10 Wildly Innovative U.K. Homes of the 20th Century That Outshine the Rest

A new book maps the trajectory of the region’s residential design and the architects who spurred its evolution.

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One hundred years is a long time when talking about modern homes. Specifically in reference to the 20th century, it can be difficult to express a single overarching theme when examining the rapid transformation of residential design within a single country. But certain projects often shimmer against the rest, acting as stepping stones that chart a path of progression across decades.

A new book from the 20th Century Society and U.K. publisher Batsford, 100 20th-Century Houses, organizes the region’s projects in one volume, bringing us its most significant homes in terms of innovation. To be clear, there are no flats, grand estates, or tower blocks like Park Hill or Trellick in these pages. Instead, you’ll find one-off wonders from the Arts and Crafts movement, high-tech experiments, mock Tudors, and more.

But that is not to say mass housing is not a part of this story, either. Take for example Silver Street in Essex or New Ash Green in Kent, which offer contrasting interpretations of modernism, a style featured prominently in the book. And while Britain was denied Lautner, Lloyd Wright, and Neutra, it did have Gwynne, Manasseh and Womersley—and their best best work appears here.

Out of the 100 homes featured in the book, available now in the U.K. and spring 2023 in the U.S., we’ve whittled down the list to 10 to share those that were especially daring. Below, find a visual feast of sumptuous photography of some of the region’s most bold and beautiful homes.

100 20th-Century Houses

Showcasing 100 houses from the twentieth century, this book provides a fascinating insight into Britain’s built heritage and how the architectural styles of the time adapted dramatically to urban life. From specially commissioned architect-design houses to housing built for increased workforces, each of the 100 houses brings a different design style or historical story. Architectural styles featured range from mock Tudor and Arts and Crafts to modernism and brutalism. Accompanying each entry are texts written by leading architectural critics and historians, including Gavin Stamp, Elain Harwood, Barnabas Calder, Ellis Woodman, and Gillian Darley. Text and image courtesy of Batsford


The Homewood by Patrick Gwynne, Surrey

Architect Patrick Gwynne was only 24 when he designed The Homewood to replace the Victorian property his family already occupied on the site. The luxurious principal rooms are set on the first floor to enjoy views over the luscious 10-acre garden, itself largely the work of Gwynne and his father. The bedrooms are arranged in a separate wing raised on pilotis to form a porte-cochère, and joined to the main block by a glazed link enclosing a ceremonial spiral staircase. The numerous built-in fittings and most of the furniture were also designed by the architect. After World War II, Gwynne returned to The Homewood where he based his practice and remained, subtly adapting and refining it, for the rest of his 90-year life. Now cared for by the National Trust, The Homewood presents the most complete record of its period of a modern architect’s personal domestic vision to be found anywhere in England.

Morley von Sternberg

New Ash Green by Span Developments, Kent

Span Developments had been around, and much admired, for some time when the company’s architect Eric Lyons and his colleagues aired the ambitious project to develop a town in Kent. They bought two farms in 1961, using the site to create an entirely new version of a village. The Greater London Council (GLC) committed to building 450 houses, introducing mixed tenure and a wider demographic than the professional middle class that typically occupied Span’s developments. Two neighborhoods were built between ’66 and ’69, but then, like a house of cards, the ambitious, idealistic project unraveled: The GLC pulled out, followed by Lyons, and mortgages became scarce and funds ran out for the developers. Bovis, another UK developer, stepped in and "the sparkle went out of the architecture." At best, the development’s elegant, low-key modernism, embraced by its well-treed landscape, suggested to John Grindrod, author of Concretopia, a place rather "more like the setting for a Lars von Trier film than hop-growing country."

Elain Harwood

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Hill House by Denys Lasdun, Hampshire

Hill House was designed by Denys Lasdun for Timothy Sainsbury as a country house and the home of much of his distinguished collection of art. The house stands atop a gentle hill in Arcadian countryside, and Lasdun and his client spent time considering and discussing the siting of the house to maximize the pleasure of the views, which are carefully framed by the house’s windows. The materials of the house are dominated by concrete: near-white Forticrete blockwork and board-formed concrete, which Lasdun was using at the same time on the National Theatre. This tough palette caused local rumors that a new school or military facility was being built, but in fact the generous spaces and beautiful craft quality of the construction make the interiors more reminiscent of the stone halls of ancient aristocracies than of post-war institutional architecture. Later additions track Lasdun’s fascinating ’80s and ’90s stylistic development, with hints of Mackintosh and post-modernism.


Eagle Rock House by Ritchie Studio, East Sussex

Designed by Ritchie Studio, Eagle Rock house’s large planes of glazing and lightweight steel structure allow the building to blend into its background and the transitions between inside and outside space to become gentle and natural. The original concept of a bird can be seen not only in the overall plan form and volumes of the building but in the way it is camouflaged in its woodland setting. The architect has used the bird metaphor to the last detail: Even the external blinds represent feathers, their movement described by the architect as being ruffled in the breeze. This attention to detail was recognized by the award of the Architectural Design Silver Medal in 1983.

