The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Bentley Wood listing

The former home of the architect Serge Chermayeff is for sale (Architects’ Journal, 21.03.2002, p8). This is always a worrying stage as often prospective buyers buy important modern properties for the wrong reasons. The house comes with many acres of land, and some might see it as the perfect opportunity to to redevelop the grounds. Miramonte, by Maxwell Fry in Kingston, is a similar case [see our Building of the Month feature on Miramonte]. However, it is listed and the local authority was not minded to allow additional dwellings to be erected on the adjacent land.

Is Bentley Wood listed? You would think it was. Designed in 1936 just after Chermayeff’s partnership with Erich Mendelsohn ended, it was completed in 1938. Bentley Wood is considered to be one of the most influential modern houses of the period but apparently it has never been considered for inclusion in the Statutory List of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Click here for some images of the exterior.

It is built of timber, both as structure and cladding, to reflect the vernacular surroundings but also for the material’s newly found suitability for modern architecture. Contemporary architects using timber in the modern idiom in England were Walter Gropius, Maxwell Fry and the lesser know Anthony Chitty, a member of Tecton.

Some alterations have taken place, such as the enclosure of the two central bays of the first floor loggia. The interior has also suffered from modernisation, although original features of the interior have survived. The main room shapes remain, but the internal claddings and surfaces have been altered. It is likely that some of these might be recoverable, but not known for sure. Click here for some images of the interior. The garden was originally designed by Christopher Tunnard, sadly only the wall and terrace survive without major alteration, including the sculpture plinth which used to house a Henry Moore.

Bentley Wood proved to be the demise of Chermayeff’s career in England, as the costs of the house made him bankrupt. He sold it shortly after moving in, and left England for America.

Emmanuelle Morgan