40 New Bond Street: an Italian grotto in Mayfair
A totally unexpected treat awaits visitors to the Edwardian commercial premises of 39-42 New Bond Street. Initially designed for the tailors Cooling Lawrence and Son, no 40 has been occupied since 1910 by Mallett and Son and then by Frank Smythson Ltd. In the ground floor shop, hidden behind the high-spirited classical Baroque style facade clad in faience, three rear rooms bear Raymond Erith’s signature designed in 1962-63.
Two of these rooms were for antique furniture: a large dining room in stripped Soanic style with shallow pendentive dome, and a smaller dining room in conventional classical manner with a blind Palladian window. It is the third room that takes any visitor totally by surprise: a small octagonal room intended as a showroom for small pieces, where Erith’s design provided a fantasy setting for this purpose. This tiny interior was based on the idea of an Italian grotto as a picturesque cave, and Erith clearly intended this to be looked into and seen as a single composition. Exquisitely-detailed, the room comprises panels of fine shell work framed by alabaster borders and wall linings in white marble and gritty grey granite. The most striking aspect of this room, a small grotto fountain, is set in a niche and at present concealed behind a later mirror cover, but this is expected to be removed. A central lantern allows natural light in and further underlines the sense of enclosure and the geometric vigour of the design. Lucy Archer, author of Raymond Erith Architect (1985) and guest curator of the Erith exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum in 2004, has noted that there is nothing else at all comparable anywhere in his work.
The building was listed at Grade II in 1989 and the interiors by Erith are specifically mentioned in the List description, with the little grotto room extensively discussed. Earlier this year the Society successfully negotiated with the current occupiers over a scheme for the creation of a new opening into the little grotto, and we are very pleased that this proposal has now been withdrawn.