575 Wandsworth Road

On Sunday I was taken to see 575 Wandsworth Road former home of Khadambi Asalache.

The exterior of the property is unassuming. I’ve passed it any number of times without even noticing the National Trust sign hung outside.

For a period of twenty years from 1986 through until his death in 2006, the Kenyan born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics, and British civil servant, decorated every room in the house with hand cut fretwork.

The endeavour had a relatively unassuming Genesis. Attempting to disguise persistent damp in the basement dining room, he fixed pine floorboards he found in a skip to the wall. He went on to embellish this and every room in the house with fretwork patterns hand carved from more reclaimed wood.

The place is astonishing and like nothing I have seen before. It is not only a reflection of Mr Asalache’s own Kenyan heritage but also his extensive travels. The walls and ceilings are covered with rough hewn fretwork patterns, broken up with the crude lines, shapes and motifs of equally naive murals. To describe his style as crude or naive is in no way meant to detract from the level of creative sophistication on show. It is simply meant to discribe the rustic quality of the work. You can see the saw marks in the wood. Where misaligned junctions and unevenness are celebrated a contemporary interior might reject as faulty.

It’s an example of someone customising their living space with such idiosyncratic vigour that is hard for most of us to comprehend. I recommend you take the time to pay the house a visit.

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