Thoroughly modern

With retro fittings and cutting-edge materials, Vista Point is the very model of a Modern movement home, says Anthea Masey
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The Independent Online

At the end of September, the owners of Greenside, overlooking the Wentworth golf course, sent in the bulldozers and razed it to the ground. The demolition of this pioneering Connell Ward and Lucas modernist house dating from the 1930s was opposed by English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society, but the local council sided with the owner and gave permission for its destruction. After such an act of architectural vandalism, what chance do lesser modern houses have?

Vista Point is a jaunty and surprisingly spacious house, set in a large garden with direct access to the beach on the exclusive and much sought-after Willowhayne Estate at East Preston in West Sussex. The house was built at the end of the 1960s but can trace its architectural parentage back to the ideas of the Modern movement, which advocated the use of modern building materials and new ways of living with an emphasis on space and light.

Vista Point was designed by Patrick Gwynne, who as a young man worked for Wells Coates, another firm of architects building in the modernist idiom. Patrick Gwynne's clients included Jack Hawkins, Laurence Harvey and Charles Forte. His own house, Homewood at Esher in Surrey, has been given to the National Trust and will open to the public for pre-booked tours every Friday from 26 March.

Vista Point is currently for sale for £850,000, and although this is around £200,000 more than the land alone is worth, the estate agent, Andrew Harris at Jackson-Stops and Staff, does not think it is impossible that someone with deep pockets might want to buy the house simply for its wonderful site. Unlike Greenside, the house is not listed, so there is nothing to stop a new owner from demolishing the house and putting up something more to their taste. And with one or two notable exceptions - Runnymede, a Wells Coates house, and Sea Lane House by F R S Yorke and Marcel Breuer are nearby - local tastes veer more towards the Footballers' Wives-style of architecture than cutting edge and modern.

It would be a pity to tear the house down, however, because Vista Point is definitely worth saving. It was built for Patrick Gwynne's quantity surveyor Ken Monk, but was sold in 1972 to Hove hoteliers Greville and Jessica Doswell, who loved all things modern and cherished the house. John Doswell, their son, is now selling it on behalf of the family after the death of his father last year. "We love spending time here, and I feel it would be a great betrayal of my parents if the house were to be demolished," he says. "My parents made few alterations and when they did, my father usually consulted Patrick Gwynne. We still have all the correspondence."

Vista Point is shaped like a squat hourglass and the rooms are anchored around a stunning panelled central stairwell in ribbed ash, lit by a large, circular, domed skylight. The living rooms are on the first floor in order to take full advantage of the seaside views. The five bedrooms and three bathrooms are on the ground floor. From the living room there are two sets of double doors. At the front they lead directly on to the balcony, and at the side they lead to a spacious terrace, which Doswell says his parents used as an outside dining room during the summer.

Unlike many Modern movement houses, Gwynne's careful use of materials means that the exterior has remained in remarkably good condition. According to John Doswell, Gwynne chose materials that would withstand the harsh marine environment. The walls are rendered with mineralite, a hard-wearing material that glitters in the sun; while the roof fascia and fencing are white plastic and the exterior metalwork has been coated with rubber.

One of Gwynne's hallmarks was the high quality of the interior fittings. At Vista Point, these have stood the test of time both in terms of quality of finish and design. In both the sitting room and dining room there is a wood-panelled wall, with built-in cupboards. Both walls are inset with alcoves of turquoise marble-effect formica, which contain cocktail cabinets and sliding hatch doors through to the kitchen. Turquoise marble-effect formica doesn't sound immediately appealing, but here the quality of the design and finish, with strips of stainless-steel and solid square shaped stainless-steel handles, is of such a high standard that the look, although definitely of its time, is surprisingly sophisticated and has a certain retro charm.

The kitchen itself, which cleverly folds around the curves of the central circular stairwell, has two built-in banquettes and a breakfast table, positioned by a window with a sea view, giving the corner the feel of a holiday caravan.

In fact, there is Patrick Gwynne built-in furniture throughout the house. A long, low built-in sofa still covered in the original beige leatherette is a feature of the sitting room. All five bedrooms still have their mustard-coloured leatherette headboards with matching formica side tables and vanity unit with a little sliding drawer. The bedrooms are extremely functional. They all have fitted cupboards of wipe-clean white formica edged in black with a simple black architrave, and each was supplied with the same Whitefriars Glass-style bedside lamps and pendant lamp, and a little stool in the classic 1960s Eero Saarinen tulip design.

Doswell says his parents were obsessed with the house. "The only major change they made was to put in two extra up-and-over doors on the garage, which originally only had one door, and even then they consulted Patrick Gwynne as to how it should be done. And as my father got older, a stairlift was fitted."

The whole retro look of the house is complemented by the furniture bought from Ken Monk, the original owner, and which Doswell says he will be happy to sell to any new owner. It includes three iconic wire Bertoia chairs with mustard tweed seats, an Eero Saarinen tulip dining table, and six 1960s-style pale leather upholstered dining chairs, and a number of now fashionable pieces of 1960s Danish-style furniture.

The family has a large archive of the project, which includes Patrick Gwynne's drawings, the estate agents' brochure from the sale in 1972 and a long list of the contents that the couple bought from Ken Monk, right down to 20 novels that are still there in one of the panelled cupboards in the dining room.

Vista Point is undoubtedly caught in a 1970s timewarp. But with the decade now swinging back in to fashion and with the rising appreciation and price of classic 20th-century furniture, there must be a good chance that Vista Point will find a new owner who is seduced by the completeness of Patrick Gwynne's vision and the Doswell family's careful stewardship - and save it from the same fate as Greenside.

Vista Point is on the market for £850,000 through Jackson-Stops & Staff (01903 785313)