House and studio, 1975-6 with 1983 addition. Designed by Georgie Wolton for herself and her family.
Reasons for Designation
34 Belsize Lane, 1975-6, designed by Georgie Wolton, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a meticulously conceived studio house which creatively integrates into its sensitive urban setting;
* for its ranging, axial plan, articulating the garden spaces around the volume of building as well as the living and working spaces within it;
* for its interior, characterised by a subtle handling of spatial proportion and natural light, with full-height sliding doors and window shutters controlling the flow of space and views through the site;
* for its bespoke joinery, and straightforward palette of materials and fittings which contribute to the elegant, understated quality of the building.
* as the work of Georgie Wolton, a little-known but talented woman architect working in independent practice in the post-war period; the building, designed for herself, captures many of the ideas which influenced her practice as well as her skill as a designer.
34 Belsize Lane was built in 1975-6 to designs by the architect and landscape designer Georgie Wolton for herself and her family.
Wolton and her husband David bought the empty plot on Belsize Lane in 1975. It had been part of the garden of 16 Lyndhurst Gardens behind and already had outline permission for a development of three houses. For the Woltons, however, it was to be the site of just one. Wolton described the house as the ‘last of the English follies’ because of its very low site density given its proximity to central London.
Wolton’s self-imposed brief was for a three bedroom, two bathroom house with a studio from which she could work. As well as wanting to bring natural light into the principal spaces and to create a strong relationship between inside and outside, Wolton needed plenty of wall space to display her collection of Turkish kelim rugs. Part of the solution was the use of rooflights, employed to most dramatic effect in the contiguous entrance hall and bedroom wing. This top-lit space was inspired by the gallery at Creek Vean, Feock, Cornwall, (1964-67, listed at Grade II*). Creek Vean was an early work of the practice Team 4, of which Wolton had been a founding partner.
Wolton’s design for 34 Belsize Lane is structurally simple, employing single-storey cavity brick walls, all below 2.4m high and the house is planned on a 5m wide bay with the roof spanning between the external walls. The plan is expansive and largely sequential, with rooms arranged in three main ranges in a Z-like plan and circulation space is kept to a minimum. Large, sliding timber shutters enclose the rooms and provide added insulation at night. The joinery was built to Wolton’s designs by two Architectural Association students.
Georgina Wolton (née Cheesman), 1934-2021, attended Epsom School of Art before studying architecture at the Architectural Association (AA), London between 1955 and 1960. She married publisher David Wolton in 1962 and had her daughter, Suke, that same year.
In 1963, after a brief stint working for Middlesex County Council, she joined with Richard Rogers, a former boyfriend whom she had met whilst studying at Epsom, Su Rogers, Norman Foster and Wendy Cheesman (later Foster), Wolton’s younger sister, to form Team 4. It was Wolton who allowed the practice to function, being the only member of the group who was at that time a fully qualified architect. She moved on very swiftly however, partnering for a short time with Adrian Gale, formerly of Mies van der Rohe’s studio, before spending the rest of her career as a sole practitioner. Her architectural oeuvre is small, spread across the 1960s, 1970s and into the early 1980s and includes only three entirely new buildings. Her focus moved increasingly to landscape design and she committed most of her working life to this field.
Wolton had a long-standing interest in what she termed ‘the working house’, houses designed to function as domestic and work spaces; her AA thesis was on the late C19 studio houses of the group of artists known as the Holland Park Circle. Two of her three key buildings were designed as working houses: Cliff Road studios, Camden, phases I (1969) and II (1971-2) and 34 Belsize Lane. She was also interested in the idea of ambiguous spaces, those with an abstract rather than functional purpose, and those which were neither inside nor outside. This is explored in the Belsize Lane house through its use of conservatory-like antechambers, illustrating the concept of what Wolton termed ‘pause’ spaces separating the living and working parts of the house.
Wolton commented that her interest in English designed landscapes of the C17 and C18 informed her approach to both architecture and landscape (Lorenz, p138). She spoke of the transition from axial layouts and geometric parterres to episodic, serpentine layouts. 34 Belsize Lane appears to reference these ideas. The ranging plan is formed of articulated wings which traverse the site, breaking it down into a series of outdoor spaces, framed by low, rectilinear elevations. The plan defines the quality of the spaces around the volume of the house as much as those contained within it. The play between interior and exterior, positive and negative space, is further explored by the use of glazing to create axial vistas directly through the building from one garden space to another.
Wolton’s architectural work was firmly rooted in modernism but each of her buildings takes a distinct approach to materials. Fieldhouse, East Horsley, 1968 (demolished), was built as a weekend house for herself and her family. A Cor-ten steel frame and glass pavilion, it was one of several of houses designed by British architects in the 1960s and 70s which were heavily influenced by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, Illinois, USA (1945-51). Fieldhouse appears to have remained unpublished until the early 1970s so despite it being a contemporary of John Winter’s Cor-Ten-clad 81 Swain’s Lane, London, 1967-69 (listed Grade II*), it is the latter which has often been credited as the first domestic use of Cor-Ten in the UK. The precise geometries and white-rendered elevations of Wolton’s Cliff Road studios, her best-known work, drew admiration in architectural circles for its reference to early European modernism and Parisian studio houses of the 1920s. 34 Belsize Lane was her last completely new building, and this has a discrete contextual presence, showcasing traditional, reclaimed, materials alongside industrialised components.
