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North House and Gayfere House, Westminster

Description: North House and Gayfere House

Grade: II
Date Listed: 14 January 1970
English Heritage Building ID: 209896

OS Grid Reference: TQ3008279192
OS Grid Coordinates: 530082, 179192
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4967, -0.1275

Location: Gayfere Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3 SW1P 3HN

Locality: Westminster
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: SW1P 3HN

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Listing Text

101/54 SWl
North House and Gayfere
14.1.70 House (including Nos 22
and 23 Gayfere Street)
(formerly listed under
Lord North Street and
Gayfere Street)

An L-plan group of four terraced town houses of 1929-32 by Oliver Hill in brick with Portland stone detailing. North and Gayfere Houses were converted to office use 1949-50,and underwent further works in the 1970s and 1980s. 22-3 Gayfere Street were refurbished as interlinked offices in 1999.

EXTERIOR: The four houses comprise North House, on the corner of Great Peter Street and Lord North Street, and the adjoining Gayfere House, on the corner of Great Peter Street and Gayfere Street. But for some detailing, the building's front is symmetrical; however, Gayfere House occupies only the western bay, while that to the centre is fully occupied by North House. Running south from Gayfere House are Nos. 22 and 23 Gayfere Street. All are of red brick with Portland stone dressings with a tiled roof in a simplified and rather austere Queen Anne style, deliberately adopted by Hill to blend in with the surrounding Georgian and Edwardian buildings. All are of three storeys over an ashlar-clad basement; dormer windows in the mansard roof light attic accommodation, North and Gayfere Houses having one attic floor and Nos. 22 and 23 Gayfere Street two. Along with the materials, and a broad, moulded, stone string course between the ground and first floors, it is the arrangement of the windows which gives coherence to the four houses, with tall four-over-nine small paned sashes to the principal first-floor rooms, with identical but shorter four-over-six sashes to the ground floor and four-over-five sashes to the second. The superior status of North and Gayfere Houses is signified by each having three slightly projecting bays to their centres with modest pediments over. North and Gayfere Houses have adjoining central entrances on Great Peter Street framed by tall semi-circular arches. That to the left frames the doorway to North House while that to the right originally opened (now enclosed) to a passage (off which was the entrance to Gayfere House, now blocked off) giving access to a common rear space with a contemporary car garage (now divided up as office space) with pedimented facade, originally shared by the two houses and with a turntable (no longer present) to the front. A four-storey brick extension of 1984 to the rear of North and Gayfere Houses which houses a lift shaft and lift lobby is not of special interest.

Nos. 22 (to the right) and 23 Gayfere Street were built as two near-identical houses, with only slight differences to their entrances - that to 23 being set back in a tall recess whereas that to 22 is flush to the fa├žade and with a stone surround - and to their basement and ground floor layouts.

While seeing considerable alteration in 1949-50 and later, when some changes were made to internal spaces and much of the opulent finishes and materials within individual rooms were lost, North House has a number of spaces and features surviving from the early 1930s. These include an arch-headed double door giving into a split-level entrance hall with a short flight of broad steps rising to the main level with an alcove in the facing wall. Rising from here is the main broad staircase of honey-coloured marble with green marble insets to the risers and decorative wrought metal (verdigris bronze, now painted black) balustrade panels. Two large engaged columns in a derivative Ionic style in Bianco del Mare marble stand alongside as a screen. Short hallway (with study to left with white-painted panelling and bolection-moulded fireplace in early C18 style) leads to the former dining room occupying the east end of the ground floor (facing Lord North Street) retaining the almost flush fire surround. Staircase with balustrade panels continues to the first floor wholly occupied by former drawing room with bolection-moulded stone fire surround in long side wall.

