Once a year London lets us into its hidden treasures, the many fine buildings which we usually can only see from the outside. Open House weekend is when it happens and it’s one of my favourite times to be exploring London. Some of the buildings are accessible all year, some only for an entry fee but during Open House weekend, a huge list of buildings are there for us to enjoy and it’s all free!
Planning is key as when the guide arrives it’s a little overwhelming, listing hundreds of options and as you pound the streets you often see fellow Open House-ers clutching their green guide as they head to their next treat. I have a friend who visits every year just for this event and we aim to get a sneak peek into buildings that are not open to the general public. Here are my top 3 highlights from 2017.
- Draper’s Hall
The livery halls in the City are always on our list as they are so full of history as London’s old trades associations and guilds. The Draper’s Hall certainly has plenty of history to enjoy as the company dates back to the 13th century, but we were not expecting the extraordinary opulence of the interiors and the number of fine rooms to explore. The Drawing Room would not have been out of place in a grand palace with its deep Aubusson carpets, highly decorated and gilded ceiling and walls and fine chandelier. Dating from 1870 it is pretty much unchanged except for the addition of the fine carpet in 1925.
The Livery Hall is a huge room where formal dinners can be held and you can even hire it yourself for that very special occasion. It’s the ceiling paintings that grab your attention, dating from 1903-1910. Along the walls are painting of our Kings and Queens from William III onwards.
There are several other rooms with treasures to explore and even a set of 12 Hogarth prints entitled The Idle and Industrious Apprentice, a typical cautionary tale about the fate awaiting the idle or those lacking moral fibre.
2. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
The extraordinary surprise in this building was the hidden secret terrace. Normally reserved for the top members of the Society such as the President and board members, we were told by our excellent guide that many staff didn’t even know about the terrace let alone had the opportunity to step out on it so we felt really lucky.
Offering unparalleled views out over Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (sadly currently silent so we missed the 4pm bongs!), Parliament Square and over to the London Eye. Such a view is a rare treat and we were jealous of the President’s guests who get to enjoy all this for the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
3. Institut Francais
With our 3rd highlight, we move forward in architectural styles to an Art Deco building dating from 1930. It was modernised in 2014 and the mix of the modern and the art deco styles works wonderfully. The library is a listed item and blends beautifully the colour, the light, the furniture and the wooden floor to calm the soul and delight the eye. The entrance has a more classical look with marble friezes. The modern areas are all light and open and there is even a branch of Aubaine as their cafe!
We visited plenty more buildings over the course of the Open House weekend and it was exhausting and exhilarating and we can’t wait for next year’s event!
Entry to all the buildings is, amazingly, absolutely free! To find out more about Open House check their website: www.openhouselondon.org.uk