Another new entry on the Open House programme for 2022 was this beautiful Grade II Modernist House in Stanmore designed by architect Rudolf Frankel for his sister in 1938.
The two storey family home was built from brick rather than reinforced concrete like most Modernist houses of the time, perhaps attributable to the slow acceptance of Modernist architecture in Britain with brick being seen as a more traditional choice.
The ground floor was mainly taken up by the living and dining areas which opened out onto the garden via a cutaway veranda with a single column at the corner to support the upper floor.
The kitchen, which contained the original cabinetry and maid bell system, was positioned next to the tradesman’s entrance and still-intact service wing.
Upstairs were the bedrooms and two bathrooms, one of which was largely original.
The internal layout was arranged to allow the living and dining rooms to face out onto the garden to take advantage of the southerly orientation whereas the kitchen and bathrooms were located on the northeast and northwest sides of the house to enable all drainage to be kept out of sight and the front elevation to be clutter-free.
Extremely well preserved, the house was owned by two generations of the family who acquired the house from Frankel’s sister until 2019 when it was bought by the current owners, who seemed equally committed to preserving the house’s original features.
Not that they have much choice in the matter: the Grade II listing (which describes the house as one of the most elegant and least altered private houses erected before the War) means that all alterations need to be approved before they are made, including relatively small details such as the choice of tile in the bathrooms and kitchen.
The lack of ornamentation in the design and the abundance of original features from the original build (flooring, light fittings, light switches, radiators, floor finishes, ironmongery and joinery) gave the house a timeless, contemporary quality.
An in-depth tour of the Alton Estate, a large council estate situated in Roehampton, southwest London, was a new entry on the 2022 Open House programme. Designed by a London County Council design team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt, the estate consisted of a variety of low and high-rise apartment blocks divided into Alton East (completed in 1958) and Alton West (completed in 1959).
The Alton East Estate consisted of point blocks and low-level housing (e.g. wide townhouses) designed for the 1950s demographics of the time: a lot of single people and daughters (who had lost their partners in the war) living with their mothers with less of an emphasis on families with children.
Notable sections of the Alton East estate included Horndean Close, a cluster of staggered houses around a communal green, a fashionable idea in the 1950s designed to evoke the feeling of a village green in which the local community could gather. This layout was also cheaper to build because there was no need to factor in a roadway, which wasn’t a problem as most people didn’t own a car in the 1950s before mass car ownership caught on. The use of timber and concrete (used to material shortages in the 1950s) combined with the trees (the original Victorian trees were retained and further trees added at the time the development was built), gave the close an almost Scandinavian feel.
Other notable parts of Alton East were the Swedish-inspired ten-storey tower blocks built atop a hill on the estate, emphasising the steepness of the hill and contrasted with staggered two storey blocks in a different colour. Oliver Fox, the chief architect, based the design of these tower blocks on similar blocks built in Gothenberg and Stockholm and the Lubetkin-designed Highpoint in Highgate: four flats per floor built around a central staircase and lift with internal bathrooms (by the 1950s, electrics lighting was good enough to light internal bathrooms) and sticking out external balconies (like Highpoint but not Alton West – see below). The planting around the blocks was intended to give this part of the estate a northen European/Scandinavian flavour and the differing tile patterns at the entrance of each block was intended by Cox to give each block a distinctive identity.
Moving onto Alton West, this part of the estate was considered by many British architects to be the crowning glory of post-World War II social housing at the time of its completion in 1958, largely as a result of its response to its unique setting. Built on a large expanse of parkland on the edge of Richmond Park, Alton West contained a number of different housing configurations: twelve-storey point blocks with four flats per floor (these had internal covered balconies unlike the towers in Alton East); terraces of low-rise maisonettes and cottages (including a terrace of striking bungalows built to accommodate pensioners, a relatively new social group from the 1950s onwards – before, elderly people would either live with families or, more depressingly, in work houses) and, perhaps most recognisably, five eleven-storey slab blocks, heavily influenced by the Unité d’Habitation buildings by Le Corbusier, completed in 1952 and now Grade II-listed. I understand that Alton West (and more specifically, Minstead Gardens, one of the terraces of pensioner bungalows) was used as a filming location in the 1966 dystopian drama film Farenheit 451.
The five eleven-storey slab blocks turned sideways to Richmond Park (they were originally meant to face out onto park but it was decided that this would look like a vast wall from a distance). Housing inside consisted of flats and maisonettes, many double height with bedrooms on the upper floor (people in the 1950s still insisted on going upstairs to bed) just like in Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation buildings. Unlike the Unite d’Habitation buildings, however, these were just residential blocks with none of the communal “streets” of shops and facilities (or a rooftop paddling pool) in Le Corbusier’s designs.
