During the colder months, I always associate Sundays with walks through the park, an endless supply of tea and biscuits (why are Maryland cookies so moreish?!), a hearty roast dinner and some kind of period drama. It was a good way to break up study sessions and it’s the perfect way to relax these days.

When Vanessa and I were organising a catch up a few weeks ago, we both agreed that meeting up in Hampstead and exploring Kenwood House would make a lovely Sunday afternoon. With the original house being built back in the 17th century and most of the current house dating back to the later part of the 18th century, it ticked the period drama box in a bit of a different way, (largely through my imagination!)

We took a long walk through the Heath, talking life, work, and Instagram tips and tricks. It’s always fun to be around someone with similar interests and gets the whole – I have to take a photo of this – thing. As much as all of my friends are supportive of my interests (namely photography), it just means I don’t have to worry as much about getting distracted or going a bit quiet to concentrate.

After wondering if we’d taken the right path, we eventually spotted the house in the distance. It’s easily recognisable. Do you remember it from a scene in Notting Hill? You know, the one where they’re filming a period drama and Hugh Grant overhears Julia Roberts. Anyway, it’s been the backdrop for number of films and it’s easy to see why.

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Set on the borders of Hampstead Heath (some 790 acres of green space), it has a pretty impressive back garden. Parts of the house date back over 300 years, where the house has grown from something quite modest to what you’ll find today.

It has had some wealthy residents over time and once housed servicemen during the Second World War. But from the 1986 its care was given to the English Heritage. It has had a few refurbishments over the time, but as much original detail as possible has been maintained. The surprising bit is that it’s completely free to enter.  (You’all soon understand my disbelief at this.)

The entrance is essentially around the back, leaving the best views of the Heath to the windows out front. Right from the start I was picturing carriages and stately dress (my imagination fuelled no doubt by having recently watched Victoria.)

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Greeted by some friendly hosts we wandered the house at our leisure.

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I’ve come to love homes like this, the decor, the grandeur and the history just makes for a fascinating couple of hours.

We were immediately drawn upstairs.

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Don’t you just love banisters like this? They remind me of the beautiful staircase in Queen’s House (which reopened this summer!).

Within just a minute or two we found ourselves stood in the centre of one of the most striking rooms in the whole house.
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Designed by Robert Adams in the late 18th Century, it was intended to be both a library and a place for entertaining.
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It certainly looks fitting for both purposes. But I could have happily sat reading a book in such beautiful surroundings.
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After much admiration of the library, we eventually moved on to other rooms.
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Almost as opulent, but much more comfortable and cosy. A place you might hide away with your studies or an important piece of work.
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I fell in love with almost every colour scheme. I usually find period homes a bit dark or a little gaudy in decor but the combinations here were almost perfect.

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OK, maybe the chandeliers would look a little OTT in your average London flat or suburban home but they’re just so elegant.

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Even the more modest staircase has its own charm.
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After a good hour of exploring and taking pictures to our hearts’ content. We left the house still pondering how we were able to nosey around without paying a penny (of course donations are encouraged).

We took our thoughts with us to the charming tea room next door for tea and cake.

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A pretty, perfect Sunday stroll.

Have you visited Kenwood House yet? Are there any places you’ve found that Vanessa and I should venture to next?

Kenwood House can be found here. It’s currently open all week, 10am to 4pm. We met at Hampstead Heath tube station on the Northern Line and walked up through the Heath, which took about 20 minutes.

After almost seven years of being a London dweller (*gulp*), you’d think that I’d have every major event in the diary and have worked out how to make the most of them by now. But despite learning a few lessons about whittling down the enormous list of places to visit during Open House London last year, the weekend came out of nowhere. I’d hardly taken a look at the list, let alone thought about entering any ballots.

I could only make the Sunday, which cut down the options somewhat and sadly eminated some of the places I didn’t fit in last year. So I worked through the remaining list based on whether I was willing to get up before dawn to queue and how far I was willing to travel. This left me with one choice, Two Temple Place.

All I knew at the time was that it was built in 1895 for William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American-born attorney, politician, businessman, and newspaper publisher, and that it was previously known as Astor House.  It promised intricate details from the inside out and I was intrigued to step back in time.

