Architect: Ray Moxley / Tim Organ

Chewton Mendip
Somerset

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This incredible property set in the idyllic Somerset countryside is a historic stone cottage attached to a striking and substantial 1960s Modernist house. Extending to a total of over 3,200 sq ft and with six bedrooms and two reception rooms, it could potentially be utilised as either one or two properties. The property has been in the same family since the 1960s and is now in need of some refurbishment, as has been reflected in the asking price.

The property can be found along a quiet country lane opposite woodland on the Waldegrave Estate, two miles from the attractive village of Chewton Mendip and just four miles from the cathedral city of Wells.

Accommodation in the cottage part includes a hallway with flagstone floors and woodburner, a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and study / second bedroom. A set of stairs leads up to the main part of the house, which consists largely of a rectangular structure with floor to ceiling glazing that is strongly reminiscent of the celebrated Case Study houses built in California in the 1950s (something that is only emphasised by the building’s cantilever out over the hillside). This part of the house incorporates a spectacular living space, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. A dining room then leads to a kitchen, designed in geometric style. As many of the spaces were originally designed for a wheelchair user, they feature wide doorways and level surfaces. Floor to ceiling glazing throughout this section offers a wonderful outlook onto the surrounding gardens and countryside and there is underfloor heating throughout. There is double glazing but it has now been in place for some time and would benefit from updating.

The south-east facing house is surrounded by gardens, some of which are sloped and some of which are level. There is also an enclosed terrace at the rear with a rectilinear pond. The terrace design, and the choice of plantings, reflect the Modernist architecture and could be restored to quite impressive effect. There is a double carport at the entrance to the main house and a double garage beside the cottage.

The design was created for two Bristol University academics who were passionate about Modern architecture and wanted to transform their stone cottage into something more appropriate for the late 20th century. In 1963, they commissioned a young, forward-thinking Bristol-based architect, Ray Moxley, to design a glass box sitting on a cantilevered concrete deck. The extension was constructed from pre-fabricated modules made off-site and bolted into place. At the end of the decade, they commissioned Robert and Tim Organ to design a further extension, the most notable part of which is the tetradecagonic kitchen. The Organ brothers are perhaps best known for Artist & Constructor, one of the UK’s most innovative and interesting design firms of the late 1960s and 70s.

The property sits surrounded and protected from development by Waldegrave Estate land, in the Mendip Hills AONB. The historic village of Chewton Mendip is notable for its charming vernacular limestone buildings. It has a primary school (deemed ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted), Grade I listed Norman church, shop and pub. Just four miles away is Wells which, despite its small size, is known across the world for its impressive cathedral. It is also renowned for its schools (Wells Cathedral School in particular) and the beauty of the surrounding countryside (including the Somerset Levels, Quantocks and of course Mendip Hills). Wells also offers a good range of shops, restaurants, cafes and other services. The city of Bath (a World Heritage Site) is just twenty minutes drive by car and Bristol is twenty five 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.


History

In his acclaimed autobiographical book about life in rural Wales, The Garden in the Clouds, the writer Antony Woodward talks about his upbringing at this house in Chewton Mendip, which was commissioned by his parents:

“The house was my father’s Great Modernist Experiment, the product of his love of architecture in general and Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavilion in particular. In time for my arrival in 1963, they needed to add onto my mother’s cottage, which had only one bedroom and a wide landing where Jonny slept. My father devised a contemporary solution. Modules precision-machined off-site by Vic Hallam, the Nottinghamshire company made famous by its pre-fabricated classrooms, were bolted to a pre-formed, cantilevered concrete deck. Twenty-eight polished Ilminster stone steps led up from the poky cottage’s front door to an airy, light-filled, flat-roofed glass box, containing sitting room and bedrooms. These were furnished accordingly: razor-edged steel-and glass coffee table, brick-hard, angle-iron and foam-rubber Hille sofas, Ercol bentwood table and chairs… And so Modernism made its brazen progress from Bauhaus Germany, via New York, to our ancient Mendip lane. Nothing like it had been seen before in rural Somerset…

The patio arrived in Phase Two of the Great Modernist Experiment, an extension forced upon us by my mother’s riding accident almost a decade later. It was my father’s most successful garden space, enclosed on three sides by the house, and on the fourth by the rising ground of the hill. It was, as he’d intended it, an astonishing suntrap. In raised dry-stone beds he’d planted acers, a green one with broad leaves and a couple with more dissected leaves in red and bright green. I ran my hand along one of the smooth, shapely branches. After thirty years the trees were sculptural, contributing a calming, vaguely Japanese air to the space that set off the severity of the square brutalist concrete pond and the glass and cedar of the house.

During the Modernist years, my father had maintained the pond with its floor of raked pea shingle, in a state of stark clinical perfection, washing it clean of algae several times a summer so the water never clouded.”


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