Set apart from the five slab blocks built on the park land but very similar looking was Allbrook House, the very last building built on the estate in the early 1960s when economy was at its height. Allbrook House had a library with a distinctive curved ceiling at the bottom. This building has not been protected by the Grade II-listing and is scheduled for redevelopment in the near future.
Open to the public as part of the 2022 Open House festival (and also currently listed for sale) was this extended single-storey bungalow in Gipsy Hill. The original development was designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt for Lambeth Council in 1968 and consisted of a terrace of angular, pale-grey brick single storey dwellings grouped around a paved communal courtyard.
Following a bit of online sleuthing, I discovered that this bungalow originally had an L-shape configuration into which four small bedrooms and separate living and kitchen areas were squeezed. This L-shape opened onto a large rear garden.
An extension in 2022 by architect Niki Borowiecki added an extra wing to the bungalow, turning the L-shape into a U-shape by eating into the rear garden. The U-shape comprised a more open plan living area and kitchen (with a small courtyard garden at the rear), three much larger bedrooms, two bathrooms and study area, all wrapped around a central courtyard garden.
I liked the house: it was very bright (helped by the use of materials throughout), the enclosed nature of the central courtyard garden made it feel like a genuinely inside-outside space that would be very useable throughout most of the year (with the help of an outdoor heater in winter of course) and the living spaces and layout flowed well.
The house is currently on sale for £885,000 via The Modern House.
I’ve been attending Open House weekend for a couple of years now so I’ve seen the most of the modernist estates that usually form part of the programme. I was therefore pleased to be able to visit Vanbrugh Park Estate this year, which for some reason has never come up on my itinerary.
Vanbrugh Park Estate was built in 1962 and designed by the renowned architects Chamberlin, Powell & Bon responsible for the better known and more celebrated Barbican and Golden Lane estates. Set on seven acres of land bordering Greenwich Park, Vanbrugh Park Estate comprises a mixture of dwelling types: an eight-storey tower block containing 64 flats, low-rise terraced houses, and maisonettes arranged over garages.
Like many parts of London which now contain modernist architecture built in the 1960s, the area, mostly renowned for large period villas, was bombed during the Second World War and was in need of new housing. As such, careful consideration was taken by the architects when building the new housing to respect the surrounding areas, including the blind-wall terraces that were intended to reflect Greenwich Park’s own wall using similar brickwork. In addition, simple but functional materials (such as the breeze block facades) were used to save on costs so that more could be spent on landscaping communal areas, giving the estate a more utilitarian than luxurious feel – more Golden Lane than Barbican, if you will.
Two properties were open when I visited. The first was one of the maisonettes over the garage blocks. The apartment was reached via a communal walkway and comprised a conservatory-like entrance area, kitchen, living/dining area, bathroom and two bedrooms. The owners were clearly architecture and design enthusiasts and had restored a number of original features in the apartment including the wood panelling, black vinyl floor tiles and fireplace in the centre of the living area.
The second property was one of the low-rise terraced houses. Set over three floors, the entrance of the house opened onto a semi-open plan living, dining and kitchen area with stairs down to a bedroom and the garden and stairs up to two further bedrooms and a bathroom. There wasn’t much left in the way of original features in this house (the central fireplace had been removed and that bannister is definitely not original) but it was deceptively spacious and still architecturally interesting.
Next on the 2021 Open House itinerary was Ethelburga Tower, a 1960s 17-storey concrete framed block of flats near Battersea Park designed by the LCC Architects Dept with Ove Arup & Partners as consulting engineers.
The block was built to accommodate 98 homes: 32 split-level maisonettes on the east and west sides of the building and 17 one bedroom single level flats and 17 two bedroom flats single level flats on the south side.
The decision to have landings on odd floors, opening onto double height access galleries (with flats on the “mezzanine” floors reached by the staircase) added a bit of interest to the architecture.
The first residents moved into the block in 1967 with council tenants buying up flats under the government’s “right to buy” legislation from the 1980s onwards.
In 2009, Mark Cowper, a photographer who was living in Ethelburga Tower at the time, staged an exhibition of photographs at the Geffrye Museum (now the Museum of the Home) of individual living rooms in Ethelburga Tower, which highlighted how differently each resident had decorated their flat.
Despite not being part of the official Open House programme (only the corridors and communal areas were open to the public), an owner of one of the split-level maisonettes kindly let me have a nose around as I was passing by.
