About 20 miles away from central London, in a leafy suburban area, is a very unexpected sight: a modernist stucco house that pays clear homage to Egyptian and Middle Eastern architecture. Arnussi, named after an oasis near Gaza, was built in 1923, a year after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Original owner Percy Stammwitz had spent the First World War in the Sinai Desert in Egypt and decided to design his home in tribute to buildings of the area.
The entrance to the house is through an Egyptian style gateway adorned with hieroglyphs and guarded by kneeling camels. Next is a blue front door decorated with a Jerusalem cross, a symbol of Crusaders to the Middle East in the Middle Ages. On the roof are two Islamic minarets, one of which was originally the house’s chimney, and inside, there are five domes influenced by the Great Temple of Jerusalem, some of which are painted gold.
The three-bedroom, two-bath property, with a back garden that measures 63 by 59 feet, is being sold by Curchods, which has put it on the market asking $1.2 million. Of course, prospective buyers should keep in mind this is a eccentric house, without some of the more trendy and modern amenities such as open-plan living spaces. As the listing states, “Arnussi’s quirky style and layout provides all modern-day creature comforts, including underfloor heating, utility room, study and an integrated kitchen, but please don’t go looking for ensuite bathrooms or chrome fittings.” The house is only about 1,400 square feet; outside, there is a garage plus space to park additional cars.
After the current owners bought the property in 2004, they renovated and modernized the eccentric house, including the addition of a large living room they boldly painted dark pink. The living room, which overlooks the somewhat unkempt semi-tropical Middle-Eastern-inspired garden and surrounding fields, is next to a balcony with space for a table and chairs. In the dining room, the words Pro Aris Et Focis (For Hearth and Home) are molded on the dining room’s fireplace. That is the motto of original owner Stammwitz’s mounted police regiment, in which he served in during the Boer War (1899-1902).
So who was Percy Stammwitz (1881-1954)? After he retired from the army, he became a taxidermist for London’s Natural History Museum, with a specialty in whales. Most notably, he was responsible for the life-sized model of the blue whale that is still one of the museum’s best known exhibits. In 1937, Stammwitz and his son Stuart (both pictured below) began working on the project, based on a 75’ whale skeleton from Northern Ireland that weighs 4.5 tons, which is also currently on display at the entrance to the museum.
Picture from Natural History Museum, London, via Twitter
Not bad for one man: a whale model that continues to excite visitors nearly one hundred years later, and a spectacular property still creating an otherworldly atmosphere in a sedate London suburb.