An Architect’s Guide to Chelsea

‘Made in Chelsea’ is the name of the popular TV show following the lives and loves of Chelsea’s gilded youth. But what about the urban environment in which it is set? These buildings really were made in Chelsea.

Historically home to many famous artists, artistry and the Arts and Crafts runs through Chelsea’s veins. Combined with the area’s fashionableness and wealth it makes for a powerful combination – Chelsea is home to some of the finest architecture in the UK.           

Looking for an award-winning Architect in Chelsea? See here.


Michelin House

A truly one-off building. Interestingly given the flamboyance of the design it was designed by an ‘engineer’ working for the Michelin’s in-house construction department at their headquarters in France.

The building was intended as a billboard for Michelin, a tyre manufacturer, who were trying to establish themselves in the UK in the early part of the Twentieth century. When the building opened in 1911 it offered fitting areas at the front of the building to allow tyres to be speedily changed. Over 30,000 tyres were stored in the basement, brought up in a lift and rolled to the fitting area.

The Michelin car tyres were originally white. Hence the design of Michelin’s mascot ‘Bibendum’ who appears all over the building. Architectural riffs on stacks of tyres and wheels also appear throughout. Sixty years before the advent of post-modernism – this is the quintessential post-modernist building.


14, 16 Hans Road

Chelsea has a large amount of Arts and Crafts buildings, a movement that flourished between 1870 and 1920. This pair of houses next door to Harrods by C. F. A. Voysey completed in 1892 are a case in point. Featuring eccentrically composed façades, with stripped back sculptural forms and simple ornamentation used in small areas, they are quite different to the nearby ‘Pont Street Dutch’ (see below).

The stone porches at the base are small self-contained Arts and Crafts works in their own right: handmade decorative detailing, expressive door hinges, delicately carved numbers, each porch with a unique ceramic panel by Conrad Dressler, an important Arts and Crafts sculptor – one showing a lion, the other a man walking at night.


Pont Street Dutch

‘Pont Street Dutch’ was a term coined by the cartoonist, architectural writer and ‘wit’ Osbert Lancaster in 1938 to describe the picturesque red brick buildings that developed in north Chelsea in the 1870s and 80s.

Made famous by the architects Robert Norman Shaw and JJ Stevenson, ‘Pont Street Dutch’ houses typically feature: decorative terracotta brickwork; white windows / details; complex assemblages (bay windows, turrets, balconies, brackets etc.); 5 storeys topped with Dutch style gables.

What is remarkable is the coherence of the urban squares such as Hans Place / Cadogan Square/ Lennox Gardens despite the freedom and complexity of the architecture. These are some of the most spectacular and indeed expensive houses in London.


Danish Embassy

In amongst the highly decorated, idiosyncratic houses of Chelsea, the Danish Embassy appears like something of an architectural sledgehammer.  

Completed in 1977 it was designed by the renowned Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. His architecture was typically uncompromisingly Modern and self-contained.

Interestingly the brooding grey building which is visible today was originally painted “sand colour” to offer some sympathy to its neighbours. This certainly would change the feel of it – less Brutalist and more early Hi-Tec, a huge modern machine made of modular parts throughout.


St. Columba’s Church

In the midst of the bright red ‘Pont Street Dutch’ context, the Portland stone of St. Columba’s stands out like a white Scottish beacon.

The previous Scottish church that stood on the site was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1941. St. Columba’s was completed in 1955. It was designed by Edward Maufe, the architect of Heals department store and Guildford Cathedral.

The design of the church is hard to categorise – the sculptural freedom of Arts and Crafts, simple Modern detailing, a dash of Byzantine, a touch of Gaudi, possibly Expressionist architecture… The corner tower and Portland stone may be influenced by Cadogan Hall nearby. The tower’s ‘policeman’s hat’ roof is a striking unusual form and topped with green slate.

Inside, the main church hall is on the first floor. Its ceiling appears to be exposed concrete giving the hall a primitive, cave-like quality. Brightly coloured emblems from Scottish districts line the walls.


Cadogan Hall

Possibly to be regarded as part of a pair with St Columba’s, Cadogan Hall is the much earlier building, dating from 1907. It was constructed in the Byzantine Revival style, often used by Roman Catholic (RC) churches at the turn of the last century to differentiate them from the Gothic used by C of E churches. Westminster Cathedral is London’s most famous example of a Byzantine Revival RC church, dating from 1903.