The flat was in the same configuration as those featured in Mark Cowper’s project with an entrance hall opening onto the living room with glass-panelled door leading onto a small balcony and adjoining kitchen on the lower floor and a staircase leading up to two bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper floor. There was also a cupboard on the upstairs landing containing a fire escape staircase leading to the roof (though I may have misheard this).
This year’s Open House weekend included access to Walters Way, a close of 13 self-built houses on a sloping, tree filled site (not unlike Great Brownings) in South East London.
Each house on the close was built in the 1980s using a method developed by Walter Segal, the celebrated Swiss architect. This method involved the use of a modular, timber-frame system reminiscent of 19th-century American houses or traditional Japanese architecture.
Although the houses were all built using the same method of construction, the houses were designed with flexibility and individuality in mind. Unlike Great Brownings, where homeowners are required to ensure that their house looks the same as all of the others on the estate, I was struck by the way in which all of the houses on Walter’s Way were unique in both style and configuration (most of having been adapted and extended since they were built).
We were invited to have a nose around two of the houses on the estate, which timber walls and flooring aside, were quite different owing to changes made by the owners to the layout and sun deck/garden patio areas outside.
The owners of one of the houses (self-build house 1 in the photos) had extended with lean to lobby which was self-built and a more substantial two-storey extension which wasn’t – whilst more straightforward than a regular build, self building using the Segal method is apparently not without its challenges.
One of the key considerations was the retention of supporting posts from the original build – here, they made for a design feature across the middle of the living area. The owners of self-build house 1 had further plans to modify and extend their house – according to them, self-build houses are never quite finished.
Having made the most of Open House weekend every year for the past five years, I think I’ve now visited pretty much every major participating building and development of interest from a modernist/mid century perspective. As such, this year’s itinerary involved revisiting the subject of my first ever blog entry, two architect-designed modern houses and a social housing estate that I hadn’t yet visited due to it being almost completely hidden from view.
Highpoint was the subject of my first ever blog entry on this site, which, looking at it now, was pretty ropey in terms of the writing, formatting and photos so I thought I’d go back there and produce something better.
Designed in 1935 by Berthold Lubetkin and Grade I-listed in 1970, Highpoint I was built to accommodate 96 one to three bedroom flats (all generously proportioned) and incorporated many features that were technically advanced for the time – I’m not sure how this is logistically possible but there are no partition walls between neighbours’ flats except in the central spine of the building.
Highpoint II was completed on the site next door in 1938. This block was aimed at wealthier tenants (not that Highpoint I was particularly low grade) and was constructed using richer materials including glazed tiles, glass blocks on the staircase towers and marble in the hall. The building was built to accommodate twelve large maisonettes, all of them containing four-bedrooms and two bathrooms split over two floors, with the best ones situated in the central part of the block: these ones were built with double-height living rooms and elegant oval-shaped staircases.
I remember being completely awed by both Highpoint I and II and fantasised about living there when I visited five years ago. I was equally awed this time: that split-level maisonette in Highpoint II that I featured in my first ever blog post was just as gorgeous as I remembered it: as well as having the double-height living room and oval staircase, it had stunning views over Highgate from both floors, four large bedrooms and two original 1930s bathrooms. Most importantly, the lift up from the ground floor lobby opened directly into the hallway of the maisonette – I’m not sure why but I always associate this feature with extreme luxury.
The maisonette had the perfect mix of original features (the current owner reportedly bought it from the estate of an elderly lady who left behind a lot of moth-eaten Chanel and hadn’t updated anything since she bought it in the 1930s) and modern styling. Our guide informed us with some regret that the original features in some of the other maisonettes in Highpoint II had been “destroyed by too much money”.
Page High, a red brick social housing estate consisting of 92 homes, was built in the 1970s above a car park that was in turn above a retail store (Sainsbury’s at the time, now a Matalan outlet).
The estate, accessed from street level by a lift, opened out into wide pathway which ran between two rows of low-rise buildings with stepped balconies, mostly consisting of one and two room apartments, and maisonettes. The overall design was somewhat reminiscent of the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate though on a slighter smaller scale and without quite the same sense of drama.
Page High, however, appeared to be a very well designed estate. Flats were built with their own front and back balconies, and every ‘ground’ floor flat had a front garden.
In addition, the fact that Page High was seven storeys up from street level meant that it had great views over Alexandra Palace and was remarkably peaceful in spite of its location just off Wood Green High Road. I also liked how well hidden it was: you would never know a development of that scale was there unless you were specifically looking for it.
Springbank was one of a pair of semi-detached houses completed in 2014 by SE5 Architects on a large site in Peckham. The house was split over three floors (one of which was a basement level) and despite the very modern finish (lots of glass, steel and blonde wood), reminded me a lot of the original 1960s Lilian Baylis school that was converted into flats a couple of years ago.
