The Red House- Not a ruin

Not until recently have I realized my addiction to adventures.
This addiction has began since my Taiwan trip last year. I know that it can be dangerous, but I chose to believe the people I met with faith.

In Taiwan, I learnt that nature can be sentimental. Even the thinnest air can be romantic. It just depends on whether or not you open your eyes, your ears, your pores to feel it.

In Portree, I came across to that middle-age man. Actually, he is like Alberto to me in “Sophie’s World”. A wild, nomadic mind that questions the norms in the society. He is such a  character that everybody hates and envy because of his ironic laughter.

Today, I went to the Red House, which is conserved by the National Trust. I was about to look at how the house is preserved technically. It is not a ruin actually, because it is always loved by the owners and now is sold to the National Trust which takes good care of it. Anyway, it’s related to the “future” of a “past”.

It was quite an experience to walk from the train station towards the Red House. Along the way, you found lots of repetitive houses. But none of them can be called “Red House”. Finally, you come in front of the red brick wall, and you know this is it. Not like typical luxurious English Garden, it is a friendly, well maintained garden of all sort of flowers and trees. Some of them climb gracefully on to the walls of the house.

DSCN4657Those little red flags are the footprint of the extension design. Morris lived here for 5 years only and left with pain, so the extension is never realized.

I entered the house, and spent some good effort reading about the story and history behind it.

The house is more interesting than I expected. It was actually a joined dream of two young men. William Morris, the house owner who designed and made the wallpaper and furniture himself, collaborated with his friend, Philip Webb, the architect, who designed every detail of the house. They have distinct but complimentary characters that made this beautiful house happened!

The quality of the conservation of the Red House is as impressive as its history behind.
I talked to an old lady who has been here for 5 years as a volunteer. She said “Oh, I really love this. If not I won’t be here for so many years. Everyday I learn new things.”

I told her that I feel so sad for Hong Kong because many of our old buildings have been knocked down. Most of us don’t really value them. And if one day we regret, we don’t even have documents to tell us how rebuild them.

She nodded with a smile and said ” That’s a process. Even here, we made mistakes before.” She said William Morris, the owner of the house, learnt the old ancient techniques and bring them to the future. This is the same of ancient buildings- we need them to depict the history for the present, but we cannot avoid some changes as we need to move on. But only by understanding the history can we know how to move forward.



He took the art of stained glass from the old Medieval fashion into a new age. That’s a true revival. And in specific circumstances, it appears in blue and green.

We walked to the front of the stained glass. “It’s an important story to tell…” she said. Last year before Christmas, there’s a gloomy night and it’s not a good idea to stay in the house. But when she came in front of this stained glass, she saw the yellow becomes blue and green! “Oh, see this!” She turned on her torch and showed us that amazing effect, which couldn’t be captured by my camera. She exclaimed that she praised the architect (Philip Webb) and the artist (William Morris) more than before since then. The brown outlines seemed to be floated against the blue and green colour. Everyone’s amazed by this detail. Probably it’s not that hard to understand it nowadays with the aid of google. However, this Red House has more than 150 years of history! Isn’t that a genius? Or if not, who else would have spent such effort to a tiny fun detail?

The old lady is such a fun and passionate person. She told me that she has never been so devoted, so in love to something before. Her energetic voice make me feel that she’s young deep inside. I’m so impressed by how a building literally attracts this lady, as well as how the lady is so deeply passionate with this building.

Conservation is not just by the specialists. Here, in UK, there’s the National Trust, the UK Association of Building Preservation Trust, etc, that has a large number of volunteers from the public. Ancient buildings, like history, are common treasures for us all. When will Hong Kong have such an awareness and love for old buildings? When will we start recognizing that we can no longer afford tearing down any more buildings?


Looking through these little circular windows is such an enjoyment in the corridor.

DSCN4642The next owner of the house had a japanese collection, so he decided to paint the room white for a better background. Lucky that the intervention is not destructive. Conservationists are able to reveal carefully the previous fresco and wallpaper pattern. Now in front of us is an overlapping of time. Isn’t that amazing?


Furniture designed by William Morris. Functional, and beautiful.


Some British old sports game on the lawn.

The house becomes a public space now. What about the future? Or are we nurturing the future indeed? The museum and stories of the buildings are like fresh springs that cleanse one’s soul. I’m sure that someone in the future may be inspired to do something meaningful. Or maybe  I’m the one who learnt something here and bring it to the future. Who knows?


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