Sunday, 20 April 2014

days out - The Homewood & Claremont Gardens, Surrey

How about this for a rental? A modernist villa set in landscaped gardens a half hours drive from London. It comes with a pool, four bedrooms, spiral staircase, sprung wood floor in the living room (suitable for ballroom dancing no less) an office and a full outdoor kitchen. 

Sometimes it's good to get out into the country and get the city out of your lungs. Last weekend some friends and I booked a tour of a The Homewood, a modernist villa in the Surrey countryside. Completed in 1938 it is one of only a few residences by architect Patrick Gwynne still standing and very much inspired by the aesthetics and principles of Le Corbusier. Amazingly the house is administered by private tenants, who went through a rigorous selection process by the National Trust. They have to pay the utilities as well as rent, and have to allow for guided tours coming through their home four times a month from April to October, but I'd say that's a small price to pay for the privilege of living in a modernist masterpiece. The living room displays photographs from the Gwynn family and items belonging to the current residents and on the day we visit they are away, but our guide tells us their six year old daughter sometimes pops up on house tours, making this building a living, breathing home instead of a museum piece.

Rear elevation and view of the green tiled pool

Gwynne built the house for his parents and sister as a family home, replacing the large, dark Victorian villa which was situated near the road, it must have been quite a departure in terms of living space and style! Looking up from the garden, you can see the architects office which occupies the right hand wing of the house and there is also a full outdoor kitchen under the main elevation, right next to the beautifully simple, green tiled pool. Inside, the tour takes you into the entrance hall, the architects office, the spiral staircase, the main living room, the dining room and Gwynns bedroom. The rest of the house is the private space of the tenants but the guided tour is so informative and detailed (45-50 minutes in all) that you don't really feel like you're missing out on anything.

Side elevation (bedrooms and balconies) and entrance

Visitors arrive at the house up a sweeping driveway, and as the entrance is set under one one of the bedrooms (standing on piloti) you don't even have to get wet if it's raining. The planting on either side of the front door is mirrored on the inside, offering an unexpected element to the entrance hall. To the left is Gwynns architectural practice office, to the right, the spiral staircase which takes you up to the main living level. This house manages to be modernist and understated while still drawing gasps of amazement from visitors. Gwynn also designed a lot of the furniture in the house and clever storage ideas are everywhere, from the magazine rack/table and retractable bar in the living room to the fully concealable vanity unit in the bedroom and most of the tables in the house also have small leaves that extend to hold drinks, genius! You can't take photos inside so to get an idea of what it looks like, visit the NT page for it here.

Architects office wing and view from the terrace towards the garden

Outside, visitors are free to explore the gardens. The house is cleverly placed right near the boundary of the grounds, making the most of the neighboring woodland view, the large trees providing a sense of privacy. The views back towards the house show just how beautifully proportioned it is, and how the 'bungalow on stilts' design affords both pleasing views of the garden and privacy, despite the scale of the windows.

The pond at The Homewood

If you don't have a garden, or just don't want to maintain one, visiting a National Trust one is a great substitute. Just down the road from Homewood are the 300 year old, 49 acre Claremont Landscaped Gardens. After our Homewood tour we stopped for lunch in the cafe there, where you can have soup, sandwiches or a substantial lunch. The coffee and 'Capability Brownies' are also a treat on a slightly chilly day or there are plenty of benches and spaces for a picnic in better weather.

The Camellia Terrace at Claremont

The property attached to Claremont  is now a school and not open to the public, but the gardens are impressive enough to warrant a visit in their own right. Once part of a royal residence, great landscapers like Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent and Capability Brown have left their mark on it. The gardens surround a large lake and contain a grotto, thatched cottage, bowling green, Camellia terrace, amphitheatre, and a 250 year old folly 'Belvedere Tower', open on selected dates but sadly not on the day we visited, but the view up to it is pretty impressive!

Belvedere Tower

The full walk is quite long but gentle and the view from the top of the terrace is worth the climb! At the bottom of the lake we stopped to sit for a while on a bench and watch the waterbirds, a majestic black swan, gaggles of different geese and moorhens (or coots?) are in residence.

The view over the lake from the top of the mausoleum site

Being spring, we were also treated to a dazzling field of daffodils along with rhododendrons, Camellias, tulips and dozens of species of trees. Almost all National Trust properties have a programme of events and offer year-round activities for children and families, making an interesting day out for everyone. I've always loved a good country house or stately home, there's nothing quite like snooping round the living rooms, bedrooms and gardens of the aristocracy. The National Trust also have more modern buildings under their care (2 Willow Road in Hampstead being another favourite of mine) and plenty of other buildings (or partner buildings) in and close to London. Check out the information page here to see what's on offer.

Double exposures of daffodils

I have National Trust membership (thanks mum & dad!) so the gardens were free, and members pay a much reduced rate for the Homewood tour. If you're thinking of visiting here are the details, click on the header for links to the NT site.

Guided tours on the first and third Friday, and the second and fourth Saturday of each month between April and October (excluding the Easter weekend). Tours start at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. £11.80 non members, £3.60 for members.

Open almost year round from 10am. £7 adults and £17.50 for families. Members go free.

Individual adult member ship is £58 a year with other packages available from the NTs membership page.

If you fancy yourself as a National Trust tenant, read about the scheme here and check out the list of current properties available on Rightmove

All photographs ©Anni Timms 2014

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