Photographs courtesy of Ben Anders
Cherrill Scheer of the Hille family, pioneers of modern furniture manufacture in the 1950s and ’60s, invited MidCentury magazine into the stunning Mid Century Modern London home that she and husband Ian built in 1968.
A Modernist home: made to measure
Built in 1968 for husband and wife Ian and Cherrill Scheer, their home provides an inspirational space, which expresses something of their own design ethos. I enter the house via a deliberately small lobby with vivid orange walls and a dark blue ceiling. This serves to enhance the wow-factor as I walk through to the main reception room, with its contrasting abundance of light and space, and I am struck by how modern it still looks. I ask Ian how they came to build the house: “We were living in a two-bedroom flat and with a growing family, we were looking and looking for a house that we liked. We couldn’t find anything that was modern enough or within our budget. Cherrill’s parents suggested that we build on the plot of land that formed part of their garden in north London.” The couple approached Gerd Kaufmann, a young architect friend, to design their home. Cherrill explains: “I grew up in a house designed in 1938 by Reginald Eurin. This had a big influence on me. I wanted a house that was bright, had a very good view, and that didn’t disturb the landscape”. This harmony with nature is, I’m told, the reason for using the particular mellow brown brick for the structure.
Built when Cherrill was not yet 30 and after the birth of their first child, she explains: “We didn’t have much money, so it was done on quite a tight budget. We knew how we liked to live – we’re nearly always together so we wanted the living space to be open-plan.” And open-plan it is. One enters at the dining level and up a short flight of stairs is the expansive living room with windows that fill the end wall. “It was quite a surprise to us when Gerd Kaufmann designed the living room up a level, as we’d imagined walking straight out onto the lawn”. In fact it works very well, as this room offers an elevated view over the garden, which can be accessed via the floor-to-ceiling glass concertina doors that lead onto the terrace and then down to the garden via a spiral staircase.”
Modernist ideals: indoor meets outdoor
Cherrill explains that the brief was to create an atrium in the centre of the house. Although this wasn’t possible within their budget, the effect has been successfully achieved with indoor plants that dramatically reach the angular ceiling at its highest point in the centre of the living room. Couple this with the ability to get out to the garden from virtually every room and the building certainly fulfils its function of bringing the outside in. “The most important thing was to bring the daylight indoors. Because the living room faces east, we realised that we wouldn’t get the afternoon sun in here, and so the architect designed high west-facing windows to compensate for this.” In talking to Cherrill and Ian, it’s clear that they each had a hand in the way the design of their home evolved. Cherrill explains: “The plans were for a very high ceiling in the dining room to accommodate the raised living area – that felt wrong to us, as for anybody sitting at the table, the roof would have seemed too tall. So somehow in discussion with the architect it was brought down into a v-shape over the table. It was Ian’s idea to put a fluorescent light trough within it to use as a working light for checking his printing proofs.” It was also they that persuaded the architect to add the adjoining terrace to the living area, cleverly utilising an unused flat roof, which is now home to a Saarinen table and a set of Bertoia chairs, a purchase following a visit to Harry Bertoia’s studio in Pennsylvania.
Modernist materials: choosing surface fabrics and fittings
In comparison to the grandeur of the living space, the kitchen is a more modest, functional room, but one that has nonetheless been well thought through. Designed by Alan Turville at Hille, the cherry veneer kitchen units were made in the factory. Cherrill explains: “The units have touch latches so they’re lovely and flush and the upper units hang down over a hidden light. I also wanted a stainless steel worktop with no joins – that was very hard to source at the time”. The kitchen did indeed have one of the first domestic stainless steel worktops in the UK. Specified by Cherrill and bought from Scandanavia, it has four drop-in hob units set within it. Cherrill also specified the Amtico flooring tiles, which unusually curve up the wall to the base of the units, making the room look bigger, easier to clean and giving the impression that the units are floating. This echoes the built-in furniture in the rest of the house and thus serves to enhance the aesthetic harmony within. I ask the couple how they went about choosing materials. Cherrill says: “We got involved with every finish, down to the last door knob.” Ian and Cherrill employed a contractor to construct the wooden flooring in the living area and explained how they got lucky with the timber: “We desperately wanted maple flooring, but had settled on beech for reasons of cost. Our contractor told us that by coincidence he had sufficient maple left over from a previous job, which he would sell to us for the same price as beech!” The aesthetic was so successful that they decided to introduce maple cladding to a wall in the dining room, which Hille manufactured and fitted. The pale tones of the timber provide a pleasing warmth and 40-plus years on, it still looks immaculate.
