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Fit for a Duke in Covent Garden

Russell House, No. 43, King Street

This apartment occupies the piano nobile of a 1716 house designed by Thomas Archer for the Earl of Orford, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He obtained the lease for the site from his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, on condition he tear down the house located there and build a new one. Batty Langley, the eighteenth-century garden designer and prolific commentator hated it, and devoted over 200 words of his Grub Street Journal (26 September 1734) to slagging it off. The Grade II*-listed building looks onto Covent Garden Piazza and has seen a number of uses over the years.

When the area lost its gentility towards the end of the eighteenth century, No. 43 became a hotel and coffee room, and from 1835-1837 housed the first headquarters of the (now-Royal) Institute of British Architects. The Savage Club had quarters here for a year or two in the 1870s, but in 1929 it was occupied by George Monro, Fruiterers, who altered the building extensively, its original staircase being removed to South Walsham Hall in Norfolk. The basement once housed Middle Earth, an “influential hippie club” of the mid-to-late 1960s (according to Wikipedia).

Russell House underwent an extensive renovation in the past decade and the ground level now houses the Ralph Lauren Rugby store while the upper floors of the building are private apartments. This one centres on the central compartment of the building, originally the upper half of a two-storey entrance and staircase hall. The Survey of London advises us “It is reasonable to assume that a North Italian stuccador was responsible for this plasterwork.”

It’s rather fine, though painted in boring property agent white: it would look superb with the right choice of colour, perhaps a Georgian green. The whole flat is done up in that white style, which is only acceptable if you have exceptionally colourful works of art with which to decorate the place. Otherwise it just looks bland, and fails to highlight the plasterwork that North Italian stuccador spent so much time on.

The leasehold (118 years remaining) was for sale from Savills — guide price £9,750,000 — but you’re too late: it’s been snapped up already. Who actually wants to live in Covent Garden anyway? Either an opera buff or (yawn!) a foreign buyer. My vote would be for an Italian in this instance. It wouldn’t be bad as a batchelor pad — you could throw a halfway decent party in this place.

This post was published on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 9:03 pm. It has been categorised under Architecture Great Britain and been tagged under , .
L Gaylord Clark
16 Nov 2012 7:32 pm

Nearly ten million pounds for the privilege of being driven out (probably within six months) by the noise, the dirt, and the ugliness which are the salient characteristics of London today.

Valeria Kondratiev
26 Dec 2012 7:11 pm

It looks really nice, but I do agree I don’t like it all white. I think I’d like the most ornate room done in 18th century green or blue, to bring out the “wedgewood” look of it.

Simon Perry
17 Jul 2013 1:22 am

Lovely building, designed by Thomas Archer, who was responsible for the magnificent St Paul’s, Deptford, which I visited today.
I quite agree about the white, but might prefer a nice grey myself or perhaps some sort of blue, prussian perhaps.

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