Photograph © Ben Anders
The Manygate Lane Estate: an alternative to Span housing
The two rows of studio mid century townhouses that bookend Shepperton’s Manygate Lane Estate are unlike any townhouses you’ve ever seen: the façade of each is dominated by 18 feet of vertical glazing, which spans the top two floors. It is in one of these that Tim and Akiko Bubb live, along with their nine-month-old son, Alex. The townhouses design draws strongly on the principles of Scandinavian Modernist architecture, to optimize space and natural light. Tim is a Mid Century Modern furniture dealer, founder of MCM Interiors, so I knew their home would be interesting, but I couldn’t have imagined the visual feast that awaited.
Designed in 1964, in the same period as Span housing emerged in the UK, the rooms in this Modernist house are stacked on three levels. You enter into a small hall on the ground floor, off which the kitchen is situated, with an open-tread spiral staircase of solid hardwood Jarra. On ascending, you arrive in a living space with a stunning parquet floor, which is flooded with light from a south-facing double-height window at one end, a technique also used by Span House architects Eric Lyons and Geoffrey Townsend. Outside, the treetops provide a great deal of seclusion, and a balcony, accessed through original aluminium-framed sliding glass doors, makes for a tempting drinks terrace. The office space, separated by double doors off the living room, will soon become Alex’s bedroom and a further open-tread staircase leads to a mezzanine floor above, with its unusual square-ended metal balustrades demarcating the boundaries. Here, the bedroom faces the treetops, seen through that same double-height window, and beyond is the bathroom, still with its almost-original, now fashionably vintage style, vibrant teal 1970s tiles.
The Manygate Lane Estate: an interior to rival Span housing
Tim is one of life’s design purists and, boy, does it show. Within his Modernist home, he has created an uncluttered space with an exacting attention to detail. The vintage furniture and contemporary objects compliment each other beautifully — a mix of teak, rosewood, glass and brass from Danish designers like Peter Hvidt, Orla Molgaard Nielsen and Sven Ellekaer, along with contemporary decorative items from Heal’s Department Store.
His infectious enthusiasm and love for the house that he and Akiko waited so long to find, is palpable. Tim tells me “It’s a joy to live in a place that’s been so well thought out. These houses were expensive to buy when they were first produced because of the quality of the finish. The amount of natural light that pours in is extraordinary, even on the dullest winter’s day. And at night, the artificial light bleeds from one level to the other and creates a nice ambient effect.”
Tim started his online Mid Century Modern furniture business a few years ago. He got into dealing through buying pieces for the Eric Lyons designed Span house that he and Akiko rented on the Parkleys Estate in Ham. It was the first 1960s home they’d lived in and he wanted to furnish it with Modernist pieces that fitted with the aesthetic of Scandinavian architecture. Over time, as he researched and sourced vintage furniture for the house, Tim realised that he’d like to make this his business. “I’d see something I preferred to what I’d bought previously, so I started selling pieces to make room for my new finds. To start with, I didn’t have a clue what I was buying, but I learnt quickly, after a few mis-guided eBay purchases!”
With the exception of the occasional Eames chair, Tim specialises in Danish Modernist furniture. “I love the aesthetic of Scandinavian furniture design, it shows a real sense of the tradition that went into their furniture making, a real reverence for natural materials. I really like wooden furniture, it has such warmth and character and beautifully fits a stripped down minimal Modernist aesthetic.”
Although many of Tim’s best Modernist furniture finds remain in the house, it’s not a showroom. This is above all a much loved home.
The Manygate Lane Estate: reinstating the interior
I ask Tim about the renovation of the interior. He tells me he’s most proud of reinstating the original pine tongue and groove ceiling in the living room, another Span House style feature. “I was a bit apprehensive about this, as I knew it would change the atmosphere of the room quite drastically, but now it’s done, I think it’s enhanced the space and makes it feel like a real Scandinavian Modernist house. The biggest challenge was finding a stain to match the lovely aged pine ceilings that I’d seen in some of the other houses on the Manygate Lane estate which, forty years on, look like they’ve been glazed in honey”. The 1960s Peter Nelson spotlights are a nice addition too, giving the ceiling a lovely warm glow.
The timber neatly references the trees outside and, as with Tim’s furniture, beautifully illustrates how using the best natural materials can compliment the external environment, blurring the line between exterior and interior; a characteristic of Modernist architecture employed for instance in Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, which is decorated with natural materials to reflect the surroundings.
The Manygate Lane Estate: Scandinavian Modernism in Surrey
Tim obviously appreciates Modernist architecture and I was keen to find out how he’d discovered the Manygate Lane Estate. “I happened to click on a picture of an interesting-looking house in Google Images and found that it was on an estate in Shepperton, so I packed my camera, keyed the address into my satnav and drove out to have a look. I had a mooch around and was totally bowled over by the place – the studio houses look like something you’d see in the suburbs of Stockholm or Copenhagen, which have somehow found their way into Surrey.”
Tim explains that, despite viewing a number of these Span House style homes over the next three years, he found to his disappointment that many of the original features had been ripped out. Tim and Akiko’s eventual move here was in the end largely down to serendipity. “In June last year, the landlord of our Eric Lyons designed Span House on the Parkleys Estate, decided to sell up and we had to find somewhere else to live quickly. I registered an interest in the Manygate Lane Estate with local estate agents. Because none of these properties were on the market, one agent suggested dropping leaflets through doors”. And, low and behold, Tim got a phone call a few days later to say that someone was indeed looking to sell. “We looked at the place – it was predominately original and we knew immediately that this was the one”. The couple finally moved in at Christmas time, when Alex was just four weeks old.
I’m intrigued to know if Tim’s neighbours share his mid century sensibilities. “There are quite a lot of people now moving here who appreciate Scandinavian Modernist architecture. The future of the estate looks quite a lot brighter and with its conservation status, I’m hoping that the community here will make a difference”. As I leave, I’m left with the feeling that Tim has found his dream home in this Modern Scandinavian townhouse, and that the couple savour every minute they spend in it.
For more on the Manygate Lane Estate, with archive images and our specially commissioned interior photographs, see Treetop Treat: A temple to Scandinavian Modernism in Surrey in MidCentury issue 04