The C20 Society was delighted to find that Peter Behrens’ groundbreaking house, New Ways, Northampton is for sale. Although sometimes billed as Art Deco, it could more properly be defined as Modern Movement or Expressionist and show the influence of the Vienna Secession – plus it was constructed in 1925-26, prior to the popularisation of Deco. Whatever its bracket, it is a remarkable piece of residential architecture – called by some the ‘first modern house in Britain’ – and a formidable asset for its home town.
The house was designed by renowned industrial engineer Peter Behrens, best known for his AEG turbine hall, Berlin (1909). The patron was Mr Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke, who found success as a toy manufacturer, most notably of model railways – and fortunately for Northampton, an architecture buff. Prior to building New Ways Bassett-Lowke asked Charles Rennie Mackintosh to remodel 78 Derngate (1916). Now open to the public, it remains the Scottish architect-designer’s only residential commission in England.
The interior of New Ways has not been accessible in the recent past so it is fascinating to see the estate agent’s details, which show the central hallway and staircase rising in geometric harmony, and the retention of many internal features, some by Mackintosh. The main room, specified by Bassett-Lowke to be large enough for dancing, has lighting and a fireplace both in keeping with its modern style, although New Ways was also one of the first UK homes to have central heating. On the exterior, the stark front facade is bifurcated by a dramatic triangular window that rises up to show its origin date of 1926. At the rear is a large garden and swimming pool.
With a Grade II* listing, New Ways is a major architectural asset for Northampton and indeed, the country. Unfortunately, it has not been open for visits or participated in Heritage Open Days events. Mackintosh’s 78 Derngate, meanwhile, was opened to visitors in 2003 and under the management of the 78 Derngate Northampton Trust, has won several tourism awards and accolades, attracting many people each year to Northampton. If New Ways were to follow its example it would enhance Northampton’s tourism offering as an architectural centre; but even under sympathetic new ownership, with access during Heritage Open Days events, it would offer much pleasure to visitors with benefits to the town as a whole. The Society hopes for an outcome that will enable more people to see this well-preserved and pioneering house.