PLACE OF INTEREST/EXHIBITION
Architect Sir John Soane’s London residence in Lincoln’s Inn Fields has long been established as a notable city landmark, a museum devoted to its owner’s extensive collection of antiquities and paintings. Unbeknownst to me, he also owned and partially rebuilt (circa 1800-04) a property in then-rural Ealing (yes, Ealing at one time was considered countryside!) for purposes of family retreat and the entertainment of clients and influential friends, ably staging elaborate dinners and garden parties for their delight. Soane sold the house in 1810, and through the rest of the century it changed hands several times, until the council acquired the land at the turn of the 20th century. In 1939, in the space formerly occupied by Soane’s kitchen block, a local lending library was established, operating until the mid 1980’s. Now, following a three-year closure and a £12 investment, the property has been painstakingly restored to its original design (including a comprehensive rebuild of a conservatory demolished in 1901, and a careful reinstatement of paint and wallpaper schemes), as well as an overhaul of what was the library into a full-service gallery space, which will host three exhibitions per year, a mix of artists, designers and architects who will present work centred around and elaborating upon Soane’s own conceptual philosophies and preoccupations. Its inaugural show is devoted to Anish Kapoor, whose felicitous investigations into the distorted play of concave mirrors, the funhouse upheavals of form and space, comment on Soane’s own use of mirrors within his property to both elongate, enlarge, heighten, deepen and collapse both space and light. Although classical in exterior, Soane’s house is full of modernist touches, reveals a warm use of illumination and natural light, and illustrates a fine sensibility for the properties of wood and its genial effects upon the spirit. Even the grandest rooms of the home retain a human scale, feeling cosy rather than chilly and intimidating-a true civility. Outside the manor are the green sprawling grounds of Walpole Park, a most magnificent back garden indeed. The refurbishment includes both a cafe and proper restaurant.
While in Ealing, I highly recommend a walk about the area, the streets just off the main thoroughfare from Ealing Broadway Station offering a relaxed village feel. A plethora of attractive independent cafes and restaurants could keep you busy for days, more than inspiring a return visit. I had a lovely homemade soup from Tiramisu, a charming corner restaurant run by a friendly Italian couple, and sampled the flavoursome snacks from the tiny (walk-in only) Japanese bakery Tetote Factory, sweet/savoury baked buns bursting with inspired ingredients (I opted for the improbable potato salad). The Acton/Ealing area is home to a sizeable Asian population, thus a preponderance of business and retail devoted to Japanese goods.
The Electric Coffee Company is a sophisticated haven in the heave just off the station, and my list is considerable for the future, as I passed by many an appetising spot but no room left in my belly-Burnt Norton, Cafe Zee, Maryam’s Kitchen (cute, cosy Persian), Santa Maria for a traditional Neapolitan pizza. Even the High Street was an intriguing mix of franchise and pop-up alternative (including a chic hippie shop).
A walk slightly afield brought me to the doorstep of the Pitshanger Bakery, the window of which was offering tantalising freshly baked pastries, and just down the road on Northfield Avenue is home to London’s oldest allotments, dating back to 1832, much reduced from their original twenty acre dimensions, but still quite impressive, now officially recognised as an asset of community value.
All these “pastoral”sights exist just at the end of the District Line, but you feel truly far from London-a quick and cheap day out. Promenade already. Anish Kapoor runs through 18 August. Please see my Instagram for video footage of the exhibition.