Image above and cover image ©National Trust Images/Stuart Cox
Words Katie Treggiden
The National Trust owns just two Mid Century properties. One of them is The Homewood in Esher, Surrey. It’s not only a striking example of early British Modernism by a talented young architect, it’s also a record of his life.
Patrick Gwynne: A Modernist architect
Patrick Gwynne designed the Homewood in 1937, aged 24, as a home for his parents, himself and his sister. It replaced their Victorian villa on the same plot, and was completed in 1938. The family celebrated with a party – Pimms was followed by dinner on the terrace. For a year “we danced like mad,” said Patrick. Great entertainers, they made full use of the living room’s sprung floor and built-in gramophone.
But the house’s role as a lively family home was to be short-lived. In 1939, World War Two broke out. Patrick’s father rejoined the Navy, Patrick signed up to the RAF and his sister became a WREN. The house was let out during the war, and both of Patrick’s parents died before peace was declared in 1945.
Patrick returned in 1945 and lived and worked in the Homewood until his death at 90 in 2003. He left the property to the National Trust on the condition that a family must always live there.
Living Modernism: The Homewood today
The current tenant David Scott explains how he came to live here, “In 2006, I was at a career crossroads. I was looking for something unusual and wanted to be around more for my daughter. I have always been interested in 1930s architecture, so when I saw a National Trust advertisement seeking a tenant for The Homewood, it fitted the bill perfectly.”
What makes the property particularly interesting is that Patrick used it as a testing ground for new ideas throughout his career, so rather than capturing a moment in time, it continued to evolve in the spirit of Modernism. In the 1960s he designed the beige sofa in the living room, using the very latest material, ‘leatherette’. His downstairs office looks more like a 1980s James Bond set than something Le Corbusier might have designed. Towards the end of his life he worked closely with the National Trust on a complete restoration, specifying some very contemporary colours.
“The biggest challenge is the cold,” says David. “Four-inch concrete, plate glass windows and warm-air heating mean that the average temperature is 16 degrees in the winter. Patrick hated the look of radiators and would have loved underfloor heating, but the technology wasn’t available then. That’s the only thing I would change.”
Cold as it may be, the dramatic wall of glass that lines the living room is one of the defining features of the house. Three identical floor-to-ceiling windows are each divided into three panes, framing the view of the grounds perfectly. “The garden is constantly inspiring,” says David. “Its ten acres include woodland, heathland, shrubbery, formal beds and water features. I love how intensely you experience each season here.”
It’s a house that demonstrates not only what Modernism was, but through Patrick’s continual experimentation and his insistence that it remained lived in, what Modernism aspired to be. “I didn’t meet Patrick when he was alive,” says David “but if I could say one thing to him, I would tell him how much The Homewood continues to inspire people.”
Visiting The Homewood
Entry is by booked guided tour only: 45-minute guided tours take place on the 1st and 3rd Friday and the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month April to October, at 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 2pm and 3pm. Call 01372 476424 or email email@example.com to book a tour.
See nationaltrust.org.uk/homewood for more information.
Katie Treggiden is the founder of renowned design blog confessionsofadesigngeek.com. To read her commentary on Erno Goldfinger’s 2 Willow Road, also owned by the National Trust, pick up a copy of MidCentury issue 04