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Open House Festival 2023: the best private homes to peek inside at the festival in September

Gulabi House (Ivan Jones)
Gulabi House (Ivan Jones)

The annual Open House London Festival is well-known for the glimpses it offers into famous buildings, from 10 Downing Street to the BT Tower. But the festival also gives visitors a chance to peek into ordinary homes hiding extraordinary designs.

For architecture and interiors enthusiasts, there are some real gems to be seen as private homes throw open their doors. You may even get the chance to meet the architect themselves, or the people who live there.

This year’s festival takes place from 6 to 17 September, with a full calendar of events and tours. Some buildings need to be booked in advance, while others are drop-in. Interested house-watchers should have a look at the full programme for more details.

For an idea of some of the highlights on offer, here are five of the best private homes you can poke your nose into for Open House.

Vanbrugh Park Estate (Sonny Malhotra)
Vanbrugh Park Estate (Sonny Malhotra)

1. A 1960s estate in Greenwich

You may already know the faces of some residents of the Vanbrugh Park Estate. That’s because in May, they launched a campaign opposing a directive from Greenwich Council to remove their front gardens, with occupants reporting that they even had their pot plants and garden gnomes confiscated.

That battle looks to have simmered down, at least for now, but if you want to get a look at the famous front gardens as well as a peek inside some of the houses and flats, now’s your chance. Built on the spot where suffragette Emily Davison was born, the estate was a project by Barbican designers Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Today, it is occupied by a mix of owners and tenants, with some of the original residents and their descendants still around.

For Open House this year, one flat currently being refurbished by self-builder Laura Lewis-Davies will be open to view on 9 September. On the following Saturday, several abodes will be open for tours, and there should also be some food and music.

  • 18 Combe Avenue, Vanbrugh Park Estate, SE3 7PY; Drop-in Saturday 9 September 11am-4pm and Saturday 16 September 11am-6pm

Gulabi House (Ivan Jones)
Gulabi House (Ivan Jones)

2. An Indian modernist extension in Tottenham

In a quiet row of Edwardian terraced houses, one young family has created a multi-purpose extension, making clever use of the small space. At Gulabi House, a playroom and study area steps down into the kitchen-diner, where visitors can take a seat on the blockwork bench and enjoy light coming in from the skylight above. The triptych is finished off by the garden, which is treated as an extra room.

Inspired by Indian modernism, the project combines unusual materials. The architects at Artefact Studio like to use everyday materials in unexpected ways, and it shows in the exposed pink blockwork, dark blue quarry tiles and oak beams, which together create a fresh and warm space.

  • 4 Lydford Road, N15 5PX; Drop-in Saturday 16 September 1pm-5.30pm

Colour Casing in Dulwich (Megan Taylor Photography)
Colour Casing in Dulwich (Megan Taylor Photography)

3. Pencil-box colours in Dulwich

Bright primary and secondary colours provide a point of difference between rooms in the development known as Colour Casing.

Built with the intention of allowing the owners to remain in the area without the need to upgrade to a more expensive property, the additional space turn the footprint of a one-bedroom flat into a family-friendly space. The wrap-around extension may be small, but its angles and careful colour-coding give the impression of moving between distinct spaces.

  • 108 Dunstans Road, SE22 0HE; Drop-in open house Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September 10am-4pm

Belsize Court Garages in Belsize Park (Sanya Polescuk Architects)
Belsize Court Garages in Belsize Park (Sanya Polescuk Architects)

4. A coachman’s quarters in Belsize Village

The late nineteenth-century coachman’s living quarters at 8a Belsize Court Garages were converted into a mixed-use development back in 2012.

A light-filled maisonette occupies one part of the property, while the former stable serves as the offices for Sanya Polescuk Architects, the studio behind the retrofit.

As well as returning the building to its original live-and-work function, the project also introduced several energy-saving adjustments. You can find out more by coming along to meet the architects during Open House.

  • 8a Belsize Court Garages, NW3 5AJ; Drop-in tours and architects’ talks Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 September 10.30am-1.30pm

Rufford Mews Apartment in King’s Cross (Mike McMahon Studio)
Rufford Mews Apartment in King’s Cross (Mike McMahon Studio)

5. Custom interiors in King’s Cross

A treat for design and interiors aficionados, the Rufford Mews Apartment has been designed by Mike McMahon Studio to be an urban sanctuary. The majority of the furniture and cabinetry was made by the studio over the course of a number of years. That includes custom lighting, tables, chairs, sofas, beds and cabinetry all made by the owners.

Green-fingered Londoners will also find inspiration on the ‘jungelette’ balconies, that demonstrate the possibilities of city garden spaces. Exotic plants and even a pond can be found in this little patch of urban wilderness.

  • Unit 9, Rufford Mews, N1 0AD; Open days with architect-led tours, Saturday 16 September 11am-5pm and Sunday 17 September 12pm-4pm