Detached house. 1953-4 by Mary Crowley (Mary Medd) and David Medd for themselves.
MATERIALS: London Stock brick, painted softwood boarding and asbestos slates to roof.
PLAN: A plan of two rectangles linked by a covered walkway.
EXTERIOR: External cavity 'filled' walls faced with London Stock brick, with two areas of painted softwood boarding, principally over large south window. Concrete slab floor. Custom-made softwood windows painted white, with oiled teak cills, mainly double-paned with integral blinds - all but two of the rest are double-glazed. Low pitched roofs, that of house of 20° with 7º ceilings, the garage and workshops of 9º. The original cedar shingle roof now replaced with substitute asbestos slates by the architects. Single brick chimney. The living accommodation is provided by the larger of the two single-storey rectangular blocks, with the smaller block housing a garage and workshop. The covered walkway link also contains a store and lavatory. The total floor space is less than 1000 sq. ft., to conform to the licence limit in place at the time of building. This is somewhat counterbalanced by the internal expression of the roof line, with a lower pitch of 7°, which helps provide a surprising sense of space. The layout ensures that living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom (the sequence the house follows) all enjoy the views and light from the east. Maximum space is devoted to the living room, the minimum to circulation. The entrance (south) façade is dominated by the undulating line of the two pitched roofs, also visible on the rear (north) façade. The entrance is concealed in the covered walkway linking the two blocks, the focus being rather on the large living room window. East (principal garden front) is decidedly simpler, the low walls contributing to the reticent design. The west elevation is complicated by having the double form of the house and workshop/garage ranges.
INTERIOR: The principal internal space is the open-plan living/dining room, with dividing oiled softwood boarded screen. It has a full height window echoing the roofline and has direct access to the garden. All curtains span from floor to ceiling and can be drawn completely clear of the windows. 'Narrow' brick fireplace. The floor is covered with cork tile in the living room, main bedroom, second bedroom and corridor; lino in the bathroom and kitchen; chequer-board tiling in entrance hall, lavatory and boiler room; and wooden boards in the workshop. Walls and ceiling are plastered, and painted in accordance with the original colour scheme; grey and white in living areas, green and white in bedrooms, with William Morris design wallpaper used partially in bedrooms and entrance hall. Doors are of beech plywood and the windows are largely painted white with some casements and cills left unpainted. The fireplace wall is brick, with polished slate mantelpiece and hearth. Polished slates are also positioned in front of the large living room window. The heating is by gas fired boiler and forced warm air is delivered through two grilles, adjustable to give priority either to the house generally or just the sitting area of the living room. There are no ducts, visible pipes or radiators in the house. The house has original fitted wooden furniture throughout, designed and made to a high specification by David Medd. Kitchen and bathroom retain original fittings.
The house is at the head of a valley in a semi-rural area, set in a large garden designed by the architects in conjunction with the house to largely screen it once the planting became mature. The house sits very low in the contours of the site at the head of a small valley, and windows along the east side take in views of the rolling hills. It is a deliberately simple, neat, modest house, an exemplar of building under restrictions in the early post-war period, when few houses were being built at all, much fewer still of this quality. This is expressed in its reticent aesthetic, the small footprint and also in the choice of materials/fittings which were shared with two other houses being built locally - for Stirrat Johnson-Marshall and Maurice Lee, also of the Ministry of Education's Architects and Building Branch - in order to reduce costs. These houses do not survive.
HISTORY: The years after 1955 saw a rapid expansion in the private house market. Most houses were speculatively built but a small proportion was architect designed. In the 1960s house prices rose dramatically and property became a focus for investment. Many larger houses were built during this latter period. Many young architects built houses for themselves or their kin, usually quite small properties, to act as examples of their work for potential clients, but they became a fashion in their own right. No. 5 Pennyfather's Lane designed in 1953-4 by Mary Crowley and David Medd for themselves. Mary Crowley had come to prominence when, as a young graduate from the Architectural Association in 1936, she had designed a much praised trio of houses at nearby Tewin for members of her family. Subsequently she went on to work for Hertfordshire Education Department, in the war, and transferred to its Architecture Department in 1946, where she met her future husband. They married in 1949. The decision to build their own house was, however, sudden. After a gruesome visit to Poland in 1951, Mr and Mrs Medd came home via Copenhagen where they stayed with a Danish friend. This experience made them decide they had to 'turn over a new leaf'. Mr Medd gives their specific sources as Carl and Karin Larsson, and subsequent Scandinavian work. The form of the house was primarily influenced by the very stringent prevailing conditions: Planning permission was dependent on the site being infill between a World War I house and an enlarged fifteenth-century thatched house, to which the new house had to respond. Building licences, a form of rationing, controlled the size of the house and materials available. This meant that the total cost was limited to £4,000, at February 1954 prices. Above all, the nature of the site and its surroundings could not be appreciated until a topographical survey was made, and the surrounding fallen elms could be banished from the Medds' minds. The contours indicated that the Medds were at the head of a valley, and the siting of the house then became clear.
Architectural Design, October 1954 pp.294 - 300.
Information from David Medd
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION:
This detached 1950's house is designated at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* This is a rare domestic work by Mary Crowley (Mary Medd) and David Medd, subsequent to a much praised trio of houses by Crowley at Tewin, Herts of 1936. These two important architects are best known for their work in the sphere of educational architecture and some of the features of their work in this field can be seen to have been tested out in this small house. It makes a telling comparison with the couples' listed schools for Hertfordshire CC and the Ministry of Education.
* It is a rare survivor of the interest in Scandinavian architecture in the post-war period. The house reflects the couples' long-cherished interest in Scandinavian design - the immediate inspiration for the house was a visit to Copenhagen after a harrowing experience in post-war Poland.
* It is a remarkably complete house of its date, which has built-in furniture, sanitary ware and light fittings made or designed by David Medd. It being almost entirely unaltered down to the last detail, and survives in excellent condition.
* It is deliberately unassuming house, demonstrating the controls imposed by building licensing, and is carefully integrated into its rural landscaping