All photographs Marcus Peel
By Tom Rigden
When Heidi Lightfoot, co-founder of graphic design agency Together Design, and her husband Steve Gibbons, Head of User Experience and Design at the BBC, began the hunt for a mid-century house within easy reach of their London jobs, they never dreamed they’d find somewhere as special as this Grade II listed five bedroom family home in Hertfordshire. One year on, this stunning example of 1930s British architecture has been treated to a sympathetic but extensive renovation and now forms the backdrop to the family life they share with their two young children, Riley and Jackson.
A grand design: Architects Mary Medd and Ernö Goldfinger
Arriving at the house, its most striking feature is the unusual monopitch roof, sloping up towards the rear of the property, and the neat row of ten windows that run along the first floor, like square portholes. At the back, the roofline rises dramatically, creating a deep soffit with overhanging rafters. The house was designed by renowned public sector architect Mary Medd, one of the first women to graduate from the Architectural Association, for her parents in 1934 and built in 1936. This was one of the few residential projects she worked on, her first commission in fact; she went on to make her name with her pioneering designs for school buildings. She was inspired by continental Modernism, in particular the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition of Arts and Crafts and Home Industries, which she visited just prior to designing the house, and it’s only perhaps the later Ernö Goldfinger terrace of houses on London’s Willow Road that bear any stylistic comparison. This may not be entirely coincidental, as Goldfinger and Medd worked together on a number of projects.
A grand design: discovering the house
With the arrival of their second son, Steve and Heidi decided it was time to look for a home outside London, and what’s more, it needed to be mid-century! Heidi explains, “Living for years in Victorian terraces, we realised that mid-century was the style that attracted us most”. The Mary Medd house, a Grade II listed property, was in need of renovation and the couple rose to the challenge. They aimed to remain sympathetic to the original design, to link in an adjoining 1970s annexe to the original house, and to put their own stamp on the place. Finding the right architect was important. Heidi tells me, “I made a shortlist, and one of them was John Pardey. When I called him I knew straight away that he was the one. Coincidentally he had met David Medd, Mary’s husband, and had worked on a school that they’d designed. He was really enthusiastic about the house.”
A grand design: reconfiguring the space
John Pardey helped reconfigure the internal rooms, creating a more open plan feel. The internal walls that separated the dining room and kitchen were removed so that you can look down the length of the ground floor, from the sitting room at one end, to the dining room via the original 1930s concertina doors, through the kitchen, to the family room at the other end. The kitchen now links the original house to the 1970s annexe, which consists of a guest bedroom with ensuite, and a large family room, which opens to the garden via beautiful glass sliding doors along one wall. Heidi admits that making such a radical change to the internal structure took some persuasion, “We probably would have naturally veered towards the ‘museum’ approach, recreating the layout as accurately as possible, and that was one of the great benefits of working with John Pardey, who encouraged us not to get too hung up on the way the space used to be.”
A grand design: preserving original features
Steve and Heidi have taken care to preserve or reinstall many of the original features though. In the entrance hall they uncovered the tiled concrete staircase and commissioned a reproduction of the original metal bannister, using one from a neighbouring house for reference. The couple also reinstated the elegantly curved plastered fireplace in the sitting room, and the beautiful original door handles throughout, which they managed to get recast by an architectural ironmongers from the few remaining authentic handles.
However, the pair have introduced their own signature touches too, like the brightly coloured feature walls. The colours were very much inspired by a 1930s palette of vivid blue, yellow and grey. Heidi says, “The idea was to have splashes of colour throughout the house, so you see the accent colours through the windows when you’re in the back garden. We created a mood board based on the colours from the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930.”
A grand design: furnishing a 1930s home
The furnishings combine mid-century and contemporary designs. I spot a set of vintage Arne Jacobsen Grand Prix dining chairs that sit around a contemporary Danish black stained oak dining table. There’s a stunning Arne Jacobsen ‘Swan’ chair and Dieter Rams Vitsoe shelving unit houses a well-stocked design library. British mid-century design is well represented too, with Parker Knoll armchairs that the couple rescued from a skip, an Ercol Plank table and stacking chairs, and a beautiful 1940s G A Jenkins ‘Cromerwood’ chair, complete with its original vibrant blue upholstery. Open shelves in the kitchen display an extensive collection of Hornsea Zodiac mugs that Heidi admits have become something of an eBay obsession! Steve tells me that it was heartening to find a couple of pieces they owned, namely an Artek 60 stool and a Bestlite ‘BL1’ table lamp, in archive photographs of the interior taken shortly after the house was built.
Through their painstaking research, Steve and Heidi have managed to retain the architectural integrity of Mary Medd, while creating a very cool 21st century family home.
Read the full article and see additional photographs in MidCentury issue 07
Read our article Mary Medd: A female force in British modernism for more on the architect and this property.
Get the guided tour of Ernö Goldfinger’s 2 Willow Road here