Better design lifts the spirits and lasts longer. That's the view of Victoria Thornton, founder of Open House, the biggest architecture festival in the UK, now in its 19th year (September 17-18). This time, the now-familiar open weekend includes more than 700 buildings, talks, walks and even boat tours, all free, happening right across London.
The festival's aim is to increase public understanding of design in the city, so that we can make better decisions about where we live - and so, adds Thornton, "ensure that neighbourhoods achieve long-term changes, not quick fixes".
This year, there are 60 homes on show offering great ideas. Some have to be pre-booked, others you take pot luck and queue for. All are described in the guide (details below).
Reflecting the state of the economy, there is a strong theme of extensions, improvements, and "retro-fitting" this year rather than new builds, and, supporting the trend for sustainable and eco-homes, a lot of timber cladding. It is amazing what a difference some of these new addons achieve, not only in looks but to the feeling indoors.
1. Timber Fin House, Waltham Forest (E17)
This delightful extension to an ordinary turn-of-the century house was completed by Neil Dusheiko Architects last year. It was designed to get the best from the sun throughout the day, both for warmth and light. The appealing-looking extension to a family home has an oak frame clad in Siberian larch, and gives extra living space and an extra bedroom to a young growing family, without destroying the garden the children love.
2. Jewel Box, Islington
Fraher Architects finished the Jewel Box in Islington this spring, a lovely remodelling that turns cramped dark spaces at the back of a traditional house into glassy, beautifully detailed light spaces with floor-to-ceiling glass to the outside, carefully finished in timber.
3. The Interpolation House, Brent
This is a classic semi finished last year by William Tozer Architects that has been remodelled with a glassy extension on two sides, creating a big, stylish and versatile open space looking on to the garden.
4. Ancient churches and historic houses
But Open House isn't all about modern houses. From ancient churches in the City, to an array of historic Guilds that are never normally open to the public — such as the Clothworkers' Guild with its rare 18th-century Brussels tapestries — there are many gems to see. Try adorably "Gothic" Strawberry Hill House, like a fairytale castle, built in the 18th century for Horace Walpole, which has just undergone a £9 million refurbishment.
Or visit Canada House in Trafalgar Square, once the Union Club where Wellington was a member, whose magnificent foyer looks like something out of Brideshead Revisited.
Marvel, too, at Crossness Engine House designed by Joseph Bazalgette (the brilliant engineer who designed London's sewers). This Grade I High-Victorian pumping station has four of the largest beam engines in the world and glorious decorative ironwork inside. Or, for the valiant, join the Sponge Trail walk, a 12.5-mile challenge taking in 14 eco-buildings from Peckham to Dalston via Southwark and the City.
© Graham Jepsom
5. Zero Carbon Loft, Boston Manor
This is definitely worth making an effort to see, with its joyfully shaped sedum roof and liberal use of solar panels the building, completed last year, has an impressive array of energy- and water-saving devices and shows just how successful, and enjoyable, retrofitting can be.
6. The End House, Lewisham
The End House is a small end-of-terrace showing how to make excellent use of a tight plot. Its rather severe face on to the road, with small slit windows, helps deal with noise and creates privacy.
Open House runs from September 17 to 18 and is London-wide. Guide £6.50 for a paper version or £3.50 to download from the website; also visit opencity.org for full details, and more, including an Open House app for iPhone. For details of the Sponge Trail of eco-buildings, visit spongenet.org/openhouse.