I’ve only ever been in a couple of other houses anywhere near like The Homewood – 2 Willow Road in North London and Villa Necchi Campiglio near Milan, Italy. Perhaps the interiors of Eltham Palace come close. However, last year I watched an hour-long programme in a series called ‘National Trust: National Treasures‘ and so I couldn’t resist a trip to Surrey at the first opportunity I had to book a place on an elusive tour to this house.
I’m a classicist when it comes to my true tastes. I despise concrete. However, there is something within me that appreciates a curved sofa (I have one) and therefore I don’t always dislike 1930s architecture. I like the multifunctional rooms.
I really liked how at The Homewood storage and functionality was woven into the furniture (all designed by Gwynne), how the rooms were built for purpose (bedrooms facing east to catch the morning sun, the sitting room facing south and the dining room west, to get the midday and evening sun respectively; the staff’s quarters and kitchen face the north, where the warmth of the sun at any time of the day wasn’t considered necessary).
The house was completed in 1938, at a cost in excess of £10,000 (to put that into perspective, local houses sold for circa £350 at the time and the family had to sell a whole village in Wales to fund the build). Patrick Gwynne’s parents built the house of his design because Mrs Gwynne wanted to move (she was fed up of the noise from the Portsmouth Road outside her current Victorian roadside house rattling her china every time a lorry went past) and Mr Gwynne didn’t want to leave the garden he had spent 20 years creating. Patrick was 24 and wanted a commission. He suggested to his parents that he build them a house at the back of the garden, as far away as possible from the road. He promised them the house of their dreams.
The Gwynnes senior had one glorious year of parties before WW2 broke out. They both died during the war but Patrick came back, living as a bachelor and partying his way through a rather glamorous life at The Homewood until he died in 2003.
He built 40 luxury modernist homes.
65 years in one house and still he had some parts of it that he didn’t know how to finish, such as a weird mural at the top of the spiral staircase that he left covered in the crayon doodle of a visiting artist friend’s assistant because he just didn’t know what else to do with it. Reminds me of the very big white wall I have with nothing on it still 10 year later; I think I need to paint a Cezanne one afternoon.
The National Trust spent 10 years working with Patrick towards the end of his life to get the house back into good repair and they chose the custodian, who Patrick specified must be a family. They live in the house (with a young child) VERY CAREFULLY.
There are bits of the house I really liked:
- the bar that hinges out of the wooden wall in the lounge and which is held up by a singular tubular leg;
- the uniformity of design of a façade of a cabinet in the study behind which different sized cupboards and drawers live;
- the use of Indian laurel to replace the wall covering of walnut that had faded because it looks like walnut but doesn’t fade;
- the double tulips on the terrace, some of them full enough to be taken for roses by a boozy glazed glance;
- how the back padding for the exterior seats hangs from the wall;
- the outside kitchen;
- the curved sofa;
- the lack of ceiling lights in room;
- the desk upstairs into which the lamp can fold to provide an oblong dining table;
- and the main round dining table (always my preferred dining table shape if visiting a restaurant – so much more sociable).
But other things I don’t like:
- the concrete floor,
- the inconspicuous front door;
- the glass blocks;
- the overuse of grass cloth on the walls;
- how cold the house feels;
- the grates on the floor for radiators;
- the gloom of the space chosen for the study; and
- the sterile space of the bedroom (and the fact the NT only open one bedroom).
In fact, only the entrance hall, cream concrete spiral stair, study, sitting room-come dining room (separated by a folding screen) and one bedroom are open in this vast house. Entry is only by guided tour and shoes definitely have to be flat (to protect the sprung maple floor in the sitting room) and covered in plastic booties.
Once outside I played a “spot the white elephant” game from amongst the acer trees.
Monsieur Le Corbusier has a lot to answer for…
When visited: May 2013
House * out of 5: ***
Garden * out of 5: **
Theme tune: Something French
Further reading: http://www.c20society.org.uk/botm/the-homewood/