Rather than RC, Cadogan Hall was constructed for ‘the Church of Christ Scientist’, a branch of Christianity originating in the United States.

The building fell into disuse in the late 1990s and was converted into a venue for music performances.


Holy Trinity

One block over from Cadogan Hall is Holy Trinity church completed in 1891. In fact, the principal view of Cadogan Hall’s tower is from ‘Sedding Street’ to the rear of Holy Trinity, named after its architect John Dando Sedding.

Sedding (whose other great London work is ‘Our Most Holy Redeemer’ – a similarly exuberant church in Clerkenwell) was both an architect and a craftsman, well integrated in the Arts and Crafts movement. For Holy Trinity, Sedding was able to call upon his friends, key artists and crafts people of the age. Consequently the Grade 1 listed building conceals a treasure trove of artistic works internally. This led to the poet John Betjeman describing Holy Trinity as the ‘Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts’.

Of particular note in the interior is the extraordinarily modern, grid-like east window which was designed by Edward Burne Jones and William Morris.

Themes of nature and craft run throughout. Jesus’s occupation as a carpenter is highlighted in the north window. Under it is the cloth ‘altar frontal’ designed by John Sedding and embroidered by his wife Rose.

To the right is a memorial to Sedding who died just before the church was completed. It reads ‘To the Memory of John D Sedding… architect of this Church. This Tablet is placed here by the London Artworkers Guild to record the affection and admiration in which they hold the Memory and the Art of their Past Master’. Such affection is rare indeed.


Peter Jones

At the west end of Sloane Square, the Peter Jones department store is Grade 2* listed building – a rating higher than many of the other buildings listed here. It dates from 1939 and is by Crabtree, Slater, Moberly, Reilly architects. Of interest as one of the first examples of “curtain walling” in the UK (the non-structural glazing system that wraps the building’s structure like a curtain).

Now that curtain walling is ubiquitous and more minimal, it’s perhaps hard to feel great excitement about the Peter Jones building, but in 1939 it must have looked radical and revolutionary.

Ironically though, despite the extensive glazing that wraps the entire building the department store’s interior is almost entirely enclosed by opaque partitioning and is consequently artificially lit. The mysteries of department store/ shopping design!

That gripe noted the top floor features a generous, naturally-lit café added by the architect John McAslan in 2004, which allows spectacular views over the rooftops of Chelsea, to Kensington and beyond. McAslan also added a glass-roofed central atrium to bring some much needed natural light to the lower floors.


Saatchi Gallery

Back in the late 1980s / early 90s the Saatchi Gallery was the hot gallery in town with YBAs falling over themselves to try and attract the attention of the Charles Saatchi the artworld king/ queen-maker. Saatchi’s original gallery in Boundary Road, St John’s Wood had all the edgy cool of the art world at that time, a sprawling converted garage space entered via an anonymous gate.

Following an aborted move to County Hall, the Greater London Council’s former headquarters in 2003, where the gallery’s edginess was replaced with a kind of stuffy municipal grandeur, in 2008 the gallery moved again to a new permanent home in the Duke of York’s Headquarters building in Chelsea.

Like County Hall, the building exudes grandeur, standing back from the Kings Road, its mighty Doric colonnade visible across the expansive lawn in front. The building was converted to a gallery space by the architects AHMM.

Remembering the good old days at the Boundary Road gallery, it feels like something has got lost along the way, but probably all things have to grow up eventually!



Vardo is a recently constructed café set back from the Kings Road. Designed by the architects Nex, it is intended to be understood as an extension of the curved boundary wall of Duke of York Square adjacent. Ingeniously it features curved glass windows (recalling Peter Jones’ curtain walling nearby) which on a sunny day can be sunken into the ground using a counterweight system, similar to a traditional sash window. A remarkable feat of engineering.


Chelsea Barracks

A huge development of luxury housing on the site of the original British Army barracks site.

When one visits Chelsea Barracks today and recalls the hoo-ha that surrounded the project prior to its construction it seems difficult to believe that this could be the end result.

