The Planetarium can take a hitchhike. If you want to reach for the stars or voyage into outer space, skip the rocket ship and board a tube to The Cosmic House.
From the pavement, the former home of Charles Jencks looks like a quintessential west London townhouse. But on closer inspection, this isn't a conventional Kensington property — it's a portal to another dimension...
Who was this Charles Jencks character?
A writer, cultural theorist and historian, Charles Jencks was an original thinker with eccentric tastes. Inspired by his fascination with the universe, The Cosmic House is inspired by his existential curiosity, an architectural wonder that explores the creation of the universe, celebrates the Earth's seasons and shines a light on ancient civilisations.
Wait…did you say The Cosmic House?
Yes! A collaboration with architect Sir Terry Farrell, The Cosmic House (initially called The Thematic House) was built between the late 70s and early 80s when exploring the universe was all the rage. The Hubble Space Telescope was being built while the Apollo space programme was in full swing.
It culminated in an out-of-this-world immersive experience that was part home and part celebration of all things cosmology. Charles lived at The Cosmic House with his family until he died in 2019 but in his latter years, he’d already planned for its legacy, turning it into a public museum and home of The Jencks Foundation.
Visiting The Cosmic House
Since 2021, sci-fi lovers, appreciators of idiosyncratic design and purveyors of post-modern architecture have flocked to 19 Landsdowne Walk in Holland Park to immerse themselves in his imaginative playground of ideas.
We couldn't let them have all the fun so here's the Londonist lowdown on what to expect from the unexpected, on a celestial trip via Kensington.
Do look up — the sky's the limit
You can start your self-guided tour by exploring this residential odyssey in any order you like but the Cosmic Oval is a fitting place to begin. A mirrored hallway that looks like a cross between the big bang and a disco ball sets the scene for the aesthetic ahead. Celebrating the birth of stories, mythologies, science and philosophy, here you're greeted by a frieze that pays homage to other great thinkers.
They include Roman emperor Hadrian, Dutch humanist Erasmus, Greek philosopher Pythagoras and thought leaders in the worlds of poetry, architecture and academia. But while they look down at you, it's when you look up at the ceiling beyond them, at the Cosmic Oval that you'll find the real magic.
Modelled on the Cosmic Egg, a symbol that echoes throughout Ancient mythology, it's an invitation to enter this home at your peril. You're about to embark on an interior journey so absurd it puts maximalism to shame. And while most of the doors in the hallway you're standing in are fake, one of them leads you to another dimension — a Cosmic Loo.
The four seasons
Vivaldi knew a thing or two about the seasons and Jencks followed suit. The rooms on the first floor are named after the seasons of the year. Winter is a cosy living room library characterised by an oversized fireplace which handily leads you into Spring.
Designed around seating that mimics a sundial, it's where you can imagine Charles and his wife Maggie hosting soirees attended by pals equally as fascinated by cosmology and astrology.
Beside the window is a sunken seating area with a sundial table, which clearly has powers. Despite visiting the house on a grey wet day, spending a few minutes sitting by the sundial somehow made the sun come out. Spooky or spiritual? We can't say.
The Indian Summer kitchen houses The Temple of Heat (aka the cooker) and The Temple of Water (sink). Statues of Indian deities adorn the shelves but it's not the only company you'll find here. Look out for a recurrent theme throughout The Cosmic House — faces in places.
Stairway to heaven
Climbing the stairs is like entering the realm of The Jetsons with different floors that allow you to jump off onto different levels — that's if you make it up the first riser. For at the bottom lies a mosaic black hole; try not to get sucked in.
Built as a vortex that runs through the centre of the house, each floor comes off it like the spiralling arms of a galaxy. Physics geeks will be in their element climbing them. There are 52 stairs representing the weeks of the year. Each step has strips cast in it creating 365 grooved inscriptions representing the days of the year. You'll also find the 12 signs of the Zodiac inlaid within the stairs. But the most important step is right in the centre: June 21, representing the summer solstice... and Jencks's birthday.
Fountain of knowledge
The former inhabitant wrote numerous books and is best-known for his perspectives on post-modernism. He collected words too and housed them in an Architectural Library — architecture in the literal sense. Books are classified and 'housed' in the sections they represent. So titles on Ancient Egypt are kept in a pyramid. Here, you can browse his publications while contemplating the miniature town of bookhouses that make up his library and wouldn't look out of a place in a children's nursery.
Out like a light
Obsessive is one way to describe Charles and Maggie's private hideaway. Named the Four Square Room, their master bedroom is a homage to squares. You can't escape these four-sided shapes, emblazoned on the fireplace, headboard and furnishings. The grid-like design creates order in what some might call a chaotic home.
But for Charles, it was far more symbolic. Squares represent the number four to reflect the four seasons, four times of the day, the four elements and four corners of the earth.
Next door you'll find a sea-themed Bathpool as opposed to bathroom. The couple liked to relax in unconventional ways for they also installed an upside-down Jacuzzi that they christened The Dome of Water.
Garden of Eden
Outside is like entering the time-space continuum. The back garden of The Cosmic House isn't too dissimilar to what Lewis Carroll conjured up with Alice in Wonderland. The walls are lined with doors that could be portals to infinity, each one named after the months of the year.
Standing on the lawn feels like you're standing in the centre of the universe. And while each door teases you with the temptation to pull it open, there's one door in the middle that sums up the fantastical theme of The Cosmic House. A mirrored door which reflects the house back at you, it's inscribed with the mysterious words 'The Future is Behind You.'
The Cosmic House is open April to December three days a week. Tickets for 2023 are sold out. Tickets for 2024 will be available in mid/late March. Temporary exhibitions by guest artists take place inside The Cosmic House and can be accessed during your visit.
Cosmic Housework, a site-specific exhibition by Madelon Vriesendorp, is on show at Cosmic House until 31 May 2024.