Robin Day: bespoke Modernist furniture
“We were thinking about furniture for the living area and we showed the plans to Robin Day. We didn’t want to block off the raised sitting room from the dining area, but we equally didn’t want the children falling over the edge – my mother came up with the idea of using a seating unit fixed to the floor as a room divider”, says Cherrill. Designed by Robin Day and manufactured by Hille, this works very successfully. “We told Robin that we wanted a trestle table for the dining room and he came up with a design consisting of long strips of solid maple that are threaded onto each other internally. The white disc bases are supposed to stand on top of a white carpet, giving the appearance that the table top is ‘floating’ – but one too many spilt Ribenas when the children were young forced us to replace the white carpet with something more practical.” The elegant ‘41’ dining chairs were a standard in the Hille range. Designed by Robin Day, they have solid spoke-shaved maple backs, which compliment the table beautifully. “The softness and the shape of the wood give a lot of support and they are very comfortable.”
Eames and Saarinen: more Modernist furniture
Hille also made Herman Miller designs during the ’60s and Knoll furniture through the ’70s, which included designs by Eames, Saarinen and Platner. And it’s all here. The prominence of each of these designers within her home is testament to the belief that Cherrill clearly had in their work. There is a harmony between the architecture and furniture within the building. Cherrill explains: “Everywhere we have white walls and bright carpets, so as not to detract from the furniture.” Cherrill says of the Platner coffee table in front of it, which consists of bent metal rods and a bronzed glass top: “I love the fact that you can see the carpet through it and you get so many lovely reflections”, and Ian nods to the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman: “That’s everybody’s idea of an iconic design, but none of us ever sit in it. I find it too soporific because of the angle!”
A fitted bedroom: the ultimate Modernist luxury
A sliding door, set seamlessly within the dining room wall, separates the spacious living area from the bedrooms and bathrooms, which are altogether more pod-like. Thanks to the sloping plot, all four bedrooms are on ground level, with two accessed off the living area and two down half a flight of stairs. The fitted furniture in the master bedroom was made as a ‘special’ within Hille. Once again designed by Alan Turville, the wardrobes and L-shaped dressing table are all part of the same unit. Constructed in ash, which has mellowed over the years, with a solid granite countertop, they float off the floor to make the room seem more airy. The aesthetic is softened by a couple of textiles that hang on the walls, including a notable one-off silk mosaic by Lucienne Day. Looking down the hallway, a grass green carpet in what is now the family office cleverly blends with the lawn beyond. Cherrill explains: “We wanted views from all the bedrooms, and used big glass windows that slide back so that you can step out of them. The one problem with so much glass is that we don’t have as many walls as we might have to hang things on!”
Modern Art for a Modernist home
When I finally turn my attention to what is in fact on the walls, I am not disappointed. I’m surrounded by many of the greats from the last 40 years – a Patrick Heron and a Terry Frost hang above sculptures by Lynn Chadwick and Anthony Gormley. Cherrill says: “Ian and I have identical taste. When I saw the Gormley at a Whitechapel Art Gallery fundraising exhibition, I mentioned to Ian that I loved it and to my surprise he immediately told the sales assistant that he’d take it. It turned out that he had already earmarked it and was waiting for my reaction.” I am struck by how successfully these pieces fit within the architecture. The colour in the paintings shouts of Cherrill’s personality and the clean-lined sculptures hint at Ian’s love of architecture. Each purchase has been carefully considered. Cherrill explains: “Everything in our house has been collected over the years. We don’t go out of our way to change things because something doesn’t fit with the latest fashion. We live with everything we buy. It is our home.”
For more images of the Hille home, see ‘Scheer Delight: A Bespoke Home from 1968’, MidCentury issue 02.
For information on the Hille, pioneers of Modernist furniture in Britain, see ‘Hille: From Reproduction to Reinvention’, MidCentury issue 02.