20 September 2017

Open House

At Open House weekend, once a year, all sorts of interesting places open their doors to the public. This year, Walthamstow's offerings included a hipster popup bar and a trendy house extension. It has to be said, there were not many venues locally apart from places that you can just walk into anyway, like the William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum, but a little can go a long way. Nothing to compete with getting to visit the revolving restaurant at the top of the BT Tower (you have to apply on a lottery basis and I finally got lucky this time) but interesting enough.

We visited Sideshow first, the temporary bar space on one of the demolition sites next to Blackhorse Road station, a spin-off from Blackhorse Workshop that is only there until the end of the year. Although it is open for coffee in the mornings and as a bar a couple of nights a week, I hadn't seen it before, and the architects were there to explain about the place. It's colourful, a series of plywood walls painted in bright primary colours, with zigzag tops to remind us of the factories that have been demolished all over the area. The bar has a roof but most of the space is open to the sky. There are tables and benches, various bits of art to look at, a metal fence to lock your bike to. The colour is uplifting, as is the indoor-outdoor feeling on a fairly cold morning. The star turn though, is the Heath Robinson-ish ball race contraption. Turn a huge rubber tyre and steel balls slowly rise way above your head, propelled by a very long archimedes screw (like a wood screw but much bigger) until they reach the tipping point. From there they race round a complicated array of tubes overhead, making a lot of noise but, since the tubes are mostly opaque metal, it's impossible to work out where they are - you can only guess from the sound, and look out for them hurtling through the clear plastic bits. When the balls get down to the lower levels, there are levers you can pull to let them go a bit further, until they get back to the beginning. Worth a look on a normal opening day, probably a nice place to drop in when they open in the evening. Catch it before it closes and the excavators move in.

The other venue was quite different, a private house that has had a drastic overhaul of the sort you expect to see in Islington, not in Walthamstow. Or did until recently. Originally a quirky Warner house with tiny rooms, the back of the house has been extended to make a spacious kitchen / living room with big glass doors opening out to the garden. Upstairs, a new bedroom extension juts out from the back of the house, a tall bright space internally, on the outside clad in trendy charred timber. Charred timber is literally burnt black on the outside instead of being painted. It's burnt somewhere else, before being nailed on to the outside of the building. I was sorry to see the downstairs part of the extension - although it's also black - is not charred but painted, perhaps because all that burnt wood will blacken anything that touches it. The combination of old and new does work, up to a point. You have a sense that the original rooms are very much secondary, and there is inevitably something a bit jarring about the juxtaposition of old and new. One of the original front rooms is an office, the other is really just a way through to the back. But it helps having some old furniture in the new part. A bit of inconsistency makes for a more interesting place to live, and it's certainly a cut above the standard kitchen extensions and loft extensions you see all over Walthamstow.