The Anderton House, designed by Aldington & Craig, is no stranger to fame. This fine little building, a three-bedroom bungalow built in 1973 in a small Devon village, has been celebrated in no fewer than 29 books and journals, ranging from AJ 28.2.73 to The Daily Mail Book of Bungalow Plans (1975). After a couple of decades of relative obscurity, the Anderton House is once again thrust into the limelight - the occasion being its transformation from family home to a piece of 'architectural heritage' through the agency of the Landmark Trust, which has recently acquired the house and is opening it to the public this autumn as a holiday let.
The Landmark Trust is a charity, the primary aim of which is to rescue buildings of architectural quality that are in danger of irreparable decay or destruction. Unlike the National Trust, which is much grander in scale, it does not require a large endowment to go with a property when it takes it on; instead, it lets its properties as holiday rentals and the income thus generated forms a significant part of its budget.
Apparently it receives about 30 or 40 offers a week of buildings from despairing owners. The trust's conservation officer says that it looks specifically for buildings of architectural interest, not merely quaint or picturesquely sited oddities, though 'odd' and 'picturesque' could certainly be applied to a fair few of their properties - the Pineapple summer house in Dunmore, the Classical pigsty at Robin Hood's Bay, and numerous follies. It won't acquire buildings that could happily survive unaided, and is particularly interested in properties that have a 'time capsule' aspect. So why the Anderton House?
The house was originally commissioned from Aldington & Craig by Ian and May Anderton, a chemist and his wife from nearby Barnstaple who wanted to move out of town and had found themselves a plot with a view in the village of Goodleigh. After the successful completion of the house they lived there for 30 or so years and on their death left it to their daughter Elizabeth; but, living and working miles away, she decided to sell it.
Then came quite severe flooding, which left the living room two feet deep in mud on three occasions.A local authority flood relief scheme is now shortly to be implemented, but back then was just on the county's wish list. It became obvious to Elizabeth Anderton that if the house was to be marketable she would herself have to sort out the flooding problem. She contacted Peter Aldington - not only the original architect but a family friend. He got together with a local flood relief specialist and came up with a couple of plans for banking, draining and so on. The more promising of these was refused planning permission, the more risky one was, wellrisky, and not that cheap.
At this unpromising juncture, Aldington was contacted by Alan Powers of the Twentieth Century Society. He was calling to ask if Aldington could think of any post-war buildings that might make suitable acquisitions for the Landmark Trust. Bingo! The Anderton House admirably suited the trust's criteria of architectural quality (it has a Grade II* listing to prove it) and period completeness - and finally, because of the flooding, it was having trouble surviving in the real world.
Back in the 1970s when Aldington & Craig started working on the design of the Anderton House, there was no motorway down to Devon and the journey between the architects' offices in Buckinghamshire and the site was pretty arduous. Aldington's pragmatic and intelligent response to this was to cut out a good deal of onerous site supervision by having the frame and roof of the house produced in a local factory, where he could keep an eye on it. It was then shipped off to site and speedily erected on prepared foundations, rather like a barn.
It is also barn-like in its siting. Peter Aldington had observed that the north Devon local agricultural buildings were not perched on the top of hills but cut in lower down the slope out of the weather, and he decided to play with this in his design.
Entering the site from the access lane, we see right over the ridge of the house to the horizon - an uninterrupted view of farmland. Moving down the very steep driveway we enter the lofty cave of the car port which contains a sculptural drum housing the bathroom. Skirting this we reach the front door.
Once in the house we find ourselves on an upper level with the bedrooms and bathroom off to the left, arranged along a short passage glazed with white diffusing plyglass.
To the right are the kitchen, dining and study areas; these are quite modest and snug. On the side cut into the bank they are enclosed, on the other they overlook the living room, the floor of which is four steps down, bringing it level with the garden at that point. The living area is fully glazed on two sides (again we admire the view), with large plate-glass sliders opening onto a paved terrace.
This sequence is organised with picturesque contrasts of enclosure and openness, obscurity and light - the sort of contrasts one expects to find in a garden.
