Archive for August, 2009

33a Brunswick Square

A hidden door, a huge wedge-shaped staircase and a wall veiling a secret garden add up to a great architectural story. A hidden house on Brunswick Square has an abundance of such features.

From the air, it is quite clear that No. 33, ‘Palm Court’, was once the largest building on Brunswick Square due to its corner position. It was used as various schools for many years and for a while, controversially, as a hotel. It’s easy to find for a blue plaque commemorating the composer and conductor Sir Hamilton Harty has been installed beside the porch. An imposing door leads into the building’s stately hallway but to the left, completely out of view, is a second door leading to an entirely separate house – 33a Brunswick Square.

Straight away, the door number and the hidden door suggest to me that No. 33a was not originally a house in its own right. It appears to consist of around one third of what was once part of No. 33 along with a massive extension behind to the west. Pictures of the roof from above strengthen this argument. Most strangely, it has no front façade so none of its windows look over the square. If a conversion did take place, and I’m sure that it did, it certainly wasn’t carried out recently.

Along with the privacy from the front, the rear is cut off too. A tall wall separates No.33a’s oasis-like garden from the Freemasons Tavern and various shops on Western Road behind. The residents of a strikingly modern row of houses on Brunswick Street West, however, are actually treated to direct views over what is a very well designed calming garden. Inside No.33a, the best features are a fully operational cage lift and an intricate mosaic floor.

Local architect Charles Augustin Busby was responsible for Brunswick Square and, along with his building partner Wilds, Kemp Town as well. In each case, just the facades were constructed by the developer which gave the first owners the chance to personalise the rest as they pleased. Interestingly, a giant garden also exists behind the north-east corner of Sussex Square within the Kemp Town development.

For great historic tours locally, be sure to listen out for one particular resident of No. 33a – Mike Robins. He’s currently on view on the side of a local bus so, unlike his home, he is most definitely not hidden away.

34-38 Medina Villas

Dresden House was the nursing home complex consisting of five houses on Medina Villas and four on Albany Villas. It closed several years back rather suddenly – mysteriously even – with little consideration given to residents’ circumstances. It then sat derelict, its future uncertain.

The buildings could easily have become flats had Albany Cross Ltd not snapped up the lot in 2007 for the princely sum of £6.1 million. The firm, a joint venture between John Robinson and Josh Arghiros, really has saved the day. I was lucky enough to be shown around the five Medina buildings.

At least four of the properties on Medina Villas will become whole houses again which is fantastic news for the area. Also, whether or not it was done by design or necessity, the way in which the individual buildings are being sold off as shells has been an absolute success. By just stripping out and removing nasty additions such as extensions and lifts, Albany Cross is providing new owners with blank canvasses.

Nos. 34 and 35, a delightful pair of semi-detached houses, are currently under offer so plenty of evidence of the nursing homes internally and externally still exists. However, at Nos. 36 and 37, almost all evidence has gone. This pair of huge semis is taking shape under the direction of Rupert Maitland of Blue Door Living Solutions ( Each has a central ventilation system and miles of new cable. No. 36 is closest to being finished and is equipped with a Lutron lighting system and a fabulous wine cellar.

No. 38 has exchanged but may well end up as several large flats. This is a shame as it would be amongst Hove’s finest houses as a single dwelling. Being detached, double-fronted and close to the sea with a garden, it ticks so many of the right boxes.

Both Medina and Albany Villas are within the Cliftonville area of Hove. It was developed from the 1850s and is characterised by features found on Queen Victoria’s Isle of Wight residence, Osborne House, such as arched windows, pitched roofs, corbelled eaves and belvederes.

With a number of restoration projects taking place on both Medina Villas and my own road, Osborne Villas, now is the ideal time to float an idea that I’ve had. A new dedicated group – the Cliftonville Society perhaps – should be formed to celebrate the successes. Cliftonville has been forgotten for far too long.

3 Arundel Terrace

To say that 3 Arundel Terrace looks standard from the outside would be something of an understatement as every building on this unique stretch is truly special. Relative to what’s inside though, it couldn’t be truer.

The first sign that No. 3 might be different is a large oriental dragon motif on the front door’s round glass panel. It’s difficult to see during the day from the street but, when the light’s right, it glows when viewed from within. ‘Mystery House’, on the stained glass above the lobby door, is a highly appropriate name for this quirky residence.

Many of the grand door frames are adorned with Moroccan-style door motifs above. The incredibly ornate oak rear doors of the building are in fact part of a series crafted especially for the Dome when it was refurbished. Fortunately, these two were spare. The door leading to the master bedroom on the second floor is impressive too for it is sharply curved.

Mystery House has been owned by Brighton-based songwriter/composer Jimmy Kaleth for six years and is now for sale. It was previously a doctor’s home and surgery. Fireplaces, coving and shutters are par for the course and are all of the quality expected of a Grade I Listed building. Kaleth has decorated and furnished to a high standard in an Oriental theme but there are many influences too. Putting together such an interesting collection of characteristic furniture and decorations from many countries and periods must have been quite a task – fun though. Unfortunately, a great collection of slot machines actually led to me losing money writing this piece – 20p at a time.

Work on Kemp Town began in 1823 and the first section to be finished was Arundel Terrace in 1828. ‘Kemp Town’ originally just meant Sussex Square, Lewes Crescent, Chichester Terrace and Arundel Terrace (plus service roads) but the definition has changed over time. Thomas Kemp was the developer with Wilds and Busby as architects. By 1834, ten of the thirteen Arundel Terrace houses were occupied.

Mystery House is on with Mishon Mackay for £1.65 million. Being a creative type, Kaleth is keen to move on to the next house and will again, I am sure, make his mark. He says that he won’t go so far though. Those of such disposition always say that but invariably carry on as before. How they find the energy is the real mystery.