Art Deco houses are back in fashion, but many have been `modernised' and are now hard to find.
THERE CAN'T be many houses that make you feel "on top of the world" but when Jane and Andrew Fryer viewed a Thirties "cruise-liner style" house perched on one of the highest points in London, they were buzzing with enthusiasm. It wasn't just the views from the south London vantage point (on a clear day, Windsor Castle, about 40 miles away, is visible), the house itself was a fine, if neglected, example of Modernist architecture, with its flat roof, white walls and metal railings.

This style of house is enjoying a revival. The problem is finding one that hasn't been aesthetically ruined inside and out - "modernising" almost always includes double-glazing and sometimes pitched roofs. However, fine examples can still be found. An estate agent, Nick Staton, recently sold the singer Paul Young's Art Deco home in north London for more than pounds 1m. The house is a copy of one by Frank Lloyd Wright.

"People are prepared to pay a premium for a house like this, although it's a specialised market and doesn't suit everyone," says Mr Staton.

Jane Fryer has named their house Welcome Aboard, and one step inside the gateway brings you into a nautical fantasy. As I walked though the pebbled garden full of exotic architectural palms and shrubs, bordered by red-and-white-striped lifebelts, I had the distinct feeling I'd left my luggage behind.

"We would still have wanted it without the views," says Jane, who along with Andrew, loved the idea of "living-quarters" on the first floor and the way the light floods into every room from curved windows.

"Andrew's only misgiving was the amount of work that was needed," Jane says. Their surveyor thought that around pounds 9,000 would "see it straight". That was seven years ago; in fact the Fryers have spent nearer pounds 100,000 on renovation and decoration. "There was no cavity insulation," says Jane, "and every room had to be thermally lined and replastered."

Having previously renovated a large Victorian house, Andrew had honed his DIY skills and knew his limitations. Yet leaving the rewiring, plumbing and roofing to the tradesmen was frustrating.

"Most of them had never worked on a house like this and didn't know what they were up against," Andrew says. The integral garage had been half- converted into a room but an asbestos ceiling still had to be removed. "It was just me and a face mask," Andrew adds.

The house was built in 1934 and designed by architects whose work included Ealing Film Studios and the White House Hotel in Regent's Park.

Roy Scotchbrook, an estate agent who specialises in unusual property, has sold the four-bedroom house three times in the last 20 years. "This style of house has become popular only in the last few years, and was a bit tatty when the Fryers bought it." It seems the expensive renovations have paid off. Jane and Andrew paid pounds 175,000 for it in 1991 and it is now valued at pounds 350,000.

"We haven't been totally purist with the decorations," Andrew says, "but there is an empathy with the period." Jane's collection of ceramics from the Twenties and Thirties are displayed simply, against white walls. The main bathroom is original Art Deco, with classic green-and-black tiling and chrome accessories.

Strips of miniature lights stud the steps of the oak-stripped staircase leading to the first floor. "It's our Hollywood touch," Jane says. The kitchen was the last room in the house to be completed, a few months ago. "We couldn't recreate a Thirties kitchen," adds Jane. "It would have been quite ugly. The original tiles were in a terrible condition and just had to go." Instead, Jane chose a ship-shape, steel galley kitchen, totally blowing her budget. "Because it doesn't lead out to the garden, we've made the most of the large balcony across the hallway. It's sunny and secluded, and you get the views. Wooden decking would finish it off."

Friends in the Art Deco business have been generous with their gifts. "People have just found us things," Andrew muses. Railing-lights outside the house and a few portholes here and there add to the period ambience. A glass door-panel etched with the bow of a steamer came from a hotel. And a painting of the Queen Mary came from the lounge bar of a pub in the Isle of Wight.

Jane likes to escape to her favourite part of the house - the roof-top studio and terrace.

"In summer I drape towels around and imagine the heat smog over London is where the beach is. And you couldn't have a better view when you're doing the ironing."

Surely the ultimate complement to your hard graft is a stream of people wanting to buy your house. "We often have cards through the door asking us if we want to sell. One couple offered us cash. It's very flattering, but we're not selling."

Cash purchasers would be more than welcome at Harrods Estates, which is selling the Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel, near Salcombe in Devon. It was bought in poor repair by the Art Deco dealers Tony and Bea Porter in 1986 and restoration is now complete, including the Palm Court cocktail bar frequented by Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Agatha Christie and Noel Coward. If you haven't yet planned your Millennium party, for around pounds 2.5m you'll get the hotel, Burgh Island itself and the local pub The Pilchards Inn. Martini cocktail, anyone?

Statons, 0181-449 3383; Scotchbrooks 0181-699 0841;Christie & Co, 01392 259371;www.worldcollectors net.com/artdeco

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