Aldington is, of course, famous as a garden designer and has spoken forcefully about the importance of considering the landscape as integral to a work of architecture ('The Landscape Obligation', AJ 21.11.96). At the Anderton House the transition from the living area to the garden is articulated by, first, the glazed enclosure; then, beyond this, the structural column; and then the roof overhang. The quarry tile floor continues from inside to out, and then leads onto a closemown rectangular area of lawn, and then meadow. That at least was his intention for the garden and remains the restoration plan.
It is a simple building. The frame stands on an articulated ground plane. The white blockwork walls stand free of the roof. The rest is glazing, joinery and fittings. But the way in which these elements are handled is artful. Part of the quality is to be found in the interplay between the smooth regularity of factory-produced items - the glass, ironmongery, kitchen appliances - and the robustness of the white-painted freestanding block walls and chunky redwood joinery.
The Landmark Trust has kept the original Creda electric hob but has installed a new freezer, fridge, oven and dishwasher. The bathroom fittings are as they were - all carefully chosen and immaculately recessed, housed or mounted as appropriate on the mellow varnished wood. With so much matching woodwork (the redwood furniture matches the pitch pine structural timber almost exactly), the house has a ship-like quality.
By the front door there is a purposebuilt light fitting, which Peter Aldington describes as a practice trademark. The light is put together from a piece of 4-inch cast-iron drainpipe, a bit of scaffolding pole and a standard laboratory flask - Arts and Crafts meets objet type.
When I arrived on site to look at the Anderton House I found myself in the middle of a sizeable tea party. Aldington and his wife were there, along with the chairman of the Landmark Trust and three of its local representatives, and the executive architect for the restoration, Allan Konya.
Now the moment you step into that peculiar architectural niche called restoration and preservation, you are no longer talking about a house for living in, but a piece of architectural heritage to be preserved and enjoyed by visitors. Whereas 'living' includes things like childbirth, old age, and doing the accounts, 'enjoyment by visitors' tends to be limited to relaxation, treats and spectacle. The architecture is made into an exhibit - it becomes aestheticised and museum-ised.
The design (and there is design involved in restoration) finds a focus in such things as matching the mortar on the blockwork, and spectres of the 'original', the 'authentic', and the 'consistent' hover in the background. In this particular restoration, while the original plastic gutters were deemed expendable, the clients' remedial quarry-tile sill detail was retained (part of the history of the building, a response by the occupier), but their hydrangeas - not in the original garden design, but also a response by the occupier - were expunged. No easy formula then.
English Heritage apparently insisted on taking a blockwork mortar sample for analysis in order to match it properly. This is, of course, very professional, but also rather startling. I wonder how many hours of expert time have been spent on this restoration and how that sum compares with the consultants' time expended in the original design and construction of the building.
Aldington hopes that the Landmark Trust's acquisition of the Anderton House might give 'ordinary people' the chance to become familiar with living in a good Modern environment and that they might consequently be inspired to commission buildings themselves. Let's hope so. The Anderton House marks a new departure for the trust, for most of its properties are 19thcentury or earlier - it absolutely does not have anything you could call Modern architecture, and the tenor of its brochure is John Betjeman-cum-Country Life.
So it is interesting to speculate on how the inclusion of a piece of Modern architecture in the Landmark portfolio reflects the changing architectural sensibilities of a part of our society, which, if not exactly 'ordinary people', is probably quite well represented among those who commission buildings. Of course, it could be that the Anderton House will let exclusively to architects, but I somehow doubt it.
Details www. landmarktrust. co. uk CREDITS ORIGINAL ARCHITECT Aldington & Craig: Peter Aldington ARCHITECT FOR RENOVATION Studio Ark: Allan Konya QUANTITY SURVEYOR Bare Leaning & Bare MAIN CONTRACTOR Ian Hatcher GROUNDWORKS Michael Vanstone ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR A J Rogers LANDSCAPE WORK Landscape Agency DECORATING Harris Brothers GLAZING Bradworthy Glass