Graham Bizley says that allowing Open House visitors into his home was an eye-opener.
“It’s amazing how many people get up at the crack of dawn,” says architect Graham Bizley of Open House, London’s annual nose around other people’s homes. “The first visitors caught me in my pyjamas holding my coffee. They were here half an hour before we were due to open.”
Bizley is one of a growing number of architects who are opening up their homes to the general public during London’s Open House weekend. They’ve realised the scheme provides a perfect opportunity to showcase their talents to a captive audience. And with 600 potential customers visiting his house there was a good chance he would receive one or two genuine enquiries.
Bizley says that even without the business leads the Open House experience would have been a worthwhile one. “I was told before the event that it would be a really good ego boost and it was. It was a life affirming experience and restored my faith in human nature.”
Warm-hearted appreciation comes as a welcome change to Bizley. Until Open House most of the attention his modern three storey home had attracted was from local kids who had tagged a brick wall and pelted eggs at his timber windows.
Bizley said he didn’t hear a negative comment on the day. “No-one slagged it off but quite a few people gave me small pieces of helpful advice, such as the possibility of splinters on the Douglas Fir stairs,” he says.
The home was almost the victim of its own popularity. “By 3pm there were 50 people in the house and queues of 30-40 people outside. There are only four rooms and the stairs were full. It was getting a bit out of hand,” said Bizley. For a moment he feared for his staircase under the weight of so many visitors. “It was safe, but it did have a Millennium Bridge moment,” he remembered.
The squeeze may have been slightly exasperated by Bizley’s laudable desire to give everybody the chance to explore the home in their own time. “We tried to organise it so people could move wherever they wanted rather than filing in single column from room to room. We didn’t want it like the Mona Lisa where you shuffle past in a line and only get to see the thing for two minutes.”
Not every one braved the crowds. Professor Florian Beigel, the influential architectural researcher at the London Metropolitan University, was left sitting in his car. By the time he arrived in the afternoon the queues were out of the front door and it had started raining.
Bizley was pleasantly surprised by the interest displayed by non-academic visitors. He says (rather sniffily) that he was expecting his home to be inundated by “MDF lovers” weaned on Changing Rooms but found that nearly everyone had an interest in the “architectural” bits.
This may have been in part explained by the number of architects and self-builders who came. “They come because it gives them confidence to see that somebody else has taken the plunge and built their own home,” says Bizley.
The day was a success, and there wasn’t even much clearing up to do says Bizley. “There were no burger wrappers and nobody had taken a sneaky piss in a hidden corner. It just needed a quick sweep that’s all.”
And, “we only found one weirdo,” he suddenly remembers. He was looking through the kitchen drawers, but Bizley was too pleased with how the day had gone to really mind. “To be honest if it had been me in somebody else’s house I would probably have done the same.”