Andy Earl, thanks to Ian Ritchie Architects / John East

Winterbrook House by Ken Shuttleworth, Winterbrook

Inspired by the heady days of 1920s experimental European architecture, many architects aim for the visual purity of original but sharp white forms—yet few achieve it. Ken Shuttleworth’s house for his family, designed when he was still a partner of Norman Foster, pulled this off magnificently at Winterbrook House, a building of simple curved elevations but a complex section. The plan, described affectionately by the Architectural Review as resembling "two croissants mating," placed one crescent not quite concentrically within another so that an irregular corridor between them separated the fully glazed, east-facing open living area at the front from the top-lit cellular bedrooms and bathrooms behind. This was an ambitious house and it was designed for Shuttleworth’s clear vision about how he personally should live; he intended, for example, to change the color of soft furnishings as the seasons changed. Unsurprisingly, it lingers in the mind like few others.

MAKE Architects, photography by Julian Abrams

Janet Street-Porter House by Piers Gough, London

Janet Street-Porter and Piers Gough were contemporaries at the Architectural Association in the 1960s. She went on to pioneer youth TV; he called what he did "B-movie architecture." At this Clerkenwell house they were reunited as client and architect: the perfect Po-Mo pairing. The result is spiky and tough, and deliberately uninviting yet curiously endearing. The brickwork becomes progressively darker toward the pavement (creating a trompe-l'oeil shadow effect) and the lintels are concrete tree trunks, while sloping sills and diamond glazing transmogrify into a trellis grid, which alarmingly shoots away from its corner site. A helm roof clad in aquamarine pantiles encloses a penthouse studio. Inside, raw surfaces and "as found" elements sidle up to handcrafted finishes. Each room has a different shape and decorative scheme, reflecting the restless camerawork and ticker-tape visuals of her TV shows. "If you were asked, ‘Who might this building belong to,’" said Piers, "I think you’d guess it was Janet."

Tim Street-Porter, courtesy of CZWG Architects

Malator by Future Systems, Pembrokeshire

While High Tech architecture is generally seen as a British movement, Jan Kaplicky became fascinated by American technology in Czechoslovakia. It was only when he was joined by Amanda Levete that his firm Future Systems enjoyed success, with the media centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground coinciding with the segmental-shaped Malator. Malator is a holiday home for socialist campaigners Bob and Gill Marshall-Andrews, built into the hillside above a ravine overlooking the sea. It was prefabricated off-site and then packed with earth on two sides and over the roof, leaving a curved front using the latest glass technology bolted together and a small glazed rear entrance. The interior is surprisingly generous, its central living space complete with a built-in sofa raised around a wood stove that’s separated from the bedrooms by two lime green bathroom pods, one of which incorporates the kitchen. And the view is remarkable.

James O. Davies

Stock Orchard Street by Sarah Wigglesworth with Jeremy Till, London

Most of the unusual materials and technologies used in the Straw Bale House were chosen not because they are novel or to impress award judges but because they are cheap and accessible; the novelty lies in thinking to use them in this context. This wonderful rambling farmhouse of a building is set beside one of the country’s busiest railway lines—where the East Coast line approaches King’s Cross, yet inside there is a calm that belies its setting and the eccentricity of the form. Cement bags buffer the office from noise, while the walls incorporate straw bales and gabion cages of recycled concrete. Designed by Sarah Wigglesworth with Jeremy Till as their family home and office, it interested Kevin McCloud who included it in the first season of Grand Designs, drawing public attention to the hitherto dry and academic subject of sustainability. It also challenged the polite manners of contemporary modernism.

Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, photography by Paul Smoothy

House No.7, Tiree

Building in the countryside presents problems enough; building on a remote Scottish island multiplies them. But Tiree is known for award-winning architecture. A ferry shelter-cum-art installation was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2003. Then, in 2014, Murray Kerr of Denizen Works rebuilt one of the tumbledown black Hebridean houses for his parents and won the Stephen Lawrence Prize. The three volumes of the house are linked by a glazed-roofed atrium, but they are separately expressed: The original house is a black pitch-roofed, white-rendered stone building, while the two new elements have corrugated agricultural cladding that look the part. Yet inside all is cozy warmth provided by an air-source heat pump. Collectively they are corralled like farm animals hunched together against the weather. Marco Goldschmied described it as "an intelligent and witty response to the function and logistical challenges of location, orientation and isolation."

Denizen Works Ltd, photograph by David Barbour

Banham Studio House, Cambridgeshire

The steel house that Jonathan Ellis-Miller built for the artist Mary Banham at Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire, complements well his own house on the adjacent plot completed six years earlier. While the first sits low on the ground, this one is raised, with nine-and-three-quarter-foot-high ceilings providing a well-lit studio space and views across the fens towards Ely Cathedral. Set on a 13-foot grid, the bolted steel structure cantilevers to support a raised access deck and suspended louvres. The plan revolves around the centrally positioned kitchen/bathroom core accessed, externally, from the raised carport. Passive solar gain warms the studio’s concrete floor and the 129-square-foot bank of Braithwaite tanks, which operate as a Trombe wall. Hinged screen-walls can close off the small area around the fireplace or provide privacy for the bedroom. 

EllisMiller Architects, photography by Peter Cook



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