As a landscape designer Wolton worked for private, public and commercial clients. Projects included a scheme at Dartington Hall, Devon (registered on the National Heritage List for England at Grade II*) and gardens for Lord Hoffman in London and Gloucestershire. She designed a private garden for the property developer Stuart Lipton and collaborated with the architect Rick Mather for Keble College, Oxford and the University of East Anglia. One her most significant and long-standing collaborations was with Richard Rogers. She designed a scheme for 22 Parkside, Wimbledon (1968-70, listed Grade II*), a house designed by Rogers for his parents. She also undertook the landscaping for three phases of development at Thames Wharf, Hammersmith by Richard Rogers Partnership, including a planting scheme for The River Café (1988).
House 1975-6 with 1983 addition. Designed by Georgie Wolton for herself and her family.
MATERIALS: reclaimed mixed yellow and red brick; glazing held in aluminium frames; felted roof.
PLAN: the house has no street frontage but stands behind a high wall on an irregular trapezoid plot on an obtuse corner opposite where Belsize Lane meets Ornan Road.
It has a single storey with a flat roof. The original accommodation is housed within a Z-plan comprising a north/south range with entrance hall, kitchen, and living area; a bedroom wing to the north running westward; and a studio room, reached via a conservatory-like antechamber to the south running eastward. A covered entrance path and garage to the north of the plot connect the east side of the house with the boundary wall, opening onto Belsize Lane.
In the early 1980s the north/south range was extended southwards by Wolton to add a second studio/office, reached through a second conservatory antechamber.
The footprint of the house in relation to the boundary wall divides the site into three discrete courtyard gardens.
EXTERIOR: the building is approached through a perforated steel gate in the boundary wall which screens it from Belsize Lane. The path is laid in brown brick paviours and forms the northern edge of a brick-paved courtyard garden. The path is sheltered by a glazed canopy which projects from the blind side wall of the garage and is supported on steel I beams. The building is entered through a wide, full-height flush-panel timber door.
The elevations principally comprise panels of brick laid in stretcher bond with raked joints, interspersed with full-height glazed openings of various width, opening onto paved terraces through hinged or sliding doors with louvred transom lights. The wall plate is an exposed steel I beam. Triangular prism roof lights held in aluminium frames emerge above the roof line, lighting the two conservatory spaces.
INTERIOR: the interior is characterised by a limited palette of natural materials set against the flat white planes of plastered walls and ceilings. Fitted joinery is principally of thick, maple veneered plywood; doors are a mixture of side-hung, folding and sliding, set in full-height openings. Circulation spaces are floored in Spanish pink-buff clay tiles.
The front door opens into a generous entrance hall which extends into the bedroom wing. This continuous hallway space is enclosed to one side by the long north end wall of the house and is top-lit to architectural effect: the ceiling is cut back from the wall face to accommodate a full-length angled roof light. At the far end of the space the master bedroom is reached through folding doors which open to the full proportions of the hallway. The bedrooms have original fitted ply storage units in various configurations.
To the south of the entrance hall the kitchen and open-plan living area is reached through sliding doors. The galley kitchen is fitted with plywood units, mainly in the form of drawers, Wolton’s preference over hinged cupboards. The living area is divided into a dining and sitting area by a free-standing fireplace, the raised hearth facing south towards the sitting area. Large, full-height sliding shutters screen French windows which overlook the courtyard gardens to either side of the room.
The conservatories act as glazed links, or antechambers, between the main house and the studio and office spaces to the east and south. Within these conservatories the walls enclosing the main house are of exposed brick, matching the exterior elevations, and the adjacent walls are entirely glazed with sliding doors opening out onto the courtyard gardens to either side. Both spaces are top-lit by triangular prism skylights.
The conservatory to the east is original to the house. It has a larger skylight, carried on exposed steel I beams and directly overlooks the lower level studio room; the original tubular balustrade between the two spaces has been replaced with plywood planters. The stair down to the studio was replaced when the floor level was raised slightly. The studio is lit by a canted clerestory window at the far end.
The conservatory to the south is part of the 1980s extension but is very similar in character. It gives access to a small, top-lit utility room in the footprint of the original house, and to the later office from which it is partitioned by a glazed timber screen.
Door handles are U-shaped, in brushed stainless steel and may be from the range designed by Knud Holscher for the Danish brand ‘d line’; taps and spouts have various finishes and appear to be from the range designed by Arne Jacobsen for VOLA.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the site is entered through a high wall bounding Belsize Lane. It is of red and yellow stock bricks over a plinth of brick burr (fused and misshapen kiln waste).