This List Entry was subject to a Minor Enhancement on 20 SEP 2016
TQ06NW ST ANN'S HILL ROAD
772/2/40 St Ann's Court
Villa, 1936-7, the former residence of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard; designed by Raymond McGrath in consultation with Tunnard.
Reinforced concrete (L Mouchel and Partners), with internal cork insulation and vertical board-marked external finish originally painted pinkish grey, and smooth soffits (originally jade green) and beams. Flat roof; three storeys including roof terraces. Circular plan inspired by the surrounding landscape, likened by McGrath to 'a big cheese, with a slice cut for the sunlight to enter the whole house.' Supporting columns set in circumference of outer walls, with solid supporting inner circle defining central circular living room and master bedroom, with semi-circle of copper-clad freestanding columns within. These constructional circles most clearly revealed on the 'peeled away' south facade. Projecting winter garden and screen to west part are an integral part of McGrath's design. Metal casement windows with single transom, those to living room, master bedroom and winter garden of full height. Segmental balcony to first-floor (master bedroom) and 'bow'-shaped terrace to second floor, served by external spiral stair with metal gate. The post and beam construction of the house is exposed and articulates the symmetrical form of the upper parts of the house. A counterpoise to the spiral stair is the rounded end of the study on the ground-floor of the other (east) side of the house. Timber door set under porch in angle created by protective wall of adjoining former tradesmen's entrance. INTEROR: Entrance leads into wedge-shaped terrazzo-floored hall, with terrazzo-clad stairs on outer face, having delicate metal balustrade and timber handrail. On inner face survives a mirror mosaic or 'Vitroflex' panel etched with Tunnard’s layout for the garden. Principal rooms are the living room, flanked to east and west by study and dining room respectively. They form a 'bow'-shaped plan within the circle, with service accommodation tucked discretely to the north behind projecting walls. Living room with original walnut panelling around marble-finished fireplace, timber floors and columns sheathed with polished copper. Central coved ceiling enforces the importance of the wholly circular inner area of the room. Directly above the master bedroom is also circular, with original fitted cupboards, and bed alcoves to either side, one with dressing room. Here the bow-shaped plan becomes more completely symmetrical, and this is continued on the second floor, which in addition to the roof terrace originally had the billiard room and a studio for Tunnard.
It was Schlesinger and Tunnard’s primary home and the design of the house, in the shape of a bow, was a response to homophobia and the need for privacy for the couple. Sex between men, even in the privacy of one’s own home, remained illegal until homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967 with the Sexual Offences Act. The design of the house meant that if there were visitors, the master bedroom on the first floor could be separated into two. This maintained the idea that Schlesinger and Tunnard slept in different bedrooms. Subsequent occupants have included Phil Manzanera, guitarist with the highly influential 1970s art/glam rock band Roxy Music.
McGrath described St Ann's Hill as 'my most ambitious piece of domestic design in England' (Architectural Review, July 1977). The circular plan was inspired by the surviving eighteenth century landscape by Charles Hamilton, which Tunnard remodelled. Tunnard was just beginning then to practice as a full-time landscape architect, and his ideas of the integration house and landscape would only begin to have a real impact with rediscovery of the Picturesque in the '40s. As Brian Hanson says, St Ann's Hill demonstrates a genuine modern respect for genius loci as early as 1937, 'without compromising the modernity of the house or resorting to gimmicks'. The building is significant too, for its structural honesty, and richness of surviving materials. The principal rooms, with their mirror design, walnut panelling and exploitation of the unusual plan form, are among the most interesting and complete surviving 1930s private house interiors to survive in England.