Architect: Alison & Peter Smithson
The Sugden House
Viewing Day: Saturday 29th July
This five-bedroom house, set in a tranquil plot just under half an acre in size (approx.), was designed in 1955 by the celebrated architects Alison and Peter Smithson. It has been given a Grade II listing by Historic England, who describe the Smithsons as “one of the most influential [architects] of the post-war period nationally and internationally” and acknowledge the house as very a rare example of a completed domestic commission by the pair.
The house was designed for Derek and Jean Sugden and has never before been on the market. Derek, an acclaimed acoustic engineer at Arup, was responsible for the acoustics of Snape Maltings, Glyndebourne, Theatre Royal Glasgow and concert halls at the Barbican, Bridgewater and the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building among others. Sugden’s oft-quoted brief to the Smithsons was for “a simple house, an ordinary house, but that this should not exclude it from being a radical house”. More information on the Smithsons and Derek Sugden, and their collaboration at the house in Watford, can be found in the History section.
The property can be found at the far end of Devereux Drive, a no-through residential road in the Hertfordshire town of Watford, 17 miles North West of central London. The house is reached via a private drive and overlooks a wonderful, sweeping garden.
The ground floor is largely occupied by an open plan living room / kitchen / dining room. With extensive glazing, these spaces flood with light. The living and dining rooms are separated by an open timber staircase with simple stick balusters, designed by Alison Smithson, and a brick fireplace with concrete lintel. The Smithsons described themselves as having a “reverence for materials” and their attention to detail here, as with the inset concrete shelving in the dining area, is evidence of this approach. The kitchen and dining areas are divided by kitchen units, again designed by Alison Smithson. Wooden plank doors lead to a walk-in larder, a walk-in coat cupboard and a drying room, providing excellent concealed storage capacity.
Also on this floor is a study / bedroom that overlooks the garden and similarly fills with light thanks to the generously-sized windows. To the rear of the house is an integral garage and garden room.
The flooring throughout the ground floor is Loliondo teak strips (with polyvinyl tiling in the kitchen, dining room and hall).
The first floor currently features four bedrooms, a WC and small family bathroom. The master bedroom is notable for the inbuilt cupboards designed by Alison Smithson.
The extensive gardens are one of the most attractive features of the property. The house sits in a slightly elevated position, surrounded on three sides by a paved terrace. The garden then drops away gently to a level lawn bordered by mature shrubs and trees. A driveway provides ample space for the parking of cars.
The house can be found at the end of Devereux Drive on the Cassiobury Estate, a sought after residential part of Watford built in the former grounds of Cassiobury House, a mansion that was once the seat of the Earl of Essex (the road name is taken from the Elizabethan nobleman Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex).
Watford town centre is approximately 1.5 miles away and provides a wide variety of shops and services. Transport links include the Metropolitan Line at Watford station and mainline services to London Euston from Watford Junction (approx. 20 mins journey time).
There is a good selection of schools, both state and private, including Cassiobury Junior School, Watford Boys and Girls Grammar Schools, Nascot Wood Primary, Haberdashers Boys and Girls Schools and York House. Nearby Cassiobury Park is a wonderful facility with over 190 acres of open space, which provides a range of sporting and recreational opportunities. The River Gade and the Grand Union Canal run through the nearby Cassiobury Park.
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.
“A seminal English house”, is how the celebrated architect Jonathan Sergison has described the Sugden House. It is referred to as “an art work” by Tony Fretton and “so witty and wonderful” in the words of Peter St. John. Few other post war houses have been as admired and influential as this design by Alison and Peter Smithson.
According to Historic England, “The superficial simplicity of the exterior treatment belies the subtle nuances of the design, expressed particularly in the form and arrangement of the windows”. Peter Smithson spent a great deal of time playing with various configurations for the windows. In his words “the distribution of the windows… deliberately allows the brickwork to flow together and ultimately coalesce with the roof to form a solid mass resulting in that appearance of all-round protection which was once characteristic of English popular architecture so expressive of our climate”.
Smithson’s reference to “English popular architecture”, at a time when many British architects were still in the thrall of the more glamorous architecture of California or Scandinavia, is significant. Indeed the couple’s interest in populism and the fact that they were unafraid to mix references to American Modernism, Arts & Crafts and more in the Sugden House have prompted a number of people to describe the building as a forerunner to the Post Modern movement that appeared a couple of decades later.
In his obituary for Derek Sugden in Building Design, Mark Swenarton noted that “while he admired Peter Smithson as an architect, Sugden was amused by the cult of the Smithsons that had turned the house into a place of pilgrimage for architecture students worldwide, and he was not pleased that it was listed Grade II in 2012.” Sugden clearly loved the house, however, living there from when it was built in 1956 to his death in 2015. A wonderful video of Sugden at the house produced by Historic England can be found here.