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It’s fascinating what you learn when you pay attention to the small things.

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Apparently the cherub at the bottom of this bronze lamp, conversing over the telephone, celebrates the then new age of telecommunication and electricity.

But it was in the intricate design on the interior that had the main impact.

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Dark wooden carvings and bright light streaming in through the stained glass was certainly striking.

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As there was a steady stream of visitors admiring the centerpiece, I thought I’d take a look around the ground floor.

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The building was intended to be Astor’s estate office, with residential space to help create a home away from the US after emigrating to the UK.

The warm wood adds a darkness that makes it much easier to see it as an office than a home. There’s a sort of seriousness that you’d expect from its original owner.

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With a postcode on Embankment, it is certainly prime real estate and I couldn’t help contemplate what the views from each window must have been like back then. Neighbour to Middle Temple and overlooking the Thames, I actually suspect the view hasn’t changed dramatically over the centuries.

Two Temple Place has had a number of owners since the Astor family sold the house in the early 20th century, carrying various different names including the Incorporated Accountants Hall. But despite the names and damage during the war, it has remained in its original shape for over 100 years.

I made it up the staircase doing that tricky thing of gawping up at the view overhead and watching my step and other visitors. There was so much to look at.

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The mahogany carvings by Thomas Nicholls depict The Three Musketeers, said to be Astor’s favourite book. I like the fact that these details tell you a little more about the owner. It adds more of a personal touch than you’d expect from the late Victorian era.

Just as I’d thought the stained glass in the staircase was beautiful, I turned to my left on reaching the top of the staircase and found this intricate scene.

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An Alpine Landscape, is thought to depict the Italian Alps.

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A Swiss Summer Landscape, is more obviously located. Can you spot the Swiss flag?

Both were created by Clayton and Bell, one of the most prolific workshops for stained glass in the 19th century. These commisions were the only ones they completed that depicted a landscape.

You can hire Two Temple Place as a venue and I could imagine how beautiful it would look dressed with tables and low lights.

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As I wondered what events may have been hosted there over time and the stories those panels could tell, I found myself in a small office.

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It felt like a much more private space, with panels disguising secret book cases and a concealed entrance. I imagined this was where Astor came to get away from it all.

With so many details to take in, I could have spent hours wandering around, trying to build a picture of its original owner.

One of the best things about Open House London is how by entering each building you get a peek into someone else’s life and another era of time. An obvious observation I guess but just popping into one place reminded me what a great event it is and how I must get more organised about it next year.

The Bulldog Trust currently looks after Two Temple Place and whilst it’s not open to the public all year round, it does host an annual exhibition that allows access to the building. If all else fails, you should definitely add it to your Open House London list.

Did you go to Open House London this year? Where did you visit?

There’s so much I could tell you about St Paul’s Cathedral, where do I start?! The invisible protected line of sight that shapes the new buildings that continue to be added to the city’s skyline? Its immense scale that will never fail to make my mouth drop a little in awe? A history that spans over 1,000 years? Well I’m going to take the easy route and just go back 350 years to 1666, a date we should all remember from childhood history classes (I’ve got the nursery rhyme going round in my head at the moment) or perhaps from the things going on last week in London.

In a series of events remembering the Great Fire of London which burnt a huge part of the city to cinders, St Paul’s Cathedral was opened to the public at night. For two nights only you could take in the weighted cathedral atmosphere under the shadow of night and take pictures. Although I’ve been to St Paul’s before (it makes a pretty good date in case you were wondering…), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience it at a different time of day. As you can’t usually take pictures when you visit, I also couldn’t pass up the rare opportunitiy to take some to share with you.

As soon as I stepped through the gates my eyes widened. The scale and the detail has a similar effect on the inside as it does on the outside, but the atmosphere it holds indoors adds something different.

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The atmosphere of a church or cathedral is immediate, a place to be quiet and left alone with important thoughts and feelings, a place to hope or share joy. But there’s a seriousness that adds a strange weight and I always have an acute sense of not wanting to do any to disrespect my neighbour or surroundings. The smell is quite distinctive too, like dusty books mixed with burning candles. Add in the sheer size of St Paul’s Cathedral and it has quite an impact.

