Ernö Goldfinger – the architectural establishment's favourite villain (the inspiration for his Bond-baddy-namesake, no less) – was not just the man behind Brutalism's favourite behemoth, Trellick Tower in London's Kensington. He also had a softer side. Just look at the exhibition currently showing at Hampstead's 2 Willow Road (Goldfinger's one-time home and now a National Trust property). It features the architect's lesser-known work on Abbatt's toy shop, a Wimpole Street outlet best-known as an exemplar of 1930s Modernism, containing many a twee treat too. "It was more of a gallery built at child-height," says the curator Jane Audas. "It was full of traditional wooden toys sourced from all over the world and sharp children's furniture."
Goldfinger was meticulous in his documentation of the design, from the retention of receipts for the lamps that lit the shop's interior, to the provenance of the shop's logo, the silhouette of two children. "I am pretty sure he took his inspiration from a Père Castor children's book, Ribambelles, which I found among his belongings. It was a joy for me to get back to researching among his primary sources and unearthing connections like that," she continues.
The exhibition tells how the designer met the shop's owners, Paul and Marjorie Abbatt, in 1933, and they bonded over their desire to produce a new kind of space for kids; a departure from the Edwardian idea of a toy shop. This traditional shop was somewhere where a shop-keeper stood behind a desk and kept the customer at arm's length. The novel breed of architecture would instead, it was promised, be somewhere where children could interact fully with their toys before buying; where the parent could be confident that these new-found objects of play were suitable for their offspring's ages.
"Of course, like any exhibition, the story is as much about what wasn't included, as what was," adds Audas. "Once I'd edited down the content to visitor-sized pieces, the bulk of my research sits in a lever arch file on the shelf, labelled, 'use one day – probably not'."
For more details on the exhibition, please visit nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone 01494 755570