Saturday, 10 September 2011

A thoroughly modern home. (Homewood)

I have a reputation of liking old stuff.
Old houses, old fashions, old novels, old religions...

So when my photo albums from the UK show photos of The Homewood people get a little confused.

You see The Homewood isn't old. At least not by English standards and not in the traditional sense. Unlike all those other houses I had a tendency to visit, the ones built of solid brick and stone with colonnades and rows of long thin French windows, The Homewood was thoroughly modern; it possessed entire walls of glass, a concrete staircase and a set of decidedly modern fittings and accessories.

In the entrance hall a wall of thick glass bricks framed the front door, leading in one direction to the owner's office and in the other towards the staircase, passed floor to ceiling windows looking out over the pastel coloured garden. Upstairs the rooms were strikingly modern, but at the same time strangely familiar. Light streamed into the living room through a wall of glass bringing the colours of the flowering heather and turning leaves of the Japanese maple indoors while on the other wall custom built furniture hid a bevy of sins including a cocktail bar, gramophone, bookcase and home movie system. Outside off the dining room, a metal-balustraded balcony overlooks a small swimming pool with one staircase leading down into the grotto of the garden and another winding upwards to a sunbathing space on the roof.

In a word, it was unlike anything I would usually contemplate visiting. However on this occasion the trip was due to my housemate G and his fellow architect D. I had dragged them both on a candlelight tour of Apsley House for research purposes and so in reciprocation G had introduced me to the more modern architecture I so usually sneered at.

The Homewood had been built in 1937 by the 24 year old Patrick Gwynne as a new family home for his parents and sister having (in his own words) 'badgered and sold them [his] ideas from breakfast to dinner'. It was a design heavily influenced by Le Corbusier's work, particularly the one at Weissenhofsiedlung and Villa Savoye at Poissy, and backed up by Gwynne's own work in the office of Wells Coates. Unfortunately, Gwynne inherited the house sooner than expected with both parents dying in 1942 and his sister marrying not long after the end of the war. This left Gwynne alone in the house with the ability to refine and enjoy his creation, and he is known to have replaced worn panels, moved his architectural offices into the original master bedroom and sectioned off the kitchen to suit his bachelor lifestyle.

It is now owned by National Trust and maintained by a tenant, but open to guided tours on a scattering of days. And surprisingly, it's well worth the visit.

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