Du Cane Court, Balham SW12
Art Deco apartment block
Architect: G. Kay Green
Year built: 1935-1938
Du Cane Court is a distinctive 1930s Art Deco block on Balham High Road. Reportedly the largest privately owned block of flats under one roof in Europe, its distinctive footprint was used as a navigational landmark by German pilots bombing London during the Second World War and was also a popular place to live for many music hall stars in the 1930s and 1940s.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Art Deco as I find the aesthetic a bit too fussy and vintagey but Du Cane Court is such an iconic block in such a convenient location that when two flats came up for sale in my price range last year, I was intrigued enough to want to view them.
First impressions were good. The block, vast and uniform, looked imposing from the road and was complemented by some attractive Japanese-style landscaping. The glamorous if slightly kitschy communal lobby was like something out of a Agatha Christie novel set in the 1930s with period furnishings, a lot of curved surfaces, pillars and gold accents.
The flats themselves were rather less impressive. The first was a 2 bedroom flat on one of the lower floors of the building, accessed via a very long, drably carpeted corridor. Like a lot of flats from this era, it had a lateral layout with all of the rooms lined up in a row, accessed via one long corridor down the side.
The combination of layout and the fact it was on a low floor gave the flat a slightly oppressive, gloomy feel. Looking out of the windows into the internal courtyard and the hundreds of other flats in the block (all of the rooms had the same outlook given the lateral layout) was a bit prison-like.
The other flat was a self contained split-level maisonette with its own front door accessed via the side of the block. This was marginally better but there was something strange about the way it had been converted and renovated, particularly the downstairs kitchen and living area which was sort of open plan but sort of not. The existing owner had tried to decorate in a way that was sympathetic to the era but the aesthetic wasn’t quite to my taste.
Although both flats were reasonably affordable and in a really convenient location from my perspective, I didn’t like either of them enough to put in an offer.
I’ve since seen a really nice example of a one bedroom flat in the block on the Modern House website. The vendor had done a very high-spec all-white renovation job, which gave the place a far more contemporary (yet still fitting) look compared to the slightly dodgy ones that I saw. Anyone seeking to renovate their Du Cane Court flat should take note!