The project was originally intended to be designed by Richard Rogers, architect of the Pompidou Centre and Lloyd’s building. However Rogers was booted off the ‘billion pound job’ in 2009 following the intervention of the then-Prince, now-King Charles. Charles wanted the classical architect Quinlain Terry, who had just completed the ‘Margaret Thatcher Infirmary’ across the road to design the scheme.

In the end neither Rogers, nor Terry built the project, instead, following a competition, it was realised by a consortium of architects with the masterplan by Dixon Jones, Squire and Partners and the landscape consultant Kim Wilkie.

By 2021 the project budget was reported as £3 billion.

Visiting the scheme today (midweek in mid/ late April) the impression is largely of sterility. No one walks around, there is no feeling that this is a normal part of the city, the Portland stone used throughout feels overpowering in its homogeneity, especially when combined with the pale grey hard landscaping; the water features smell strongly of chlorine and are accompanied by a highly audible mechanical chugging like a tractor. This is not the Chelsea paradise it should be.

Despite the above, or maybe as a consequence of this (?!) one of the houses on ‘Whistler Street’ was on sale in March 2022 for £58 million, making it the most expensive house in London at that time.


Royal Hospital Chelsea

Home to ‘the Chelsea Pensioners’ – 300 army veterans. The hospital accepts applications from ex British Army personnel above the age of 66 who are spending their lives alone – offering them care and support.

The hospital is housed in incredible grounds located in the heart of Chelsea, designed by some of the all time greatest names of UK architecture – Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and John Soane. The creation of a dedicated hospital for veterans was inspired by the Louis XIV’s ‘Les Invalides’, a similarly grand retirement home for soldiers in Paris. The Royal Hospital Chelsea opened in 1692.


Tite Street / The Red House

West of the Royal Hospital, Tite Street has a strong tradition of artist’s homes and studios. The painter Whistler had his studio “the White House” at number no.33 and the painter John Singer Sergent lived, worked and died next door at no. 31 (see plaque). Oscar Wilde ‘wit and dramatist’ (see plaque) lived at 34 Tite Street. It’s like a real life version of the comedy Stella Street!

Purpose built artist studio/ houses were also constructed further up the road by the architect EW Godwin: the eight storey/ four stacked double-height studios called ‘Tower House’ and at no. 44 a house and studio for the society painter Frank Miles (the activities within commemorated in the brick relief on the front façade).

Into this prestigious context, the architect Tony Fretton constructed a house called the Red House in 2001. The practice had a strong background in the arts having designed the Camden Arts Centre, the Lisson Gallery and the Fuglsang Art Museum in Denmark.   

Fretton chose red limestone for the cladding to both and fit and differentiate the house from the terracotta brickwork prevalent in the street. The front is carefully composed with a projecting bay, the central portion of stonework slides back to reveal the garage, the main house entrance is on the right, with the staff living room on the left. Beyond the facade lies an imaginative range of spaces which respond to the rear and roof gardens.


Private Houses, Chelsea Embankment

Chelsea used to meet the River Thames in a romantic, naturalistic way – part of its original charm. Historic paintings and engravings show a rough track lined with ad hoc timber houses and jetties. This all changed with the construction of the Chelsea Embankment by Joseph Bazalgette in 1874, part of the wider scheme to provide London with a modern sewer system.

The construction of the Embankment also created a stretch of new land ripe for house-building. This opportunity coincided with the rise of Chelsea as a highly fashionable place to live.

Consequently the new houses that were constructed along the Embankment were undertaken by some of the foremost architects of the day. In particular was Robert Norman Shaw, who, between 1876 and 1879, constructed: ‘The Clock House’ at no. 8, nos. 9-11, no. 15 and ‘Swan House’ at no. 17. With their highly rich and inventive facades, these are widely regarded as some of the finest examples of domestic architecture in the UK.


37, 38 & 39 Cheyne Walk

Sometime after the separation from her husband in 1893, the architect C R Ashbee’s mother bought a building plot. The site included the burnt remains of the ‘Magpie and Stump’ pub which had occupied the site since Elizabethan times.  Ashbee, who was then 30, designed a new house (no. 37) which built on the mythology of the raised pub. Following its construction, the house became a sort of showroom for Ashbee with his architectural practice located on the ground floor. Meanwhile his mother and sisters lived upstairs.  

From 1896 to 1913 Ashbee designed a further six houses on Cheyne Walk. Of these only two survive (nos. 38 and 39). Ashbee’s own house at no. 37 no longer exists.

