100 years is an awful long time for a house to be abandoned. You might imagine that after so long, its interiors would be unsalvageable, damaged by vandals, Mother Nature and the ever-ticking hand of the clock. Yet somehow, the historic Malpaquet House on London’s Mile End Road survived such a fate, enabling a stunning restoration that highlights all of its beautiful original features.
For all those decades, passersby would walk past its crumbling exterior wondering why such a beautiful structure had been left to deteriorate, as overgrown jasmine and wisteria obscured its facade. Its last recorded inhabitants left in 1895, and in the meantime, the five-bedroom house stood as a veritable time capsule. The lack of 20th-century inhabitants spared it from inevitable renovations that would likely have wiped out all of its charm.
When Spitalfields Trust rescued it in 1997, Malpaquet House still boasted all of its original brick, iron railings, stone eagle statues, wooden trim and other interior and exterior features. It was built in 1741, and many of its interiors looked as if no time had passed at all, with walls still painted arsenic-green or covered in carved paneling.
The last time it underwent any modernization was back in 1827. The final 19th century owners had divided it up into lodgings and shops, and then it began its hundred-year incarnation as a crumbling storage space. But in 1998, the 275-year-old East London ruin was purchased by British historian Tim Knox and landscape gardener Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, collectors who restored it to its former glory with painstaking attention to detail.
This year, as Malpaquet House went up for sale, photographer Philippe Debeerst was able to capture it in its beautiful new form, its rooms filled floor-to-ceiling with a vast collection of time-period-appropriate art and decorative objects. Debeerst visited the home along with local resident “The Gentle Author,” who published the photographs along with his account of the experience on his blog, “Spitalfields Life.”
“Let me admit, for years I have paused to peek through the railings, but I never had the courage to ring the bell at Malpaquet House before,” he writes. “Ushered through the gate, up the garden path and through the door, I was not disappointed to enter the hallway that I had dreamed of, discovering it thickly lined with stags’ heads, reliefs and antiquarian fragments, including a cast of the hieroglyphic inscription from between the front paws of the sphinx…”
“Everywhere, original paintwork and worn surfaces had been preserved, idiosyncratic details and textures which record the passage of people through the house and ensure the soul of the place lingers on. The success of the restoration is that every space feels natural, and, as you walk from one room to another, each has its own identity and proportion, as if it were always like this. …I have been in older houses and grander houses, but Malpaquet House has something beyond history and style, it has pervasive atmosphere. It has mystery. It has romance. You could get lost in there.”
Longstaffe-Gowan and Knox sold Malpaquet House for £2.9 million in 2016, their restoration skills and curious collections gaining the attention of the wider world in the process. See the whole series of photographs and learn more about the mansion at Spitalfields Life.