Architect: Brian Housden
South Hill Park, London NW3
One of the great post-war Modern houses in London, Housden House was designed and built by architect Brian Housden for himself and his family between 1963-65. The house was given a Grade-II listing in 2014 by Historic England, representing a “completely unique piece of architectural vision and ingenuity that syntheses [sic] a great wealth of influences and ideas and is executed with an intensity and conviction that is entirely personal”. Presented to the market in beautifully original condition, this is the first time that the house has been available for sale.
The house is part of an important movement in post-war housing, and stands out as an historic example of Camden Council’s innovative approach towards design. The concept is a clear demonstration of Housden’s understanding of pioneering European modernism, sharing many principles with the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht and Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre in Paris. As the Historic England listing suggestions, despite the obvious influences “the house possesses a consistency and novelty of vision that is entirely Housden’s”.
The house is set back from the street, behind a recessed and partly covered parking space and sunken patio that permits light to the lower ground floor. The façade, a mix of protruding concrete platforms and glass bricks, belies the scale of the house, which is best captured from the rear. The back of the house is almost completely glazed with glass bricks, flooding the internal space with a warm westerly light at every level. The favourable elevation of South Hill Park gives the house a wonderful vantage point above Hampstead No.1 pond and views of the heath beyond.
Entrance is to a short hall that opens onto the first of two living spaces, with access to a large west-facing balcony that gives the first view of the heath. A dramatic void space occupies one side of the room, dropping to the lower level via a concrete staircase. The supporting balustrade is capped with an extraordinary pink-toned marble.
The lower-ground floor contains the main living areas, a largely open-plan space that has access to the patio garden. The focal point of the room is a wonderful sunken dining area, equipped with a beautiful bespoke circular dining table. The floor is laid with mosaic tiles, mostly a brilliant blue with zones of off-white. The room can be partitioned by dramatically colourful curtains that weave through the room on ceiling-mounted tracks – a later addition to the design. A free-standing kitchen sits at the front of the plan, an area that extends beneath the car space above, with doors to the aforementioned sunken courtyard.
A concrete staircase, at ground-floor level, switches back on itself to reach the first floor, where there are two bedrooms. The master bedroom is the real showpiece of the house, a truly exceptional space of dramatic proportions, with soaring ceiling height and a full wall of glass bricks that is punctured with deliberately placed windows that offer controlled glimpses of the heath whilst conserving privacy. An open bathroom in the corner of the room demonstrates an appreciation for exposed structures and services exemplified in the likes of Maison de Verre and Adolf Rading’s design for the 1929 Breslau Werkbundsiedlung.
Upstairs there are two further bedrooms, one on the first floor and another a half level above. Both have simplified versions of the open bathroom of the master space. A mezzanine storage level sits over the hall space, replete with Rietveld-esque colourful sliding doors and accessed by a fixed steel ladder. A second ladder gives access to the flat roof through an impressive roof lantern designed to light the stairwell below. The fourth bedroom / study is positioned on the ground floor, adjacent to the entrance hall.
The house is in fascinatingly original condition, having been lovingly maintained by the Housden family throughout its history.
South Hill Park is very well located, bordering the south-eastern end of Hampstead Heath. The house is a short walk from the centre of Hampstead Village with its excellent variety of shops and restaurants, and access to the London Overground at Hampstead Heath station. Nearby Belsize Park and Hampstead underground stations are on the Northern Line.
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.
Having graduated from the Architectural Association in the early 1950s, Brian Housden sought to build a house for his family that would draw on influences he had acquired from his studies, and a number of pivotal trips to some seminal houses across Europe.
By 1958, Housden had acquired a site next to a run of mid-century townhouses, built in 1954 by Howell and Amis, a bombed site that overlooked the southern end of Hampstead Heath. Housden set about designing a house for his family, which joined a great wealth of influences and ideas, three of which resonate in particular.
The first came from a trip to visit the Rietveld-Schroder house in Holland. As described in the Historic England listing: “…the Housdens met Truus Schroder-Schrader and Gerrit Rietveld at the house in Utrecht on which the two had collaborated in 1924. The Rietveld Schroder House was a built demonstration of the very close relationship Mrs Schroder sought with her three children, and the principal accommodation on the first floor is a single space defined by built-in furniture and folding screens. The Rietveld Schroder House is the principal-built monument of the de Stijl movement in art and architecture, in which the construction of the house is revealed as a series of interlocking planes with different elements painted in bright colours like a Mondriaan painting…”
“… At their meeting Mrs Housden admired Rietveld’s furniture, and he promised her ‘a collection’. Subsequently the Housdens acquired fourteen original pieces, made for them on Rietveld’s instructions by van der Groenekan. The collection was given to them for the cost of the materials and transportation. The new house had thus to be designed to contain these important pieces.”
The second significant influence occurred during the same trip to Holland, where the Housdens visited the Amsterdam Orphanage design by an international group known as Team X, that included architect Aldo van Eyck. The orphanage was designed for the use children, with different spaces and facilities for the varying ages, which resonated with the Housden’s drive to build a family house. Van Eyck’s use of fixed furniture, built in to the fabric of the house, was a concept that Housden had encountered and admired when studying the work of Adolf Loos. The technique arose from the idea of the house like a built landscape, or city. As Housden described the concept in his unpublished text The Imaginative Function of Buildings:“for the City is but one great house, or family, so every family, or private house, is a little city”.
The third, and ostensibly the most obvious of influences, is Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre, a milestone of early Modern architectural design. Built in 1932, the house uses various industrial and mechanical fixtures juxtaposed with a traditional style of home furnishings all under the transparency and lightness of the glass brick façade. The exposed steel framework and exposed services expressed a functional style that rejected historical design references.
Beyond the Modern European influences that surfaced in South Hill Park, Housden expressed an interest in Greek and Renaissance classicism. As described in the Historic England listing: “… Housden extended this reference to include the mandalas of Eastern mythology, here taking the simple form of a circle within a square, and expressed in the shuttering of the ceilings over the carport, study, dining table and master bedroom, as well as in the form of the pool on the rear terrace. He also likened the basement space to the form of the ‘family house’ built by the Dogon tribes of Mali, in which every function has its place.”
The Housdens first occupied the uncompleted house late in 1964, with their three daughters, a stand pipe in the kitchen and a temporary lavatory. Mrs Housden recalled how the builders took pity on her and set to erecting the kitchen sinks. The house was structurally complete a year or two later, but much of its embellishment was completed over a number of years as funds allowed.