Built between 1898 and 1899, nos. 38 and 39 are an enjoyably eccentric pair of houses. Of the two, no. 39 was speculative, while no. 38 was designed for an artist from Tite Street with ‘very particular requirements’.

The most unusual detail is the gold and black railing outside, possibly made by the ‘Guild of Handicraft’ which was founded by Ashbee. Ashbee himself designed jewellery, made by the Guild, and the railings have a unique jewellery-like quality.


Chelsea Physic Garden

Set back from the noisy Chelsea Embankment (which whilst lined with the attractive houses highlighted above is also a major ‘A’ road), the Chelsea Physic Garden is an oasis of calm.

It was established in 1673 as a medicinal garden, an ‘outdoor classroom’ for students studying Apothecaries – the equivalent of a pharmacist or chemist today. The current garden still has some of the quality of a scientific endeavour, with rows of plants carefully laid out and labelled with explanations of their health giving properties.


Chelsea Old Church

A grade 1 listed church, largely of interest due to its age and the fact its appearance in numerous historic artworks (including by Whistler and Turner). A church has stood on the site since 1157. The chancels were 13th century and the nave and tower built in 1670.

In fact the church today is ‘a facsimile’ having been almost totally destroyed by a parachute mine in World War 2. Despite this there is still a quality of the historic Chelsea, particularly to the rear where the leafy church yard meets Cheyne Walk. A monument to Hans Sloane is located in a prominent position by the churchyard gate.

In front of the Old Church is a listed ‘lamp standard’ in cast iron, painted pale green, replete with cornucopias and climbing children. Safe to say – they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.


Carlyle’s House, Cheyne Row

Thomas Caryle was a highly influential essayist, philosopher and historian from the Victorian era. His house in Cheyne Walk was a centre for intellectual thought during the period. It is now owned by the National Trust.

The building itself is not of particular interest, though listed and attractive, it is a fairly average townhouse from 1708, with an interior of dark timber panelling and slightly gaudy furnishings fashionable at the time. Externally the house differentiates itself from the adjacent terrace with a tasteful pale brown paint to the stuccowork.


Holy Redeemer Church

 The ‘Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer and St Thomas More’ is a red brick Roman Catholic church, grade 2 listed and constructed in 1895 by Edward Goldie. The setting is a particularly pretty corner of Chelsea, where Cheyne Row meets Upper

Cheyne Row, with views to Philip Webb’s West House in Glebe Place to the north.


West House

Philip Webb was co-designer with William Morris of the ‘Red House’ in Bexleyheath, a key work of the Arts and Crafts movement constructed in 1859. West House in Glebe Place followed on ten years later and was built for the watercolour painter George Boyce.

The house’s front facing Glebe Place is a striking composition with a two storey, pitched roof volume, projecting forwards from the main body of the house – a sort of mini-house echoing the one beyond. At roof level on the left the combined double gable is reminiscent of Standen House in Sussex (now owned by the National Trust) that Webb designed twenty years later.  

A significant cultural note is that the West House was used in 1987 as the location for Uncle Monty’s house in the cult film ‘Withnail and I’. The furniture and furnishings belonging to the then owner were used unchanged in the film for Monty’s living room. ‘Alas I have little more than vintage wine and memories…’


Glebe Place

As well as West House, Glebe Place also features a few other architectural highlights. No. 42 is an attractive Voysey-inspired house by the architect James Gorst dating from 1997.

No. 49 Glebe Place was, unbelievably, originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackinstosh, architect of the Glasgow School of Art (1909) – one of the UK’s best ever buildings. Between 1915 and 1923 Mackintosh had lived and worked at 43 Glebe Place – commemorated by the plaque on 43’s garage door.

49 Glebe Place dates from 1920 and was designed for the artist Harold Squire – constructed as a single storey at the front with a taller studio block rising behind it. Within only a few years of its completion the design had been corrupted with an additional storey added at the front. Looking at it now from the street it is impossible to tell that anyone, let alone Mackintosh, had anything to do with the design at all.

Next door to the Mackintosh house, no. 50 is an intriguing ivy clad house with an Art Nouveau styled tower facing north to Manresa Road. Apparently it was constructed or adapted for the advertiser Frank Lowe in the mid 1980s, but is clearly designed to appear much older – a kind of Disney-esque fantasia. 


