The classic view of Michelin House in South Kensington.
This week the Bibendum restaurant at Michelin House has re-opened so the timing of this post is quite apt.
Although I have seen Michelin House featured on blogs and in the media its not often mentioned these days (with the exception of the re-opening of the restaurant). This is quite a surprise for Michelin House is a substantial art noveau example and without a doubt one of the most exquisite.
Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road SW3, was designed as a working building, specialising in tyres, car accessories and repairs, with it’s main themes being tyres, wheels, bicycles and racing cars, and of course Michelin Man himself, Bibendum. All these reflected the company’s products – namely car/bike tyres and motoring accessories. Nowhere in London will one see huge amounts of artistic creativity on a similar scale.
The classic view of Michelin House in 1911. Source: Wikipedia
Michelin originally had offices at 42-53 Sussex Place near South Kensington tube station from 1905. It seems the premises eventually contracted as these became 49-50 Sussex Place. The former location would have been opposite Kendrick Place where Lloyds Bank and Coral are in what is now Old Brompton Road as show below.
Motoring companies seem to have been attracted by the South Kensington area as offices for the Locomobile Company of America were also found a few doors away. Locomobile originally built steam powered cars but eventually moved on to petrol driven cars.
Michelin’s base at 81 Fulham Road opened in January 1911. In it’s first years there was a ‘Old Curiosity Shop’, featuring collections/photographs of faulty or badly designed tyres, intended to educate people that tyres needed to be correctly fitted and pressurised to ensure their safety and best use. There too was a touring department which sold maps and accessories such as guide books for motorists.
Designed by Michelin’s engineer, François Espinasse, the building is perhaps the best Art Noveau building in London. Some say it’s Deco rather than Noveau. Both were certainly being used in France at the time Michelin House was built, so that’s a debatable subject. It’s actually a mix, the main being Art Noveau, proto-Art Deco, and even elements of functionalism and classicism. The depictions of plants, flowers, shows us Michelin House is without a doubt intended as Art Noveau, however the attractive tiled pictures are Art Deco. Its quite possible these were added at a later stage of construction.
It’s not Art Deco! These stylish representations of plants & flowers on the building reveal the building’s Art Noveau.
Two of the interior decorative tiled pictures clearly showing plants with an Art Deco influence.
Bibendum on the front of the building. Nunc Est Bibendum means Now is the time to drink.
Large stained glass windows featuring the Michelin Man give the building loads of character 🙂
The windows themselves have loads of Michelin paraphernalia too! All the windows once had engravings but many are missing, however attempts have been made to locate the originals or at best use replacements. The best windows are the stained glass depictions of Bibendum. During the war the stained glass windows were removed and taken to Michelin’s factory in Stoke on Trent for safety.
The exterior of Michelin House is wondrous, but let’s not forget it’s fascinating interior! It’s a busy premises and the different murals and Bibendum’s motto (again Nunc Est Bibendum) on the ground floor are best seen during quieter periods.
Bibendum mural on the floor of the building with Nunc Est Bibendum.
The interior – the decorative tiled panels and the doorways leading to Conran’s (now Claude Bosi’s Bibendum restaurant) and the reception areas. The one and only representation of a British car takes centre stage.
Despite everything here being about France right down to the racing cars that used Michelin tyres, the one English vehicle that takes centre stage is ‘By Appointment to his late Majesty King Edward VII’. This legend appears above the car explaining it’s presence among the ensemble of French racing cars. The late King gave his Royal Assent to Michelin – and I am sure he would have gladly opened the premises had he been alive.
The King’s Landaulette depicted on the wall of the Bibendum restaurant in Michelin House.
Save for a few cosmestic changes the picture is a good image of one showing Edward VII with his Landaulette at Goodwood House, Sussex. The pillars of Goodwood’s frontage, though faded, can be seen too.
The King’s Landaulette at Goodwood House.
General aspect of the frontage along Sloane Avenue, SW3.
Why did Michelin choose this part of London? Well it was not too far from their previous offices in Sussex Place. The land for the premises was purchased from the Cadogan Estate. Local streets were cleared to form the new block. The area too was newly served by the underground’s South Kensington station. It’s quite strange to suggest Michelin would want to be near the tube but that was the novelty and the nearer one was to a station (just like nowadays) the more visibility one had. Not only that the area was at the time pretty well in reach of the countryside – quite an important factor in terms of motoring.
Here’s a video on Vimeo that shows the office and reception areas which have clearly been quite tastefully done with elements of Bibendum as well as the roof garden – which most of us wont see!
Michelin no longer has a London base instead its now at the Stoke on Trent factory the company has owned since 1927.
To be continued.
Claude Bosi’s Bibendum Restaurant
Claude Bosi on the reopening of the former Conran restuarant
Claude Bosi in The Guardian
Michelin House (Wiki)
Michelin Man (Wiki)