Gayfere House, which saw similar changes to North House in 1949-50 and later, similarly has a number of spaces and features surviving from the early 1930s. These include much of the main staircase (although the original entry flight is missing, as is that between the second and third floors) with wrought iron panels and rails (which have been painted, heightened and otherwise altered). On the ground floor sections of the floor of the former dining room survive, of travertine with a stainless steel inset around the edge. On the first floor elements of the decorative treatment of the drawing room are still in situ, notably fluted wooden pilasters (not all original; some altered at high level)around the walls and the greater part of the main doorway into the room. The most striking feature of the original room, its glass over painted silk wall coverings, does not survive.

When built 22 and 23 Gayfere Street both had a basement with kitchen and services; ground floor with dining room and study (23) or maid's sitting room (22); first floor with drawing room and library; second floor with two bedrooms and a bathroom; third floor with another bedroom and bathroom; and a further bedroom floor above. The basic plan form survives little altered, although in 1999 the two houses were knocked through and converted to provide high-quality office accommodation with a staff kitchen in the basement. The first- and second-floor rooms each have a rear wall forming a large bay window lit from the inner courtyard. Of any original fixtures only the staircases remain; these are typical of Hill's work elsewhere, with stubby, widely-spaced balusters in C17 style. The staircases have seen some alteration.

HISTORY: Construction of the houses, planned in 1929-30, was completed in 1932 with Oliver Hill supplying both the overall plan and detailed interior design. Of the two main houses fronting on to Great Peter Street, North House was built for Mr and Mrs Robert Hudson MP and Gayfere House for Mr and Mrs Wilfrid Ashley (later Lord and Lady Mount Temple).

The interiors of North and Gayfere Houses were individually designed for the two sets of clients by Hill, although with a common feel and materials which looked forward to his later work on Modernist buildings and which reflected contemporary Art Deco fashions. 'Vogue Regency' accurately characterises Hill's use of surface treatments to create illusion, luxury and glamour. Of the two, Gayfere House was the more glamorous as the client, Mrs Wilfrid Ashley, a renowned socialite, wished to pursue her ambitions as an interior decorator using modern materials to express her ideas of 'a house of today - and perhaps tomorrow.' Here marble, mirrors, stainless steel and unusual woods were employed to create a 'decorative tour de force'. North House was more conservative (albeit with a spectacular grand staircase to greet the visitor), but again Hill was in charge of every detail, including the furniture. Both interiors were covered in some detail by the contemporary architectural press.

Nos. 22 and 23 Gayfere Street, which are smaller than North and Gayfere Houses, were built as a speculative development, to be sold at auction. These never had opulent decoration, and their interiors escaped notice in the articles on the grander neighbouring properties.

Oliver Hill (1887-1968) came to prominence as a fashionable architect in the 1920s, working in neo-vernacular and neo-Georgian styles on country houses. His work on North and Gayfere Houses marked the start of a move to more modern styles, one more clearly articulated in Joldwynds, Holmbury St Mary, Surrey (1930-2; listed Grade II), one of the country's first Modernist houses. Other commissions followed in the 1930s, but very few after World War II.

North and Gayfere Houses were converted to office use by the Crown Agents in 1949-50 and further works were carried out in the 1970s. The houses were vacated by the Crown Agents in 1981 and in 1983 the freehold was sold to a private owner. Further major alterations followed in the mid 1980s. In the first years of the C21 the office interiors were stripped out.

Nos. 22 and 23 Gayfere Street were occupied by the Crown Agents 1950-81; their freehold was also sold in 1983. They were altered and refurbished in 1999 when they were laterally linked at each floor.

Country Life 13 Feb 1932, pp 176-82; 24 June 1933, pp 680-5.
Building June 1932, pp 264-7.
Studio Year Book of Decorative Art 1936, pp 70, 117.
Architecture Illustrated August 1931, pp 36-64.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION: North House, Gayfere House, and Nos. 22 and 23 Gayfere Street is designated at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

* An externally little-altered group of substantial terraced houses designed by Oliver Hill in 1929 to blend in with the surrounding Westminster townscape
* Internally, while much altered from the original splendour, some of the original features survive, such as staircases
* Group Value with adjoining listed townhouses, and its contribution to one of the capital's most distinguished areas

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.