The Story Behind "The Skinny House" in South Kensington

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Updated on

This building situated on Thurloe Square in South Kensington is more commonly known as the "Skinny House" and, at its narrowest end, is only 6ft wide.

Originally, back in the 19th Century, 5 Thurloe Square was an artist’s studio. Nowadays, it’s a prime piece of property, with a one-bedroom flat listed at £850,000 in 2016.

Despite it looking impossibly narrow from the south-west corner of Thurloe Square, it’s actually triangular, meaning it widens—albeit undramatically—from its skinniest point. One of London’s coolest optical illusions!

You’ll find Thurloe Square between South Kensington tube station and the V&A museum. Many of the houses on the square were designed by London architect George Basevi, a student of the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane. They were all fairly traditional, boasting beautiful columned porches at their entrances. However, about twenty years later, 23 houses in the square were sold to the Metropolitan District Railway (now ‘ the tube’), despite uproar from landowner H.B. Alexander.

In the end, only five houses (1 to 5 Thurloe Square) were demolished, although many surviving buildings had their back gardens slashed in size. A year later, in 1868, South Kensington station opened to the public.

 In the late 19th century, Kensington and Chelsea were known as a hub for art, so loads of artists were building studios in the area. A local builder named William Douglas saw this as an opportunity to fill the little triangle that 1-5 Thurloe Square left behind after they were knocked down. Amazingly, he designed and built seven artists’ studios in this meagre space, in the form of the current wedge-shaped building we see today.

The building, now flats, is just 6ft wide at it’s narrowest point, growing to 34ft at its widest. In 2016, a one-bedroom apartment—at just 600 sqft in size—went on sale for £850,000.

Data sourced from Lonres.