575 Wandsworth Road – London, England - Atlas Obscura

575 Wandsworth Road

What started as a way to address damp basement walls turned into a house filled with intricate hand-carved designs. 

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The 19th century terraced house located at 575 Wandsworth Road in London is a work of art. Over two decades, Khadambi Asalache, a Kenyan-born poet, novelist, math philosopher and British civil servant, renovated the house and turned it into a breathtaking structure.

Born in Kenya, Asalache studied architecture and fine art in Nairobi before immigrating to London in 1960. In 1967, he published a novel, A Calabash of Life, as well as a poetry collection, Sunset in Naivasha in 1973. He also worked for the British Treasury department. Asalache purchased the property in 1981, and began to fill the house with hand-carved embellished walls, each room highlighting his vision and artistry.

The impetus for this project was a commercial laundry next door—moisture from the laundry led to wet basement walls. Asalache thought to mask the dampness by covering it up with wood panels. Initially he added pine floorboards to the damp wall, but later extended the wood coverings into an extensive artistic project. Using reclaimed wood, Asalache used a pad saw and drill to create artistic jewel box-like interiors reminiscent of rural Kenyan, Moorish and even Ottoman designs. He carved fretwork patterns and motifs into the wood by hand and complemented the woodwork with painted decorations as well as art and books from his own personal collection.  The work was inspired by the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada as well as Zanzibar doors, Damascus interiors and even water homes in Istanbul.

After Asalache died in 2006, the house at 575 Wandsworth was acquired by the U.K. National Trust. In 2013, the property was opened to the public after years of preservation and conservation work. According to the U.K. National Trust, this place is “one man’s complex and singular work of artistic achievement.”

A tour of his house shows the place as Asalache left it, with rooms furnished with his fretwork furniture, artistically arranged functional objects like press-glass inkwells, pink and copper metalware, postcards, and his personal typewriter.

Know Before You Go

Combine a visit to the house with a short walk from or to the Clapham Common Underground station. Include a visit to historic St. Paul’s Church, just above the house. The house is accessible via Tube or the 77 bus to Westminster outside Asalache’s front door. Book tours via the very accessible National Trust webite--guided tours are usually up to 6 people. Photographs aren't allowed, and bags/coats need to be stored near the dining room before the tour. The number of visitors to the property is capped at 2000/year. Outdoor shoes are not permitted during the tour--the National Trust guides can provide you with socks for £2.00, with all proceeds going towards the care and conservation of the property.