Flat Roofed House, as it’s aptly known, is an unusual sight in the English countryside area of Buckinghamshire. There’s nothing of the twee thatched roof cottages that might be expected. Instead it is pure stark white Modernism in an area of picturesque old villas in pastoral surroundings. There’s something a little Hollywood, and maybe even Miami, about it. But considering its owners so far, the Tinseltown connection is appropriate.
Unusual today, the house must have seemed particularly startling when it was built in 1934. Commissioned by Mrs. Margaret Sewell, an artist who was widowed in the first world war, Flat Roofed House is now on the market asking about $3 million. This is only the second time the house has ever been listed, as Mrs. Sewell’s daughter Phillada, an actress who appeared in several Merchant-Ivory films as well as on British TV, lived in the house until her death in 1998 at 88.
The house’s second owners are Sue and Chris Munro, who bought the property in 1999, the year after Phillada died. Chris isn’t a household name but he is without doubt an accomplished sound engineer who’s worked on an extensive list of movies, including “Casino Royale,” “Wonder Woman,” “Black Widow” and “Gravity,” the latter of which earned him the second of his two Oscars. (His first in 2002 for “Black Hawk Down”.) When the Munros took over, the house hadn’t been updated in many years so they hired an expert to renovate and expand the house. Their efforts did not go unnoticed and they won an award for historic preservation.
The house was designed by Colin Lucas (1906-1984), an English architect and pioneer of reinforced-concrete construction. Lucas formed a company to build concrete structures in the style of International Modernism, which were popular in London, but rarely seen in the English countryside. Concrete was the ideal building material according to Modernist architects, but many of their best known houses, including Le Corbusier’s, for example, were actually built in brick and stuccoed to look like concrete. Lucas’s houses, however, were the real thing.
From the front elevation, a very unusual glazed, cantilevered staircase leads to the second floor, which is wrapped in a ribbon of glass that makes it appear to be floating. There are two bedrooms and three baths in the 2,500-square-foot house, which is Grade II listed on the historic register.
There’s lots more glass in the 29-foot-long living room, with large doors to make the most of the views, which extend for 30 miles to the distant Chiltern Hills. The dining room is a good distance from the kitchen, and hence could be used as a study, while the home’s service wing includes an up-to-date galley kitchen, a separate breakfast room, a walk-in pantry and a guest bath. Upstairs, both bedrooms, one slightly larger than the other, include a spacious dressing area, two balconies and a dedicated bathroom.
The back of the house spills out to a wide deck and extensive charcoal-colored stone terracing giving way to a broad, sloping lawn bordered by manicured hedges. Beyond are panoramic views over the verdant countryside. Back indoors, the house lends itself to midcentury modern-style furnishings, and certainly the sellers have their fair share of iconic midcentury pieces that include Arco lamps, Phillipe Stark table lights, and a Warren Platner-style breakfast table. (FWIW: We’d prefer more of a streamlined 1930s feel, but it still works as is.)