Once I’d taken as much of this in as I could, I turned to the finer details.

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The Cathedral’s infamous dome, which you can see for miles, is equally impressive on the inside.

Before the devastation of 1666, the cathedral was in a serious state of disrepair and numerous plans had been drawn to resurrect it. However, the fire that spread from Pudding Lane quickly reached the Cathedral and the wooden scaffolding holding the building together helped kindle the flames. The high vaults fell, smashing into the crypt, thousands of books stored there in the vaults leased to printers and booksellers fuelled the fire and put the original structure beyond hope of rescue.

The building we see today was designed by one of Britain’s most respected and famous architects, Sir Christopher Wren. He’s responsible for many of the city’s most grand churches and cathedrals. One of them has even been converted into a coffee shop (The Wren, still on my visit list with a few others in that area.) It took him nine years to make sure his plans would meet the needs of a working cathedral. But the last stone to complete the building wasn’t laid until 1708.

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It’s hard to imagine a building taking that long to finish when it feels like new ones rise within just a couple of years. But then, none of the structures we see now have any of the same fine craftsmanship and hand-painted detail as St Paul’s.

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New buildings also don’t really need to deliver or attract the same admiration.

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I often wonder what it would be like to deliver a wedding ceremony in a normal sized building, let alone one like this.

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I let my thoughts wander for a while and did a bit of people watching.

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Before eventually heading down to the Crypt.

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An impressive collection of memorials and burials. From famous names like Lord Nelson.

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To musicians like Hubert Parry (who composed the choral song ‘Jerusalem’ – which I’m sure you’ll have sang at some point!)

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Of course Sir Christopher Wren can be found there too, in fact he was the first to be interred.

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At this point and after a busy day in the office I didn’t manage to read and see everything, but I think with more time to listen to the free multimedia guides I could learn a whole lot more and probably spend a whole day there.

The dome and upper galleries weren’t open for the event but I can recommend heading up there to take in the views across the city and see the Cathedral from another angle.

Although it was a bit busy and a little touristy, I still enjoyed going back and learning more. It’s just such a beautiful building. I often wonder whether I’ll be in London forever and it just makes sense to grab the opportunities to see what I can whilst I’m here, even if a few hundred people have the same idea for their weekend trip or holiday.

You can visit St Paul’s Cathedral in the week and weekend at certain times only. It’s best to check the website before visiting, where you can also buy advance tickets. You can’t ususally take pictures but keep an eye on their Twitter feed or Facebook page for special events.

Have you visited St Paul’s Cathedral or any other more touristy places recently?

 

When I first stepped into the courtyard of Somerset House I couldn’t quite believe how stunning it was. It was back in the days when I’d not longed moved to London and the city’s beautiful architecture made living here every day pretty exciting. In the years that followed, it quickly became a place to visit for exhibitions and of course ice skating in the run up to Christmas (the sight of its ice rink makes me feel so festive!). I still can’t get over its beauty, but after reading and seeing these stunning pictures on Candids By Jo, I decided it would be fun to check out the free tour on offer.

I’ll admit one of the main reasons for going on the tour was to see a staircase or two, but I really enjoyed it and I thought I’d share my favourite facts (and photos!)

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1. It was once a Royal Palace.

In the 16th Century, the newly appointed Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, was determined to build himself a palace. At the time, the riverside was a popular location for those in positions of power and the original building on The Strand was planned. After the Duke’s execution it was occupied by the future Queen Elizabeth I and a number of regal characters followed suit, taking ownership and developing it into the palace that we see today.

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The building’s grand columns are possibly the immediate hints at its regal past, but look a bit closer and you’ll notice smaller details like the crown on top of the lamps and the portrait cameos on the walls.

It’s no surprise really then that it’s been used as a stand in for Buckingham Palace in films and TV series. Put a guard or two in front of this view and I can just about see the similarities.

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2. It was built using parts of St Paul’s Cathedral

As the power went to his head, the Duke of Somerset not only demolished the houses that stood on the site he wanted, he also partly demolished the chantry chapels and cloisters of St Paul’s Cathedral and used it during the building process. A move that’s safe to say wasn’t a very popular one.

