Architect: Oliver Hill

The Round House
Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

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Designed by Oliver Hill in the mid-1930s, this remarkable Grade II-listed four-bedroom Modernist house is the most architecturally significant building on the Frinton Park Estate, and has a privileged location on the seafront.

As its name suggests, the house is entirely circular, with 1,923 sq ft of internal accommodation over two floors with a flat roof and a wraparound garden. It is set back from the road, and accessed via an Art Deco gate and a lawn. Upon entering, there is a large entrance hall on the ground floor, which leads to a curved dining room at the front overlooking the sea. At the rear is a reception room (which was formerly a bedroom), and there is a separate kitchen with secondary access to the garden and the street, a bathroom, a study and a utility room. A wonderfully grand S-shaped staircase leads to the first floor, which has three bedrooms, a shower room with a double-sized cubicle, and a sitting room across the front of the house with spectacular views. There is also a garage.

The house has been dearly loved and looked after, and in recent years a new kitchen and bathroom have been added and the roof has been replaced. However, it would benefit from further renovation. In particular, some of the original curved Crittall windows remain in situ and require attention, while others were replaced a number of years ago with double-glazed uPVC units.

Developed from 1934 onwards, the Frinton Park Estate was intended to be Britain’s most ambitious housing settlement, with the country’s leading young architects (including Wells Coates, Frederick Gibberd and Connell, Ward & Lucas) invited to contribute. In the end, only a small fraction was built, but it remains the largest grouping of Modern Movement houses anywhere in the UK. The Round House acted as the offices – or “Information Bureau” – for the estate. A map of the estate was built into the floor of the house using coloured mosaic tiles, and this survives in largely original condition, running through the entrance hall and the dining room.

Frinton-on-Sea is a picturesque town with a growing community interested in preserving its architectural heritage. A path opposite the house leads directly down to the lovely sandy beach, which is lined with colourful beach huts. The town offers basic amenities including a grocery, chemist, newsagent and bakery. Further services can be found in the nearby seaside towns of Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze. A little further afield is the larger town of Colchester. Frinton offers a train service to London Liverpool Street in one hour and twenty minutes (the station is a ten-minute walk from the house).

Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. The Modern House has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.


History

In 1934 the South Coast Investment Company Ltd bought 200 acres of land straddling the railway line to the north-east of Frinton. They proposed an ambitious development, the Frinton Park Estate, which was to include 1,100 houses, a town hall, college, churches, a shopping complex, and a sweeping cliff-face hotel. The 40 acres east of the railway line and closest to the sea was designated as a showcase for modern houses, and Oliver Hill was chosen by the company as the principal architect for the estate, responsible for supervising its overall design and layout. Hill was insistent on the employment of a number of young, progressive architects, including Wells Coates, Maxwell Fry, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, Tecton, FRS Yorke, Frederick Gibberd and others.

By the end of 1935 the project had foundered. Many of the architects had already withdrawn, and Hill resigned in August of that year. Ultimately, the scheme failed because of the conflict between the idealism of the architects and the need for profit, and because of the difficulty of selling experimental design and new materials (such as concrete) to a suspicious and conservative public. Only about 40 modernist houses and part of the shopping centre had been built. Oliver Hill had designed 12 houses, of which ten survive.

The Round House was the first to be built and was the focal point for the estate. It would exhibit products approved by Hill as well as photographs of modern houses from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA); it also acted as the office for records and sales. The mosaic plan on the floor was designed by Clifford Ellis. According to English Heritage, “Despite the recent replacement of the glazing, the building remains a strong architectural statement with the striking use of the circular plan, projecting ‘skirt’ and the position of the building as a focal point of the model estate.”


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Oliver Hill

Oliver Hill (1886-1968) was the lead designer on the Frinton Park Estate project, in which 200 acres of land was bought by the South Coast Property Investment Company, with a view to designing a new, modernist resort. Born in Kensington to a Scottish family, Hill began his career in the Arts & Crafts movement, and worked as an apprentice to Edwin Lutyens. In the 1930s, his interests shifted towards modernism, and in 1932 he designed a house in Surrey for Wilfred Greene. One of Hill’s most notable projects was the Midland Hotel in Morecambe, built in the Streamline Moderne style in 1933. He also completed a number of residential projects in London, as well as the Newbury Park bus shelter in Ilford and the British pavilion at the Paris Expo, 1937.

Key Residential Projects
House in Surrey
Housing estate in Essex
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