The Cosmic House in London’s leafy Holland Park is not for the faint-hearted. Designed by Charles Jencks, the house is considered one of the most important examples of Postmodern architecture and is the UK’s first Grade I listed house of that style. No psychedelic drugs are required for your visit which will convince you that you’ve travelled to a parallel universe where everything is an explosion of colour, form, wit, symbolism and most of all, fun. But be warned: getting that gold ticket to visit the Cosmic House isn’t a walk in the park, so read further and see how you can get your curious little mind into what could be the quirkiest house in London.
A History of the Cosmic House
Built between 1978 and 1983, the Cosmic House, initially called The Thematic House. was a collaboration between the American architectural historian, Charles Jencks and architect Terry Farrell. The innovative duo would go on to create a postmodern masterpiece, together with other contributors including Michael Graves, Eduardo Paolozzi, Piers Gough and Allen Jones. Cosmic House opened its doors the public in 2021.
Charles started designing the house whilst was writing his bestseller, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. He was married to writer, gardener and designer, Maggie Keswick Jencks. She was co-founder of the incredible Maggie’s cancer care charity (with Charles).
Cosmic House is pretty kooky and you can throw some kitsch in there too. The design revolves around the creation of the universe, the rotation of Earth, the seasons and the elements. But you don’t need to read too much into it. Just simply wander, try to pick your jaw off the floor, and enjoy the light, the drama and the ludic design.
I’ve never seen a house like it in London and it’s certainly top of my list for being one of London’s most unusual historic houses. Let’s go take a look inside, shall we?
See inside the Cosmic House
The vortexed Solar Staircase acts as the central anchor for the Cosmic House’s spaces. It takes its inspiration from the Tulip Staircase in the Queen’s House. It represents the solar year and is also a nod to the double helix of DNA structure.
The Dome of Water is, believe it or not, a Jacuzzi, designed by Piers Gough. It fits up to six people, although Charles’ daughter, Lily recollects how she only used it once. Apparently getting in and out was too much of a chore, and the water was constantly cold.
The Cosmic Oval was the original entrance to the house, above which sits this elliptical ceiling. Beneath is a Cosmic Loo (yeah baby!)
The journey through the seasons starts with the Winter Room with its greys and darker tones. The oversized fireplace is by Michael Graves.
With yet another understated fireplace (also designed by Michael Graves) , the Spring Room just begs to be sat in. The spiral Lloyd Frank Wright-esque lamps apparently regularly fall off.
The Sundial Arcade allows uninterrupted views across the garden. Apparently, the window lowers into the floor at the flick of a switch, but I couldn’t possibly comment as I didn’t see this in action.
No it’s not called a boring Kitchen: it’s the Indian Summer, the final in the series of seasonal rooms.
The Indian Summer is a kitsch space with a frieze decorated with salad spoons, a Ganesh and other beckoning deities. “If you can’t stand the kitsch, get out of the kitchen,” Charles Jencks once said.
The Architectural Library also served as Charles’ study. Each of the bookcases is designed according to the style of book that is contained within it. For example, a pyramid bookcase holds books about Ancient Egypt, whilst a domed one contains books about Ancient Rome.
The Foursquare Room where Charles and Maggie slept definitely has a Charles Rennie Mackintosh vibe to it.
The en-suite Bathpool can be seen from the master bedroom above. Does it remind you of the sea? It was designed by gardener Maggie who wanted views onto the garden from her bathtub.
Charles Jencks referred to the entrance gate as his “better selfie.” It’s meant to represent the body and wings of an angel and is a nod to the wings used as the background you see in all those selfies. It was the last element he completed on the house.
The exhibition space in the Cosmic House has a mirrored ceiling and a malachite green floor. As soon as you step into the house, you are already disarmed by the dizzying spaces around you. The hinged way in which the works are on display here echo the Picture Room in the John Soane Museum’s Picture Room, one of the most delightful rooms in all of London if you get a chance to visit.
How to get tickets to the Cosmic House
The Cosmic House is re-opening for the public on the 19 April. Tickets will be released from midday on 20 March, and the house will be open for visitors on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with visits at 12:30 and 15:00. Time slots are limited to 15 people per visit and will offer 1 hour and 30 minutes in the house. Tickets are £5 per person. To purchase tickets, book here.
The Cosmic House re-opens with the first public presentation of an annual research theme ‘1980 in parallax’, launching an exhibition and new commission by Raqs Media Collective. The exhibition will be on view at The Cosmic House between the 19 April and the 22 December. To find out more about the exhibition, head to the website.
In Spring 2023, the foundation will publish online the first part of the catalogue of Charles’ archive that contains papers, designs and writings related to the design of The Cosmic House, both by Charles and by his numerous collaborators. It will be freely accessible to the public.
Tours of the Cosmic House
Cosmic House will also be restarting monthly curator-led tours of the house. The first of these tours will be on April 24 and tickets can be purchased from the following link from Monday 20 of March. Click here for curator led tour tickets.
The Cosmic House: 19 Lansdowne Walk, London W11 3AH. Nearest tube: Holland Park.