Heritage Homes Open House

Restoration of two of London’s oldest homes is complete and this weekend the doors (and cupboards) are open in exchange for a $15 dollar donation to the Unity Project for Relief of Homelessness, London.  I went yesterday and enjoyed absorbing some of this city’s history. 

Bishop’s Palace and Raleigh House are the two spectacular homes along the Thames River that have been turned into luxury condos.  Both buildings benefited from having previous owners who maintained the original 1870ish structures (albeit adding on to one, in 1940) and ignoring fads of the day that would otherwise have prompted them to overlay beautiful hardwood with heavy carpet or rip out ornate embellishments.  The renovators found appropriate substitutes where some light fixtures needed replacing and they did it all locally. And they added kitchens where necessary with only top-of-the-line materials leaving a fabulous mix of traditional and contemporary.  They had to be very careful because both properties are designated “heritage” and that means lots of fussy eyes on any changes.   The condo owners stepped out for the day and let hundreds of us ooh and aah at their homes, minding the velvet ropes.

The Bishop’s Palace was just that – home to the Catholic Bishops.   There are several original pieces throughout the home that nod to its origin.

1 metre high statue of Mary with cherubs at her feet

These statues greet you at various points through the very large house.

statue of a Bishop in a golden tunic and blue overcoat

Original woodwork was kept in perfect condition by owners over the years.   This piece now tops the wall over a toilet in a newly built powder room.

thick white wood in an inverted u shape with carved, curled ends

The baseboards are more than a foot high and help make the entryways look grand.

white baseboard meets doorway and each molding is about a foot high or wide

The second building. Raleigh House, still has two units for sale.  The units are a little awkwardly laid out, actually.  You enter one and your next step is the bottom of a high set of stairs with enough room on one side to kick off your shoes.  They removed the attic to create vaulted ceilings but there’s only enough room for someone of my height (5′ 5″) to walk upright on the upper floor.

However, despite a couple of complaints about the layout we’re still talking about some pretty beautiful spaces. The gardens are spectacular but we’ll get to those.  Once inside, it was worth looking up.  In one unit – and keep in mind a unit is the size of a regular home – the ceilings were slats of wood that didn’t need any work at all. (That photo didn’t turn out.)  This decorative touch is also original.

extremely ornate carving on a ceiling, diamond shaped with fleurs de lis

Original fireplaces are still in use, although gas has been installed in them.

a living room with a large, white fireplace and an original mirrored cupboard above it

The floor was buffed up but it’s original too and needed very little repair.  I guess when you have Bishops in a home they don’t exactly act like frat boys.  Which reminds me, Raleigh House was a fraternity for decades but those guys must have been the upper crust because they took care of the place.   Heritage meets modern conveniences in the kitchens. 

kitchen with granite topped island and stainless steel appliances

The gardens are for lingering in.  Private, lush and beautiful.  One of the available condos has a huge balcony that overlooks its garden and I said to the volunteer, “wow, imagine having your morning coffee out here”.  She said, “Oh no, this is the evening balcony.  The breakfast balcony is on the other side of the house.”  Of course.  How silly of me.

long view of a lush lawn with part of a huge fountain in the foreground

Feel like a stroll?  This atmosphere would calm the most jangly nerves.

stone pathway leading to another fountain surrounded by leafy plants

And finally, the view from Raleigh House back to the Bishop’s Palace. 

flagstone walkway with a large, bronze lion statue on either side at midway point

Gorgeous.  There’s so much more – furnishings, a covered patio, original furniture like the massive 10 foot high kitchen pantry – but if you live in the area, I’d urge you to go and see for yourself and help a worthy cause.  They’re good people at Unity Project and they’re also pretty darn good at Blackfriars Estate to host this fundraiser and many others.  And who knows, maybe someone with 3/4 of a million to spare will snap up one of those empty units in the process.