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Stunning surprise for Turner’s House gains it yet more architectural accolades

Butler Hegarty Architects have been commended yet again this month for their work restoring Turner’s House at the national Brick Awards which celebrates exemplary clay brick architecture.

Turner’s House, a small, grade II* listed, early C19th villa, was designed by the eminent painter, J.M.W.Turner, as a rural retreat in Twickenham. Turner’s father lived there until 1826, with Turner visiting to escape from his London life, gain inspiration from the river landscape, and visit his friend, Sir John Soane at nearby Pitzhanger.

Soon after Turner’s departure, the house was altered by the addition of upper floors to the side wings. In 2013 the house was in need of serious conservation, and Turner’s House Trust was created to save the house, resulting in its being restored and opening to the public last year to wide acclaim.

However, getting to this point was no simple task. As restoration work progressed on site, the building revealed a stunning surprise. The demolition of the upper parts of the side wings exposed the original 200-year-old brickwork as facing brick with penny-lined pointing. This is a pointing method designed to regularise the brickwork and only executed when the brickwork is intended to be seen: conclusive evidence that the stucco was applied at a later date.

The bricks uncovered were ‘plum stocks’ - multi-coloured, but predominantly a deep plum colour with a brown/yellow kiln flash. This is typical of late 18th century brickwork, and similar to brick used by Sir John Soane for numerous projects including the courtyard of his house at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It is thought that the bricks may have been supplied by Trimmers, based in Brentford, and friends of Turner.

Early C19th illustrations of Turner’s House, and Turner’s own sketches, show a precise architectural detail for the entablature frieze and triglyphs. Once the discovery was made that this was indeed a brick building, it became clear that the entablature had been cut away at a later date when the building was rendered. The remaining fragmented and damaged bricks were used as a template to skilfully recreate the triglyphs.

In a radical approach which turned it into a much more complex project than anticipated, the “creative demolition” of the later 19th century additions to the wings, and the removal of render on the external walls has transformed the building, from a ‘polite’ white stuccoed Regency villa to small solemn brick building.

All the contractors involved went to great lengths to restore Turner’s House to his original vision which included the painstaking work of taking off all the stucco which had concealed for decades the beautiful brickwork. Specialist craftsmen carefully replaced damaged bricks with double fired stock bricks provided by Bulmer Brick & Tile Company, a small family business continuing the traditions of brickmaking on a site in Suffolk which dates back to the Middle Ages.

Gary Butler, director of Butler Hegarty Architects acknowledged the skill of the specialists involved with the restoration giving: ““A special thanks to Mark Smith at Fullers Builders. Mark has worked as a bricklayer for over 30 years and has a wonderful range of traditional skills which he brought to the project with great enthusiasm and finesse.’ You can see both Gary explain the brickwork design and Mark in action replacing the bricks in a three minute film.

Turner’s House has won a string of awards since it reopened last summer. It came first in The People’s Award and Highly Commended in the Historic Buildings category of this year’s Civic Voice Design Awards. These awards followed other accolades awarded to Turner’s House, with Butler Hegarty, scooping two honours in this year’s prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects awards where the house was named the overall winner for London as well as receiving an award for South-West London. The house also won two Time Out Love London Awards for Favourite Cultural Spot and Favourite Landmark in Richmond.

Turner’s House, Sandycombe Lodge, 40 Sandycoombe Road, St Margarets. Twickenham TW1 2LR is open from Wednesday-Sunday: 10-4pm turnershouse.org. The house is open till December 14th, and will reopen on 1st February 2019.