Wily Badger / Inside Pond House

For Wily Badger’s Spring 2015 edition, I looked inside one of Clapton’s most luxurious developments. Click to read the full article.

View the original print PDF here.

Walking up Lower Clapton Road towards the Clapton Hart, you will have noticed the powder-blue building to your right: Pond House. Originally built around the turn of the 19th Century, the building’s recent redevelopment has seen it become a home once again. Here, Sarah Drumm takes an exclusive look inside

The restoration of Pond House brought back to life a building that is in stark contrast to its modern surroundings. Set back from Lower Clapton Road, Pond House sits almost next door to Palm2 and Tesco, two shops that, together, represent the recent change Clapton has gone through. The redevelopment of Pond House and the state of the current property market have ensured a hefty price tag has been put on these new flats.

Hackney has always been fashionable, and although the recent pace of gentrification outstrips anything seen before it, change is nothing new to this area. It’s easy to imagine that Benjamin Walsh – for whom this building was created – a stockbroker who made his money selling war insurance perhaps wasn’t a far cry from the City types that flock to Clapton today, looking for property that has more bang for its buck than anything you would find closer to work. In 1802 Benjamin Walsh was able to commission an architect to build him a bespoke home; one that spoke to his own personality and reflected the flamboyance that he was so known for.

The popularity of the Greek revival style can perhaps go some way to explain Walsh’s choice for the building’s grand façade and some of the interior details. “This was the predominant architectural style of the day for buildings of significance,” explains Douglas Snadden, an architect at Peter Taylor Associates who were commissioned to restore the building to its former glory. And it’s trend. “The Clapton Portico, down the road, was built in 1823, towards the end of the Georgian period, only 20 years after Pond House.”

“The interior of Pond House includes high-quality decorative elements, including ironwork on the balustrades to the stairs, mahogany handrails, fluted Corinthian and Doric columns – in keeping with this trend,” Douglas continues. “There are also intricate mouldings to the ceilings and walls throughout the interior, especially in the stairway and hall.”

Benjamin Walsh and his family eventually moved out of Pond House, paving the way for others to take charge and inevitably alter the building’s structure for new uses. It ceased its function as a family home in 1877, and for the past 138 years the building has been put to work for many purposes other than it’s original intention. Initially it become a girls school, and then a clothing factory until 1939. Next, the building played host to the Hackney Volunteers’ Social Club. Understandably, the repeated change of use took its toll on the structure, and various alterations and repairs were made to the house in the latter half of the 20th century that did not take Walsh’s vision into account – the most significant being a massive extension to the back of Pond House in 1954.

After decades of incremental alterations, the building was eventually placed on English Heritage’s At Risk Register. Walsh’s original grand designs had meant that retaining the building, even in its pre-restored state,had become a significant financial drain for the Hackney Volunteers’ Social Club, and in 2008 the property was put up for auction. Eventually, it was sold to One Housing Group, who led the redevelopment of the building in partnership with architects Peter Taylor Associates, at a total cost of £5.03 million.

The brief from Hackney Council, and in line with English Heritage’s requirements, was to restore the building to its original aesthetics. “A detailed heritage appraisal was carried out, and also an assessment of the significance of Pond House more generally,” Douglas explains.

“As a Grade II listed building, it’s of London-wide importance as a heritage asset. It’s also one of the last important detached homes built in this part of Hackney, before the more standard form of Georgian terrace came to dominate locally.”

“Pond House was in a state of extreme dilapidation, and the refurbishment sought to reverse some of the more recent insensitive alterations to the building and restore it in an authentic and sensitive way,” Douglas says in reflection on the project. “Parts of the interior had been heavily altered by sub-division and incremental ad-hoc change, so a great deal of architectural detail had been lost. The removal of the substantial mid-20th century extension at the rear of the building and the restoration of the rear façade generally, was the most significant alteration that needed to be made to restore the building.”

But there was only so much the architects could do to return it to its original state. Benjamin Walsh had built this property to house himself and his wife – and eventually their 12 children – which isn’t exactly a lifestyle that most can identify with.

Modern circumstances meant that in order for the project to be viable, compromises would have to be made. Initially, there was talk of dividing the building into 10 separate apartments, which would have meant creating further divisions within the property and once again altering the fabric of its structure. Eventually, it was decided to divide the building into four flats, keeping the divisions as close as possible to Walsh’s original plans. “The original layout is long gone, and for this reason we did not attempt to recreate or restore it. Instead, we made use of existing openings to minimise significant alterations or new interventions,” Douglas explains.

The restoration project is now complete and, in May 2014, the first residents began calling Pond House home. The building is not just open to bankers or city types this time; product designers and chefs make up the tenancy too. One resident, who is the owner of a Hackney Wick-based mid-century furniture shop, Béton Brut, was kind enough to show us how she had made the place her home, and the pictures that surround this article show the building as it is today. “Most people are in their thirties or early forties – it’s a mixture of couples and singles in the main house, and quite a few young families in the adjoining houses. It’s been pretty sociable since we moved in.”

On our tour, we asked our guide what had been done to the building and its interior. “The developer put in modern kitchens and bathrooms,” our tour guide tells us on our visit. “All the cornicing and architraving has been carefully preserved or replaced where need be. Replacement flagstones sit alongside originals in the main hall. New carrara marble fireplaces have been put in throughout – we are dying to get them working.”

After all the effort that goes into a redevelopment project such as this, once the flats are sold to the leaseholders there’s only so much you can do to ensure they retain any newly introduced features. Pond House was originally built for an individual who sought to add some personal flair to his home – although perhaps in a more extreme way than most people are able to do – and the new tenants understandably wish to do the same. Our tour guide and Pond House resident explains to us: “Some of the original shutters on the windows were poly-filled in, but a few of the owners have had them reinstated. The developer put in laminate floors, which have all been ripped up since the new tenants moved in, in favour of reclaimed oak parquet, which felt more of the period. A lot of the windows have been replaced, but they are all still single-glazed, in keeping with its listed status.”

So what does this all mean for you and I? The building has been restored in order to contribute to the urban landscape of Hackney as a whole, but the cost of the redevelopment and the price tag on the new flats mean it’s simply not accessible for most. But for those hoping for a sneak peak inside the building, your best bet is to make friends with the new tenants, and hope you get invited to their next garden party.