The ground floor contained the living spaces, including a reception room and a large kitchen/diner, both of which had folding doors opening onto the garden, which wrapped around the house on three sides. The kitchen housed a rather envy-inducing walk-in pantry.
In the centre of the house was a winding oak staircase with a glass balustrade and treads of varying lengths connecting the different floors of the house. This led down to the basement level (which contained a utility room and workshop) and up to a glass atrium on the first floor, which flooded the whole house with natural light, even though it was a fairly gloomy day.
The first floor contained the bedrooms, including a master bedroom with dressing room (like the pantry, this was also envy inducing) and en-suite bathroom, a second bedroom with en-suite shower room, two further bedrooms and another bathroom.
I did a bit of research online and the other house in the pair was listed and sold earlier this year for £2.25million.
Unremarkable from the outside, this 1960s mid-terrace house underwent a dramatic interior renovation and extension in 2017 which turned the poky ground floor level into a spacious open-plan living, kitchen and dining room with broad folding doors that led straight out into the garden.
The owners had done a lovely job with the renovation with a range of interesting textures, fixtures and fittings – I particularly liked the the continuous cork flooring throughout the whole of the ground floor and the central glazed partition.
I also took note of everything in the bathroom upstairs from the size of the tiles to the bath side panel (a coloured mdf-like material called Valchromat) to the way they’d hung the mirrors so that I can try to replicate what they’d done when we come to do our bathroom renovations.
The Dulwich artists’ Open House weekend allowed me to enjoy two of my favourite pastimes at once: shopping and nosing around other people’s mid century homes.
With the goal of finding a suitable artwork to hang on one of the bare walls in the hallway of our house, we set off around the map provided by the organisers. I’ll admit that I chose the places that we ended up visiting 40% based on the art (which I won’t even attempt to write about due to a lack of knowledge and appropriate vocabulary on my part – I’ll provide links to the artists’ websites instead) and 60% based on the house in which the art was being exhibited.
First on the agenda was Sarah Hamilton who was displaying her prints, painting and homewares in her Austin Vernon & Partners-designed house in Peckarmans Wood.
Built in 1963 and widely considered to be the finest of all the 1960s Dulwich houses, her house was one of the larger, two storey types with an upside-down layout (entry and living spaces on the ground floor, bedrooms on the lower lground floor with access to the garden), floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden panelling, pitched ceilings and elevated views over the communal grounds and towards the City.
Just further up the road were Victoria Kitchingman who was displaying her portrait-focussed oil and mixed media paintings and paintings, and Jo Lewis who was displaying her water-based paintings, in Woodsyre, another Austin Vernon & Partners-designed terrace of houses.
These houses were deceptively substantial, containing multiple, generously proportioned living areas (both artists had knocked through the original kitchen on the ground floor) and five bedrooms spread across four floors.
Both houses had panoramic views from the top of Sydenham Hill and access to an idyllic communal green at the bottom of the their beautifully manicured gardens.
Next on the list were The Fine Groove and Birgitta Pohl exhibiting intricate wood engravings and functional, decorative stoneware at a split-level maisonette which had the feeling of a house in Breakspeare, a sixties-looking development next to Sydenham Hill station.
Joy Godden and Charlie Loxley were exhibiting jewellery and children’s prints in a house in Lings Coppice, which had been reconfigured on the ground floor to create an open plan space with bi-folding doors opening out onto the garden.
Jim Grundy was exhibiting his rather stunning geometric abstract paintings at his classic sixties three-storey townhouse on Half Moon Lane.
Slightly further afield near Denmark Hill was Charlene Mullen displaying her embroidered scenic cushions and ceramics of London at her house in The Hamlet, a rather lovely development of 32 terraced houses arranged in a rectangular formation around a large communal green.
Built in 1967, it was reportedly architect Peter Moiret’s final project before he died so he was intent on designing something special. Split over three floors, the house was generously proportioned with an open-plan, very deluxe-looking kitchen on the ground floor with access to an exotic-looking garden and a split-level reception room on the first floor with a balcony at both ends.
Last on the itinerary were Emily Jo Gibbs and Fabio Almeida in Forest Hill. Emily Jo Gibbs was displaying her beautifully delicate hand-stitched textile portraits and still lifes in the classic three-storey sixties townhouse opposite the Horniman Museum that she grew up in.
Fabio Almeida’s abstract paintings and collages persuaded us to trek up that hill to the Grassmount development.
Like the townhouse in Grassmount that we viewed during our property search, Fabio Almeida’s house was generously proportioned and provided the perfect mid-century flavoured backdrop for his fantastic (and surprisingly accessibly priced) pieces.
