House Hunter: Period Property

'I'd like an Arts & Crafts-style house'
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The Independent Online

The Problem

MAURICE FITZGIBBON OF ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA, WRITES:

I am returning to England in the new year after a decade living down under, where I have been fortunate enough to run a successful business consultancy.

Over here I have stayed in a large, modern city centre apartment, but my dream is to live in a quintessentially English property, Arts & Crafts-style houses being my absolute favourite.

For business reasons I must be based within commuting distance of London or Birmingham - my new job will take me to both cities. I know that very few Arts & Crafts houses are on the market at any one time and they fetch a premium. They tend to be large and located in desirable areas, but I have up to £1.5m to spend, although I would prefer to buy well under that price if possible.

I had originally intended to rent for a period upon my return but for financial reasons I am being advised to buy in the near future. What appropriate properties are available now? The UK property websites do not reveal architectural histories so from this distance it's impossible to tell what is on sale.

I would also like to know if all Arts & Crafts houses are listed and if there are societies connected with the movement.

The Advice

Graham Norwood replies:

The Arts & Crafts movement ran from the mid-1800s until just before the start of the First World War, and consisted of English designers and artists who wanted a return to quality handcrafted goods instead of mass-produced, machine-made products that were becoming commonplace thanks to the Industrial Revolution.

The movement's followers also wanted more functional design, homes and fittings in a rebellion against what they saw as "increasing embellishment" in everyday life.

Most surviving A&C houses are large and are identified with architects such as Sir Edwin Lutyens, Richard Norman Shaw and Charles Voysey. Rennie Mackintosh furniture designs were also in the Arts & Crafts family, and the movement further included Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who were among the founders of the Labour party.

There was never one single style of A&C property but classic early-20th-century "red brick" Surrey vernacular homes and some late-19th-century semi-Gothic styles fit the description, as do the utopian garden suburbs like the Bourneville village in the Midlands. A common characteristic in all these is the use of the architecture of old England - chocolate-box old cottages, farm buildings, barns and the like - all applied to village or urban houses.

The area of London regarded as the first great Arts & Crafts "garden suburb" is Bedford Park in Chiswick, south London, which was started in 1875. The houses have high Dutch gables, lead-framed windows and interiors that typify the era - oak and parquet floors, interior walls in a dull green or blue with paintwork of cream, terracotta, mustard, deep blue or crimson. Some areas of Hampstead are similar.

Arts & Crafts designers loved fireplaces to dominate rooms. Brightly coloured tiles, stained-glass windows, and, especially, William Morris-design wallpapers - created by wooden blocks reproducing designs in vegetable dye - are equally typical.

Fact File

You are right about the relative scarcity of these houses and the premiums they attract. When I spoke to the Chiswick branch of London estate agency Foxtons about a small cluster of streets with Arts & Crafts houses, a spokesman told me: "This is the crème de la crème for us. There's a 20 per cent premium on those properties."

Most A&C houses in London and the South-east fetch well over £1m but we have found three smaller examples. Although not all Arts and Crafts houses are listed, most will be so you should prepare for high maintenance costs, as fittings and structural work will have to meet the original specifications and use traditional materials. Almost all surviving A&C homes are likely to be in conservation areas.

These websites may help you further your knowledge of the history of the movement: the William Morris society on www.morrissociety.org; Head, Hand and Heart on www.artscrafts.org.uk; the Arts & Crafts Home on www.achome.co.uk.

The quintessential Arts & Crafts property in the UK is considered to be Red House at Bexleyheath. It was designed by the architect Philip Webb and its owner, the artist William Morris, and built in around 1900. It was acquired by the National Trust in 2003 and it is usually open to the public - although you must prebook a tour (see www.nationaltrust.org.uk).

The Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum ( www.artsandcraftsmuseum.org.uk) has one of the finest collections of Arts and Crafts movement designs and items in Britain.

The Solution

Property one: Seven-bedroom house

Price: £785,000

Agent's Details: This detached Grade

II-listed house in Horsham Road, Dorking, Surrey, was designed by Edwin Lutyens. Built in 1896 in response to a competition, it has three bathrooms and a double garage. In addition, there is a half-acre of garden and plenty of period features.

Agent: Hamptons International, 01306 885466.

Property two: Six-bedroom house

Price: £850,000

Agent's Details: The White House, Mickleton, Gloucestershire. This a six-bedroom, two-bathroom house with plenty of Arts and Crafts influence. This includes an overhanging, pitched, tiled roof, casement windows, ceiling covings and picture rails. There is planning permission for a separate detached three-bed house in the garden, too.

Agent: Knight Frank, 01789 297735.

Property three: Five-bedroom house

Price: £665,000

Agent's details: Lordswood Road, Harborne, Birmingham - this five-bedroom property was built in 1911 and is located just three miles from central Birmingham. It has recently been extensively refurbished, but nevertheless retains the decorative ceiling and wall plasterwork adorning the drawing room.

Agent: Knight Frank, 0121 200 2220

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