430 King’s Road – The Clockhouse / SEX

430 King’s Road has been a centre for fashion and youth culture since the 1970s. Starting from a stall behind the shop, Malcolm McLaren working with Vivienne Westwood, took on the shop itself in 1971. Over the years there have been many iterations of the shop’s name and style. Most famously in 1974 the shop was rebranded as ‘SEX’ – becoming the home of Punk culture with the Sex Pistols forming there.

To this day 430 King’s Road continues as part of Vivienne Westwood’s ‘global fashion empire’ despite the death of Vivienne Westwood herself at the end of 2022. Murals commemorating her appear on The Clockhouse’s flank wall. 


Mallord House

Located on the corner of Mallord Street, a stripped down, muscular brown brick house from 1911. The house was designed by Ralph Knott for the artist Cecil Hunt. Knott went on to build County Hall for the London County Council – see Saatchi Gallery above. Small, flush windows (particularly on the end elevations) and general lack of ornament, combined with a sculptural simplicity give the building a solid, early Modern feel.


5 Mulberry Walk

Like Mallord House nearby, 5 Mulberry Walk is another stripped down house that anticipates Modernism, though perhaps here more veering into Art Deco especially around the entrance doors. It was built in 1913 by the architect Clifton R Davy for Baron Rosenkrantz, a Danish stained glass designer. Relatively composed and formal to the front, the rear has a more rustic, asymmetrical composition with a huge north facing studio window.


64 & 65 Old Church Street

A pair of houses from 1936 designed for two cousins with a shared rear garden. The designs were undertaken by some of the foremost global architects of the period. Erich Mendolsohn (architect of the Schocken department store in Stuttgart which inspired Chelsea’s Peter Jones store) and Walter Gropius (designer of the hugely influential Bauhaus) were both escaping Nazi Germany and would eventually end up living in America. For a short period they lived and worked in London where they each teamed up with architectural partners – Mendolsohn with Serge Chermayeff and Gropius with Maxwell Fry.

Of the two houses, no. 64, a long sleek white bar by Mendolsohn and Chermayeff, is still well preserved and looks today much as it did when it was built. Norman Foster added a black rectilinear conservatory filled with plants at the south end in 1992.

Unfortunately no. 65 has been changed beyond recognition, now with grey hanging tiles enclosing what was once a white rendered sun terrace.

Like the concurrent Peter Jones store in Sloane Square – these houses must have looked radically modern in their day.


40 and 41 Chelsea Square

Oliver Hill began his career as an Arts and Crafts architect, but his career was to straddle between modernism and classicism throughout the 1930s.

Around the same time that he was building this pair of classical dolls houses in Chelsea Square, Hill was also constructing the much more modern, Art Deco Midland Hotel in Morcambe. He would go on to build more in the Modern style – a collection of white houses in Frinton, Essex and the British Pavilion in the 1937 Paris Expo.

Of the two houses in Chelsea Square, no. 40 really is like a dolls house, small symmetrical and one can almost imagine the front hinging open to reveal the interior.

No. 41, built four years later, is much more intriguing – largely because of the strangely irregular screen wall which breaks the house’s symmetry with the carefully composed geometric openings (2 rectangles and a circle). This is an almost surrealist addition to the house – where you would expect there to be a solid wing of building there is a flat roof terrace half masked by the screen wall.

What is unclear is who is responsible for the geometric screen wall? In the 1935 Country Life which features coverage of the two houses, the geometric wall is not there. So when was it added and by who? Hopefully it will turn out to be Oliver Hill – it is a moment of some genius!


The Gateways

Not to be confused with the historic lesbian nightclub of the same name further down the Kings Road…

The Gateways on Sprimont Place is an unusual complex of three primary ‘public’ courtyards enclosed by housing. The complex dates from 1934 and was designed by Wills and Kaula.

The name ‘The Gateways’ is well chosen. The complex is entered via ‘pointed diaphragm arched’ gateways from Sprimont Place, or Whitehead’s Grove. First, one enters into the central courtyard/ avenue and then into either of the two more private courtyards. All parts of the complex are two storey, in a slightly severe 1930s brown brick, with small leaded windows.

Overall it is an enjoyably theatrical series of spaces.