Hopelessly devoted to you: Spedan Close is a love note to Modernism
PUBLISHED: 15:00 24 May 2017
For sale: a £1.1 million Modernist home by Hampstead Heath that was designed in 1978 as part of one of Camden's flagship social housing schemes
The year is 1978. Inflation is finally below double figures, Ian Botham is the first cricketer to score a century and ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina’ plays out to thousands on the West End. London is no longer swinging, the Sid Vicious brand of anarchy has taken over from boyish, floppy-haired mods, and as Summer Nights have turned to winter, a bubbling cauldron of discontent begins to simmer to boiling point.
As the Sex Pistols cried out their anti-authoritarian message of bleak dystopia in ‘God save the Queen, the fascist regime,’ it seemed that culture had had its moment in the sun and politics was about to turn ugly. Eyes turned to the swamping of US consumer culture with the release of Grease and the onslaught of Brutalism caused brows to furrow. This was the year of the Branch Hill Estate.
If you fall into the category of part-time architectural critics who loathe post-war architecture, don’t blame it on sunlight, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, blame it on the council.
One of the unusually adroit Camden flagship developments, the council Took A Chance On Benson and Forsyth, the firm behind Islington’s latest twin towers development. Now a Grade II listed private estate, then architects Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth designed Branch Hill having worked with Neave Brown on the Rowley Way Estate in St John’s Wood and helped by Sidney Cook who was behind many of the borough’s schemes.
In 1977, the Ham & High reported that: “These are the most expensive council houses in England, to their defenders an act of political faith, to critics socialism gone mad.” Despite some critics arguing the design was stylistically Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, the houses were a testament to the ethos of the council’s social housing project, and manifestly against what it saw as the stigmatising of council homes into ghettos.
Is This Love? Not for everyone. True to Modernist form, the design relies on a divisive exposed white concrete structure with large floor-to-ceiling windows and unhidden metalwork. Arranged over two storeys, the pairs of semi detached homes are arranged Once, Twice, Three Times in rows separated by redbrick pathways.
From the back, the estate could be confused for a laboratory, but once entered, the cluster of houses form together a uniquely peaceful woodland residence; something of a fusion of a Beverly Hills style party pad saturated with sultry stars swanning around drinking martinis, save for the presence of a swimming pool, and an Italianate coastal village.
A two bedroom property, Spedan Close is similarly cut into the Wuthering Heights of the West Heath and offers modern accommodation spread over three half levels. Light floods in through the huge windows to illuminate the reception room, from which a spiral staircase gives access to a private south-west facing garden.
The L-shaped kitchen and dining area shows no sign of tacky 1970s décor, Stayin’ Alive in the 21st century by way of a fusion of modern utility with clean finishes, hard, coffee-coloured wood and splashes of cherry red in the worktops and appliances.
The lower level is comprised of a bathroom and two bedrooms, both with access to the patio garden through double stable doors. Unusually, the bedrooms can be divided by a sliding partition door to enable the space to be used in its entirety, or divided into two bedrooms.
Additionally, a pull-down bed in the reception room offers accommodation for guests, again with the possibility of using sliding doors to separate the bed from the living area. Storage space is plentiful, with built-in storage including a crawl space that doubles as a wardrobe in the main bedroom.
Spedan Close is found close to Hampstead Village just a short walk from Hampstead Underground station, within easy reach of the open spaces of Hampstead Heath and the amenities, schools and shops of the area.
The house merges the brutality of 1970s Modernist style, its rough and ready skeletal structure in an echo of the punk devil-may-care ethos of the day, with the tranquillity of a British country home of yore in a nation quietly retreating from its former position as a global power in the grounds of an old Edwardian Mansion.