Goldfinger's modernist inspiration secures place in history: An unlovely London townhouse has been saved for the nation. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
A LONDON townhouse which looks like a 1960s council development has been acquired by the National Trust. In fact, it is a gem of the modern movement, built in 1938-39, long before modernism became municipal.

The house, 2 Willow Road, Hampstead, designed by Erno Goldfinger for himself and his wife in 1937, uses ideas revolutionary at the time that have influenced more than two generations of architects and home designers. It has been accepted by the Treasury in settlement of inheritance tax and transferred to the National Trust.

Built from concrete faced with brick, it is the first such modern movement concrete building to come into the trust's ownership.

The house is arranged round a spiral staircase with three dayrooms, a living room, studio and dining room which can be thrown together as one large room by moving partitions. The three children's rooms on the top floor can also be made into one.

The living room is panelled with oak veneer plywood, a relatively new material at the time. At one end is a display frame containing several prints by artist friends, arranged so that the pictures taken together present one large abstract composition. At the other end is a raised fireplace set in a convex plaster chimney breast designed to throw out the heat over a larger area.

The studio and dining room space are lit by a double row of windows, one immediately above the other, arranged so that light is reflected back through the upper windows on to the ceiling and down into the room, giving daylight illumination from above.

Ed Diestelkamp, historic buildings executive of the National Trust, said: 'The style is now generally associated with housing estates and university dormitories, but it presents the ideas of the modern movement in a pure form and shows the great hopes architects had in the 1930s for the future of modernism. It is a really optimistic statement.'

Erno Goldfinger and his wife, Ursula, bought important paintings and sculpture directly from artists who were their friends. Their collection includes works by Max Ernst, Amdee Ozenfant, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp and Robert Delaunay. The family have agreed to lend most of their collection to the National Trust for 80 years, providing one of the few places where art from the modern movement can be seen in a domestic context.

Work will now begin to prepare the house for public opening in April 1996.

John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, yesterday declared war on bad architecture and poor urban planning with the launch of a consultation document, Quality in Town and Country. The paper is aimed at making quality the watchword of all new building, from starter homes to shops.

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