway framing the view. It’s beautiful, and how wonderful to wake up to that face every morning.
So much has been made here, and what is even more remarkable is that all the carving was done by hand, using only a hand drill and a handsaw.
Thirty years of love has filled a house with something utterly magical.
Tours of 575 Wandsworth Road take place twice a week on Thursdays and Fridays. Admission is £10 for adults, £5 for children aged 5-17, or free for National Trust members.
Tours must be booked in advance from here†
The house is a short walk from Wandsworth Road station on the London Overground, or you can follow in the footsteps of Khadambi Asalache by taking the 77 bus from Waterloo.