3. It was originally built to sit right on the River Thames

Back in the day, the riverside banks that we can freely walk along now didn’t exist and palaces were built directly next to the water. Not only was riverside living fashionable and part of establishing your status and influence in court society, but it was also pretty practical as the main form of transport and delivery of goods a few centuries ago was by boat. Somerset House had a huge garden that stretched right out to the edge (you can see it here). These days you can find nautical references in the sea monsters that clutch onto the walls.

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4. The building attracted even more religious controversy

The Duke of Somerset wasn’t the only one to spark trouble in relation to religious buildings. In 1625, when Charles I came to the throne, his wife Henrietta Maria of France became entitled to Somerset House (then named Denmark House) and instructed further reconstruction and development. The Queen was a devout Roman Catholic and the refurbishment included a lavish new Chapel. In a country that was declared Protestant at the time, the development did not go down well and fueled popular ill-will towards them.

However, it is believed that the Chapel did allow for the Queen’s allegiances to be buried on site, rather than an unmarked grave as was practice at the time for members of the public who practiced Roman Catholicism. There are a number of plaques you can see as part of the tour, however, it is unknown as to whether any remains lie behind them.

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5. It has some stunning stairs

The first is the Navy Stair, originally built in the late 18th Century/early 19th Century. It was seriously damaged during World War II, however, as luck would have it the original plans were kept in tact and the staircase was rebuilt in the 1950s.

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The second is the award-winning Miles Stair in the West Wing, built in 2014 by renowned architect Eva Jiricna.

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Sadly, with 100s of years of history to cover, there wasn’t enough time for me to climb the staircase and see it from the top.  As it’s not open to the public either, I’m currently trying to figure out how to sneak back in for more photos!

This post was put together from memory with prompts from Somerset House’s website. The historical highlights tour of Somerset House is a much better way of getting to know this iconic building better, bringing its history to life.

The free tour is available on Thursdays at 1.15pm and 2.45pm and Saturdays every hour from 12.15pm with the last tour at 3.15pm. You can collect free tickets at the information desk in Seaman’s Hall from 10.30am on the day.

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Have you explored Somerset House yet? Have you done any other London tours?

Open House London very nearly got missed again this year. It had been on my radar for a whole month but one way or another I completely forgot about it until the Friday before. Luckily, with help from blogging friends on Twitter (thanks Lisa, Emma, Jessi and Carla!) and enough determination to see me through a karaoke hangover, I finally managed to squeeze the annual event into my weekend.

If you can’t resist visiting places not usually open to the public, want to find all the hidden gems and see as much of the capital as possible, or you love architecture or photography, you might have heard of this event. If you haven’t, it’s definitely one for you.

Every year as part of the festival hundreds of London’s doors open to the curious public. You can enter ballots for places like 10 Downing Street, book places for tours, or rock up and see what you have the patience to queue for. Some places are open across the whole weekend, some on either Saturday or Sunday. If you want to see the popular buildings you need to be ready to get up early and potentially queue for hours. I took the relatively relaxed approach and this is what I managed…

I had planned a Saturday afternoon with my sister, so I suggested trying to get into City Hall (the Mayor’s office) as I’d heard and seen some amazing pictures from inside. We arrived about 4.30pm to a queue wrapped around the building and told after half an hour that we would not be admitted. (Lesson one – check the opening times. Lesson two – Open House London really is popular!)

The failure spurred me on to spend the Sunday exploring so I started browsing the website. I really didn’t know where to start! (Lesson three – there’s A LOT to explore!)

I started scrolling through the hashtag #openhouselondon on Instagram to find some inspiration and then sought help on Twitter. (Lesson four – seek help from experts or friends who have been before and know what they’re doing.)

I chose about five places in one area and of course it was impossible to see them all in a day, especially if you leave the house after 9am. (Lesson five – be realistic!)

James and I arrived at my first choice, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at about 10am and I was amazed that we went straight through the airport style security and into the building’s splendour. Given the late planning I really didn’t have any expectations and I couldn’t have asked for much more.

The Grand Staircase made a bold first impression.