Updated 27 April 2019
Four years after I visited St Bernard’s Close on one of those Open House days and moaned about how infrequently houses on the estate become available, a lovely example of a house has finally come up for sale via the Modern House.
I was actually given advance warning of this listing by the seller, who having seen my original blog entry, kindly gave me first dibs before putting it on the market but given that we’ve just bought and renovated a house, the timing obviously wasn’t quite right.
I remember being quite taken with the houses and the estate when I visited: St Bernards had a very tranquil, European/Swiss vibe to it (not dissimilar to Great Brownings, where we ended up buying) and was beautifully maintained.
The house that has come up for sale is in the sort of condition that I looked for when I was was searching for a mid century property in that it appears to have had some renovations over the years to prevent it from becoming a rundown relic but still has most of its original features intact. The price seems fair as well for a four-bedroom house (though note one of the bedrooms is that slightly odd, windowless “rumpus”).
I’m sure the house will make a wonderful home to another mid century enthusiast – I would advise anyone who is interested to move quickly because it will probably be at least another four years before another one of them becomes available.
15 September 2015
St Bernards, East Croydon CR0
Twenty-one houses, in three hillside terraces, built by Swiss architects Atelier 5 for Wates
Architect: Atelier 5
Year Built: 1969-70
I’ve never been a huge fan of Croydon but I would be willing to move there if I meant that I could live in one of these beautiful little houses.
St Bernards is a group of 21 houses set on three hillside terraces. The development was built by Wates in 1969-70 to a design by the Swiss architects Atelier 5.
I must say that this development didn’t look like all that much from the street. It had a flat roof, was seemingly all on one storey and there were rows and rows of identical dark timber doors, giving it the appearance of a stable block.
It became apparent, however, that this was all part of the design, which was intended to maximise privacy given the high density nature of the housing. Behind each stable-like door was a small enclosed garden with a pergola. There was an inner door to the house which led to a hall with a dining area and kitchen (lit by a skylight) to the left. Ahead was the living area with a balcony and views over woods and hills. On the right, a passage led to a cloakroom and narrow bedroom.
Downstairs (the houses were not one-storey after all), there were two further bedrooms (one of a decent size, the other a bit narrow), which both opened on to another small enclosed garden. There was also a bathroom, a bizarre, windowless ‘rumpus’ (a bunker to comply with Swiss standards) and utility room.
I was fortunate enough to see three different versions of the same house. The first, pictured here, was a beautiful and preserved example of the architect’s original design. I was particularly taken by the ground floor layout which was divided by various pieces of built-in furniture: standing in the dining area at the front of the house, you could look through the built-in open shelving into the kitchen, which opened on the other side into the living room and gardens beyond. The two smaller bedrooms were admittedly a bit corridor-like and the bunker room a bit weird but the overall design and layout more than made up for these shortcomings.
The other two houses had been extensively remodelled by their respective owners, who described ripping out all of the original features in order to replace them with contemporary features. I will admit to finding this distressing!
In addition to the small private gardens, the development was surrounded by mature landscaped communal gardens.
I have no idea how much these houses are worth. Reportedly they only tend to come up for sale when someone dies so there’s little chance of me getting my hands on one even if market value is within my price range.
64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2
Grade II listed modernist villa
Architect: Lubetkin & Tecton
Year built: 1934
My third and final Open House visit this year was to a stunning modernist villa all the way out in Romford, Essex. Amongst the first works of architects Lubetkin & Tecton (who went on to design iconic modernist estates such as Highpoint and Priory Green as well as the penguin enclosure in London Zoo), it won first prize in the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition held in July-August 1934, costing only £900 to build.
64 Heath Drive, which was made out of painted reinforced concrete and had a flat roof was apparently designed to be one of a row of similar, low cost modernist houses that would give the impression of one long white wall but these houses were never built.
The house had an interesting L-shaped plan with all of its principal rooms (living room, dining room, bedrooms) and huge steel framed windows cleverly positioned to face into a stunning landscaped garden with a koi carp pond while the kitchen, original maid’s room and garage were positioned to look out onto the street. Upstairs, the master bedroom opened out onto a substantial terrace which was also accessible via a steel bridge and staircase from the garden.
Decor-wise, the current owner had clearly made a huge effort to restore the house to its former glory over the years (the living room was particularly stunning) and had made alterations that were sympathetic to the original design but admitted that the house was no museum to modernism – it was first and foremost a home that catered to the needs of his family and contained a hotpotch of styles and eras.
According to Zoopla, the house is worth between £700-850k, which seems entirely reasonable for a house of such architectural significance.