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VM Inspiration: Two Temple Place

‘Cotton to Gold: extraordinary collections of the Industrial North West,’is an exhibition at Two Temple Place in London that presents a wealth of inspiration to VM visitors.

Two Temple Place is the former Astor ‘palace,’ on the bank of the Thames. There really is no other word to describe this incredibly beautiful neo-gothic building with Art Nouveau touches, although it was originally built as the Astor estate offices incorporating a separate flat for Lord Astor.

It is laid out in the classic Petit Trianon format, with a central turning staircase in a three storey central atrium topped by a bas-relief Shakepearean frieze below a stained glass canopy roof, with a gallery on all four sides on each level.

Today, the rooms on all sides of the atrium allow a wide range of artifacts to be exhibited although not in ‘museum conditions.’ The space is intimate and nowhere as near as large as London’s labyrinthine major museums.

This article will consider the architecture of the building as inspiration for VM, the next will look at the contents of the current exhibition in relation to VM.

The building was designed by John Loughborough Pearson (1817- 1897), a Belgium-born, Gothic revival architect who worked in the UK all his life. His many buildings, including churches, are decidedly geometric and feature historical precedent, perhaps a more popular concept today than for his contemporaries. He was a master of vaulted ceilings and is best known for Truro cathedral and a number of large country houses. His eye for detail is seen here in an oval clock set on the oak paneling and elegantly broken by the stylized repeated motifs on either side. Imagine this as a motif above a door or at the back of a closed-back window, conveying a formal, mannered touch to any store.

Listed as Grade II* - the asterisk denoting ‘with more than special interest’ - the interior is a riot of carved oak paneling and lovely detailing. This door with gilded central panels and elaborate doorframe commands attention in the same way any visual merchandiser would love a portrait format window to do.

Even this back corridor is nicely considered, with three quarter height oak paneling below faced stonework. The window above allows light into the windowless corridor with its detailed stone and wooden doorframes. It brings to mind the wooden picture frames used to frame the artwork of Pearson’s contemporary, Lord Leighton: all architecturally detailed columns and lintels.

This recess in the gallery paneling is a classic: beautifully proportioned, with the beaded edge to the frame echoed in the fanlight-shaped section at the back. Imagine the edge of store window glass with a similar shaped beading and, on a smaller scale, a similar feature at the back of a closed-back window.

The stone floor of the central staircase is composed of mosaic stone set in panels. This practical opulence reminds me of the patterns created by the cobbles and flagstones of Sicily, adopted as a Dolce & Gabbana trope.

Although the building contains a carved grand staircase and a vaulted ceiling on the top floor, my interest was drawn to the back stairs, sadly off-limits but visible through a glass door. The combination of wrought ironwork, stone walls, carriage lamp and shadows made it appear timeless and mysterious. Perfect for a slightly spooky, mysterious window.

Even the radiator cover suggests inspiration for a security screen with its symmetrical scrolls, curlicues and formal lion rampant motif. This could be so much nicer than a plain metal security grille and add individuality to a store even when closed.

This polished brass sign indicating the ladies loo is a lovely example of Art Nouveau, with its italic script set on a simply curving mount and embellished with scrollwork.

The Gallery also includes idealized stained glass landscapes images, all well worth a look. The very best thing about the building is that the exhibition is free, but the building is only open while the temporary exhibition is showing. ‘Cotton to Gold’ closes on 19 April.