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The FCO building which stands here today opened in 1868 and, like many buildings that are more than 100 years old, I was amazed by all the detail.

The huge murals and intricate gilded ceiling of the Grand Staircase led on to the beautiful regal gold and blue ceiling in the Grand Locarno.

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The sumptuous decor and decorative pieces caught my eye as we wandered though.

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The rich orange and the serious mahogany table of the Locano Conference Room made me think about the decisions that were made within its walls.

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The Muses Stair was definitely a highlight.

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But the Durbar Court definitely stole the limelight.

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If you haven’t seen the FCO before, I would definitely add it to your list for next year, it’s perfect for anyone who loves politics, history, and photography.

We had a coffee stop and then moved on to explore Inner and Middle Temple. Whilst I wasn’t necessarily blown away by the buildings itself (although I am sure if you have any interest in legal history you would love it!), I did enjoy wandering around the peaceful area.

Rich red bricks.

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Quaint window boxes.

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And a lovely garden.

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The smell of this lavender was incredible.

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After absorbing so much history we took a break and enjoyed some street food underneath the canopy of trees and among the autumn leaves.

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Once we’d demolished a couple of crepes we suddenly realised it was almost 3pm and we’d been out for five hours! The other places I’d chosen were likely to require long queues so we decided to make our way home.

Final lesson – Be more organised! 🙂 I’m definitely going to try to plan ahead next year.

If you want to read more about the event you can read Lisa’s posts here and Jessi’s post here. You can also visit the website, where they’ll eventually publish details of next year’s event.

Did you get involved in Open House London this year? Would you recommend any buildings to visit or any top tips?

My interest in London houses seems to be growing month by month. It could be down to my age as I’m definitely at the stage where it feels like everyone is buying houses right now, my Pinterest addiction for collating beautiful homes I will one day attempt to model my own on, or the fact that they feel like London’s little gems and I’m starting to find them more fascinating. Of course it could also be the combined effect!

My bricks and mortar addiction most recently drew me to the Queen’s House on the border on Greenwich Park. Somewhere I’d previously completely overlooked whilst I was too busy seeking out THAT panoramic view, exploring the Flower Garden or spotting deer.

It was built almost 400 years ago, by commission of the Royal family for the purpose of providing a place of private retreat and hospitality. From my experience of watching and reading endless period dramas, it was easy to imagine pulling up by horse and carriage for a party at this beautiful place.

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Climbing the stone staircases in a glorious gown.

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And dancing the night away in the Great Hall.

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But it had other purposes later in the building’s lifetime as it was given to the Royal Naval Asylum charity in the 19th century, which saw it used as dormitories, classrooms and other facilities.

Now it serves as a lovely link to the past.

The painted ceiling of the Queen’s chamber serves as a reminder of the Italian influence of art.

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The maze of other rooms seek to reflect the decor back in the day, or host exhibitions which tell the tale of Britain at sea or in the throes of war.

But I have to admit I was mostly absorbed in the building and its views. There was something surreal about seeing the tourists lined up alongside the Royal Observatory like London’s very own paparazzi from a quiet corridor. It made me think just how much we all love to snap the sights of the city.

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The Queen’s House is probably most well-known for its incredibly photogenic Tulip Stairs.

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It was the first geometric self-supporting staircase in Britain and it’s quite mesmerising to look at from the bottom.

It’s a perfect match to the nearby symmetrical corridor.

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A stunning example of one of London’s lovely houses.

Sadly, you’ll need to forgive me for sharing something so pretty to tell you that it’s now closed until 2016 whilst they refurbish the building for its 400th birthday!

But… There are SO many more houses to explore in London and staircases to marvel at! So far I’ve seen or heard of – Apsley House, Kenwood House, Leighton House and Strawberry Hill House. The National Trust have a few houses and unusual buildings in London listed here. If you just need a lovely staircase, so far I’ve been to Heal’s and read about this stunning staircase at Somerset House.

There’s also Open House London coming up, where 100s of buildings and houses are open to the public. It takes place on 19 and 20 September this year. I’ve never attended before and I’m thinking this year should be the year!

Do you love lusting after London’s houses? Have you found any hidden gems?