Munstead Wood, in Surrey, England, is a world-renowned masterpiece of architecture combined with an illustrious garden. Grade I listed, the property was the collaboration of Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect, and Miss Gertrude Jekyll, garden designer and the fabled estate’s original owner.
A towering figure in British architecture, Lutyens was one of the most influential designers of large country houses in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, developing a unique and distinctive style reflecting the Arts and Crafts movement. In his subsequent career, Lutyens designed a wide variety of buildings in a more classical style. Important commissions include Castle Drogo, the Cenotaph, a World War I monument in London where poppy wreaths are laid every November, the British School in Rome, and the British ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC. His career culminated in the design of Imperial New Delhi hotel.
As for Gertrude Jekyll, she was the leading garden designer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and remains one of the most influential garden designers of all time. A multidisciplinary creative force, her talents also included painting, embroidery, photography, blacksmithing, carving and interior design. (A small note and a fun tidbit about the Jekyll family name: it’s pronounced JEE-kill, and Miss Jekyll’s elder brother was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed their last name for his 1886 novel, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”)
In the early 1880s, Jekyll began to focus her energy on planning the gardens for land she acquired at Munstead Wood. She combined her skills as an artist and a horticulturalist to make what she called ”pictures with living plants.” To complement the gardens, she commissioned Sir Lutyens to design a house for her, which was completed in 1896. She lived there until her death in 1932.
The commodious main house measures about 7,500 square feet, with seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, and three powder rooms, while the two-bedroom, one-bath Munstead Cottage contains about 800 square feet. There are also several outbuildings, greenhouses, and a swimming pool.
The house is built of local stone, in accordance with Arts and Crafts principles of using local materials and craftsmen. The prominent brick chimneys are also an Arts and Crafts feature, as are the solid oak beams inside the house, which are secured with wooden pegs rather than nails. The interior of the house, in a U shape, contains a number of innovations designed by Lutyens and Jekyll, including the doors, fireplaces and furniture.
Eleven acres are given over to a number of individual areas that were each designed to be at their best at different times of the year. These gardens include Nut Walk, the Primrose Garden, the Spring Garden, the Woodland, the Sunken Rock Garden, and the Three Corner Garden. The various gardens contain some formal elements, to reflect the house, in contrast to the naturalistic gardens.
With 50 years of signatures of architects and gardeners from around the world, the house visitors’ book further demonstrates the importance of the house and garden. And even today, many famous varieties of plants, such as lavender and primroses, are named Munstead after being cultivated by Miss Jekyll among her bespoke private idyll.
Want to take on this pedigreed treasure? You’ll need a cool $6.3 million to spare, but bragging rights, not to mention the lavender and primroses, are free. The property is available via Tim Harriss and Julia Meadowcroft at Knight Frank.