“The best pre-war house in England” - Ian Nairn
This seminal Grade II*-listed house, completed in 1938 to a design by the celebrated practice Connell, Ward & Lucas, is widely considered to be among their finest buildings and has been described by critic Ian Nairn as the ‘best pre-war house in England.’ It was the last residential project undertaken by the trio and is one of few remaining examples of the International Style in Britain. 66 Frognal can be found on the corner of Frognal and Frognal Way, a short walk from the centre of Hampstead Village, with wonderful, elevated views across London.
In 2000 the current owners commissioned Avanti Architects to design and specify a full scheme of repair, upgrade and alteration works. The project took four years to complete after which the house was long-listed for the RIBA Stirling Prize and received a RIBA Conservation Award.
As with many of Connell, Ward & Lucas’ houses, 66 Frognal was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier and incorporates all of his Five Points of Modern Architecture – raised on pilotis, with a free plan and a free façade, ribbon windows and a roof terrace. Significantly, the house is constructed from reinforced concrete – the literal foundation of the Modern Movement. Its western façade is unapologetically lacking in ornament, an expanse of render and balanced fenestration interrupted by the protruding void of the internal staircase.
The house is set back from the road, entered through a car-port with space for four cars and access to a large double garage. A curved front entrance leads left for access to and from the garage, right to a shower room and then the first of a number of living areas. Sliding doors open to the swimming pool, its updated curved wall echoing that of the entrance alcove and wrapped in the greens of the garden.
The staircase occupies a central position, its void an integral part of the external design. The original steel balustrade is retained and strips of glazing on either side cast wonderful patterns of light onto a soaring maroon wall.
The first floor is an expanse of free plan with an enormous living room, arguably the crowning stroke, continuously glazed on the east side with two sliding doors to the large first floor terrace. Avanti’s additions here include uplighting concealed within the rim of a raised portion of ceiling over the living area, and a lacewood-veneered ‘floating wall’ supporting the slate surround of a minimalist gas fire. Two further living rooms occupy the south side which also incorporates a complete bathroom and a further separate guest cloakroom.
The kitchen is by Poggenpohl with Miele and Gaggenau appliances. It was expanded from the original, absorbing the former maids’ quarters, and is open to the living space, allowing both morning and evening light to reflect across the interconnecting limestone floor of each space. The house now includes underfloor heating with full Trend BMS control, Lutron lighting, air conditioning to the bedrooms and Sonos systems in five areas.
The second floor offers an expansive L-shaped master bedroom with walk-in dressing room, en-suite bathroom and a further separate shower room. The room’s inner face is entirely glazed with a glass sliding door opening onto a private and substantial terrace. This overlooks the extensive private garden, custom-designed with paving and lawn sections to reflect Picasso’s La Femme Couchée.
A corridor runs north to south linking the master bedroom with two further bedrooms on the upper level, both with access to the external balcony and the terrace, and individual bathrooms. From the road the ancillary rooms can be seen along the western façade, pulled back behind the structural columns and linked by continuous strip windows.
Elsewhere, aluminium windows throughout have been replaced with more slender sections in steel, and the original colour scheme was reinstated with pale mushroom for the principal face, off-white for the projecting stairwell, red for the columns, dark brown on the curving wall to the garage and above the second-floor glazing, and a bright yellow for the front entrance.
Visible from the garden is the superb eastern façade, a considered play of solids and voids with excellent spatial layering through its careful balance of brick and glazing.
Frognal is brilliantly situated for access to the shops, restaurants and Underground station in Hampstead Village, as well as the open spaces of Hampstead Heath. Many of London’s best independent schools are within a short walk of the house. Within five minutes’ walk are Finchley Road Underground Station (Northern, Jubilee & Metropolitan Lines) and Finchley Road & Frognal London Overground Station.
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.
Despite the Modern Movement’s foothold in Europe by the 1930s, it is perhaps symptomatic of the conservative attitude to Modern architecture in England at the time that Connell, Ward & Lucas faced such opposition to so many of their designs. No doubt exacerbated by its prominent corner position in Hampstead, 66 Frognal is one such example.
The house was commissioned by solicitor Geoffrey Walford, and notably designed in advance of the site being identified. Fortunately, Walford was not a client easily swayed by the rigorous planning and appeals process, nor by detractors of modern architecture. His vision was clear; in his words ‘a more precise use of space, a greater reduction of labour, the use without pretence or shame of materials and methods now available.’
As with all Connell, Ward & Lucas buildings, the actual architect is identified. Frognal is the work of Colin Lucas (1906-84), who joined Amyas Connell and Basil Ward in 1933. Lucas had already built some of the first reinforced concrete houses in England (Noah’s House and Boathouse, Bourne End, 1930; The Hopfield, Wrotham, 1932) and it is for this reason that Walford commissioned the practice.
Amidst the furore of its presence among the (non-homogenous) neighbouring red-brick houses, Walford clarified in the RIBA Journal, ‘It may seem surprising to some that this building is not symptomatic of exhibitionism, nor of iconoclasm. To me, it represents the logical conclusion to nothing more mysterious than the problem of how to live,’ (RIBA Journal, 19.12.38).
Construction started in summer 1937 and was completed just months before the outbreak of World War II, forcing the Walfords to evacuate. Following alterations and extensions in the 1950s and 1970s (including by the architect Trevor Dannatt) the house was Grade-II listed in 1973 and upgraded to Grade II* in 1999. Subsequently, the house fell into a state of disrepair until it was acquired by the current owners, who in 2000, employed the expertise of Avanti architects to restore the integrity of Lucas’ original design while bringing the house into the 21st century.
As part of 66 Frognal’s legacy it is perhaps worth highlighting Walford’s words, that despite the tumultuous planning process, building his own home was ‘an experience of intense interest and delight.’