In 2008, artistic photographer Paul Greenleaf found a discontinued Hornby model kit in The Engine Shed, Leytonstone, of a typical modern house.
“I wandered in and had a look around and found it, all dusty on a shelf in there,“ says Paul, who moved to the area four years ago. “It’s a typical suburban house and that’s obviously what the designer had in mind when he created it, for use in model railway dioramas and sold in their thousands.
“I wanted to try and understand what are the parts that go to make up a house, an ordinary everyday house, that so many people in this country live in. And the fact you can reduce that down, as Hornby did, to a kit of parts for me was really interesting. It’s special in its ordinariness.“
’R.275 Modern House’ had been discontinued, but with an example in hand, Paul set about finding the original, the prototype the popular kit was based on. The clue was found on the instruction leaflet – a house in Margate built in 1971.
“As we often do these days, I first looked on the internet,“ explains Paul. “I found it on a property website quite quickly and arranged to have a viewing.
“Later, I was getting permission from Hornby to use elements of the model in the work. They knew the man that lived there – he was one of the chief designers at Hornby and based the model on his own house.“
Travelling to Margate, Paul photographed the exterior of the original, and the interior of an identical example for sale a few doors down.
“He was slightly puzzled, as were the neighbours! I was using a large format camera, standing in his driveway for hours on end with this cumbersome piece of kit. It was a very busy road as well – quite a lot of puzzled onlookers thinking why on earth is this man spending so much time taking pictures of this very ordinary house.“
The series of images, titled R.275 Modern House, deconstructs the unremarkable house to create, as Paul puts it, “a visual archive, a kit of parts with which to describe contemporary suburban life.“
The disection includes pictures of the model’s parts and sprues and the original building’s surfaces and idiosyncrasies (like the owner’s hanging baskets and net curtains) presented as if they were parts in the kit.
Paul has lived in London for some 20 years, the last four in Leytonstone, but is originally from Lincolnshire.
“It’s the antithesis to living in London,“ he explains. “It’s full of enormous great vistas of skies and empty space. The idea of living in a semi-detached is something that’s quite alien to me, though I live in one now. Sometimes I feel I’m totally adjusted to the London lifestyle – other times I wonder how on earth am I living here!“
Paul’s project is available as a limited edition artist book and goes on display at Penny Fielding, Walthamstow Village.
“In this country, it’s a very British thing, it seems that an Englishman’s home is his castle. And yet it’s a very small castle in many cases, and it’s a castle that looks like a lot of other people’s castles as well. It’s something we all accept but things were not always like that. I hope people might consider where they live and the type of building they live in and perhaps the other people who live in buildings similar to their own.“
R.275 Modern House is part of DETACHED at Penny Fielding Gallery & Interiors, Orford Road, Walthamstow Village until January 6. Details: www.paulgreenleaf.co.uk