A somewhat shabby looking terraced house on a busy road in Wandsworth conceals an artistic marvel, a whole house filled with hand-carved wooden decoration.

This is 575 Wandsworth Road, an otherwise unremarkable Georgian era terraced house that was bought in 1981 by a Kenyan-born writer who almost by accident ended up turning it into a house so important that it’s been preserved for future generations.

The owner, Khadambi Asalache was born in Kenya in 1935, learning Shakespeare while herding cattle and later was able to go to university in Nairobi. Securing a scholarship, he travelled to Europe to study art and architecture. He settled in London in the 1960s as a writer and poet, and today his writings, while largely forgotten in the UK are still lauded in Kenya as early works in English by Kenyan born people. He later took up a job as a civil servant in the Treasury, and while house hunting for a convenient commute, bought a run-down house on the Wandsworth Road close to the 77 bus to Waterloo.

It had been squatted in for years, and apparently, before that the owners had kept a small farmyard in the very small back garden, even having to walk a horse through the house to get it in and out for exercise.

Asalache moved in, and while trying to deal with damp problems in the basement decided to clad the wall with some well seasoned floorboards he picked up from a local house being renovated.

Plain wood is plain, so he decorated it.

And then more, and more, and more – until the entire house was filled with his wood panels and carving.

The house was gifted to the National Trust when Asalache died in 2006, and is now open for small tours to have a look inside. The tours need to be small, because it’s a small house and also very crowded with decoration, that’s not just all over the walls and ceilings, but even on the floor, so they limit the number of people who can visit each year to help preserve it.

So, wandering over to Wandsworth Road, and to a very ordinary looking house, and if it wasn’t for the small National Trust sign hanging on the door, you’d never guess that there’s anything special here.

You go in via the basement now, not the front entrance, for reasons that become clear later on. Remove shoes, put on socks, and put away the camera.

The basement looks pretty richly decorated, with wooden fretwork everywhere, and a deliberate lack of symmetry that makes you keep looking at things and thinking they’re not quite right. But that’s the appeal, it’s so richly decorated that your eye is constantly roaming around the room.

But, it’s upstairs that’s jaw-dropping.

The staircase is utterly amazing to see, with wooden carvings lining all the walls, offering a three-dimensional wallpaper to delight the eyes. It’s best not to look too closely, not because the carving is left rough and unpolished, but mainly because the spaces work so very much better when you stand back and just take in the whole vision of what one man created here.

The bedroom, kept in the dark to conserve the paintwork on the walls feels like an elevated tent, with rich drapes around the sides, and incongruously, a modern telephone on the desk sticks out out like a proverbial sore thumb.

Do stop in the bedroom and look at the staircase, with the doorway framing the view. It’s beautiful, and how lovely to wake up to that sight each morning.

So much was created here, and what’s even more remarkable is that all the carving work was done by hand, using just a hand drill and a hand saw.

Thirty years of love have filled a home with something utterly magical.

Tours of 575 Wandsworth Road take place twice a week on Thursdays and Fridays. Entry is £10 for adults, £5 for children 5-17, or free for National Trust members.

Tours need to be booked in advance from here.

The house is a short walk from Wandsworth Road station on the London Overground, or you can follow in Khadambi Asalache’s footsteps, by catching the 77 bus from Waterloo.

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4 comments
  1. Alan says:

    Would a picture of inside hurt?

  2. Sally says:

    I’m very much enjoying ianVisits. I am a Londoner but left when I got married 53 years ago. I still consider myself a Londoner.
    The one I looked at yesterday, Battersea power station, was fascinating.
    Thank you

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