Architect: Peter Womersley
Selkirk, Scottish Borders
In 1957 the celebrated architect Peter Womersley designed one of the finest houses to have been built in Britain during the Mid Century period. It was commissioned by the renowned textile designer Bernat Klein and situated on a beautiful plot of approx. 3 ¼ acres acres, 35 miles south of Edinburgh, with far-reaching views of the Borders countryside. Today the four bedroom house with a studio wing, which now has a rare Category A listing from Historic Environment Scotland, is still in largely original condition and being put on the market by the Klein family for the first time.
The design of the single storey house is essentially a rectangle subdivided into eight foot modules, with the form having been played with by Womersley to create courtyards and a carport seemingly within the structure of the building (it has been described by the architectural historian Alan Powers as “a clear rectangle outlined in white painted timber… sitting lightly on a sea of green grass”). The creativity of the design has been enhanced by the inventive use of a broad mixture of materials – including travertine floor tiles and exotic hardwoods such as idigbo and obeche – and also colourful internal and external tiling added by Klein.
The house is entered via the car port, with the front door opening onto an entrance hall that leads into the main living area. This is one of the most spectacular spaces seen in any residence of the period. Although not vast in size, it is exquisite in design, featuring travertine floor tiles, polished obeche wood ceiling, bespoke fitted furniture and a sunken central seating area. Walls have been panelled with hardwoods including idigbo, rosewood and walnut and to one side there is floor to ceiling glazing which allows the light to flood in. Dividing the living area from the dining area is a ‘wall’ of plants.
The living area incorporates a study area and library, which leads through to the master bedroom with a dressing area and en suite bathroom.
The dining area leads through to the kitchen, which still features the original units. Opposite the kitchen is a shower room, utility room and small bedroom. Beyond this is a larger family room (which was once divided into two bedrooms) and a further bedroom which also benefits from an en suite bathroom.
The studio wing at the far end of the house was added in 1982 and although not designed by Womersley, it was added with his approval, not least because adaptability was part of the original design brief. This is a large, open room with floor to ceiling glazing on both sides and wonderful rural views which could be used as a studio, as was originally intended, or further accommodation.
The house sits centrally on a beautiful rural plot of approx. 3 ¼ acres in size (subject to measurement). It is a gently sloping clearing partly surrounded by woodland and bordering on open fields (from which it is separated by a dry stone wall) with far reaching views over the Ettrick Valley towards the triple peaks of the Eildon Hills. The site is largely lawn, with small areas of woodland.
Peter Womersely (1923 – 93) was a celebrated British architect who produced some of the very best buildings of the Mid Century period, notably a number of private houses including the wonderful Farnley Hey. Womersley was recently described by the prominent architecture critic Rowan Moore as “quite simply, one of the best British architects of the 20th century, and until recently one of the most overlooked”. He adds in an article published in The Observer that “his buildings are adventurous but poised; lucid, brave in conception and considered in their detail.”
Bernat Klein (1922 – 2014) was an influential textile designer whose fabrics, used by the likes of Christian Dior, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, did much to define high fashion in the 1960s.
This part of the Borders is renowned for its unspoilt beauty and salmon fishing in the River Tweed. Nearby towns include Selkirk, Galashiels and the popular and pretty town of Melrose. Melrose has excellent schooling, dining and shopping opportunities and a thriving cultural scene including the annual Borders Book Festival. There is an excellent café, delicatessen and bookshop, The Main Street Trading Company, in nearby St. Boswells.
The recently opened Borders Railway, which runs from Galashiels, runs services to central Edinburgh in approximately 50 minutes.
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.
The house has a Category A listing which is the highest grade of listing given by Historic Environment Scotland, a recognition of its exceptional architecture that is incredibly rare (not least for a post war building).
Below is an abbreviated version of Historic Environment Scotland’s listing description:
This is a fine early example of the work of the internationally renowned Borders based architect Peter Womersley (1923-1993), a signature work embodying his characteristic geometric modular design and surviving in its original condition to both the exterior and interior.
The house was commissioned in 1956 by Bernat Klein, a well respected textiles designer and prominent member of the Borders art scene who incorporated his own textiles into the original design. Mr Klein had seen Womersley’s earlier work, the Grade II listed Farnley Hey (1954) in Huddersfield, Britain’s best known example of the American contemporary style.
Womersley specialised in creating an expansive feel within a house… by using minimal circulation spaces, choosing to treat the house as one entity. He defined spaces with changing floor levels, using flush cupboard blocks as walls with ‘secret’ doors leading to separate areas. He was inspired by the Californian ‘case study homes’ which employed open planned spaces surrounded by shady gardens.
The house was designed to be used as a commercial office space for meetings as well as a home; the grid plan allowing for possible further expansion as part of the design brief. The open plan playroom area designed with sleeping alcoves for the children was intended to be divided into separate bedrooms at a later stage.
This is a geometric modular building that sits successfully in its natural landscape due to its simple flat roofed design and the clever use of the open yet enclosed courtyard spaces which links the house to its environment.
[The house has a] 14 by 5-bay rectangular-plan Modernist modular flat-roofed house incorporating courtyard space and open car port set on gently sloping site in cleared woodland. Makore timber-framed construction on 8ft grid pattern over concrete raft; white horizontal base course band; higher level band forming clerestory and continuous white facia board at eaves with aluminium trim. Asymmetrical coloured vitroslab panels, clear plate plyglass glazing, and vertically boarded Makore denote living, bathroom and sleeping areas. Entrance screen with five horizontal panels formerly coloured, with later surface tile mosaic added by Bernat Klein. Later addition of studio with contemporary detailing partially infilling former open courtyard and pond to East corner (1982).
Plain timber doors; single glazed metal-framed sliding patio doors; double-glazed, timber-framed fixed lights incorporating horizontal coloured glass panels in yellow and green at intervals; plain varnished timber vertically boarded sections. Internal concealed rainwater drainage to soakaways.
Fine Modernist open plan interior with original design scheme in place including bespoke fitted furniture and storage sections, travertine and tiled flooring, polished obeche wood ceiling, light fittings and contemporary furniture. All textiles were specially designed, dyed and woven by Bernat Klein. Open plan main living space with sunken central floor area, floor to ceiling glazing, central hearth, and fitted timber cabinets with integral lighting. Panelled African hardwood walls including indigbo, rosewood and walnut, with flush hidden doors leading to bedroom suites. Main bedroom suite has flush cupboards on three walls with characteristic ‘bedhead’ wall of horizontal strip walnut. Original cobalt blue tiles to kitchen floor and simple timber units.