Seventies style: The decade that taste forgot produced a host of architectural gems

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How would you like to live on a Seventies housing estate built on the outskirts of a sleepy dormitory town? The answer is likely to be a resounding "no" – but prepare to have your prejudices about the decade that brought us the avocado bathroom suite confounded.

Because less than a mile from the overblown footballer-mansions of Esher, Surrey – and at the end of a deliciously inevitable cul-de-sac is a marvel of mid-century modern design.

In 1975, the architect Royston Summers created 17 house ranged around a lake within the former grounds of the Claremont Estate.

The estate was once home to Princess Charlotte, the only daughter of King George IV. But despite their historic setting the Lakeside Drive houses were deeply avant-garde in their day, and bear up exceptionally well to 21st-century sensibilities.

Summers designed an early example of open-plan living, and tinkered with the concept of bringing the outdoors in. The houses are positioned precisely on the water's edge with a generous sweep of windows giving views over the lake, where swans and ducks circle and the fronds of weeping willows just skim the water.

"We saw it and just fell in love," says Trude Rini Forde, who has lived in Lakeside Drive with her husband Arild, and their two sons Odin, 20, and Troy, 18, since 2000, when Mr Forde's job with an international shipping firm brought him to Britain.

"I think it was because it was so open, the light was so good, and the setting around the lake so beautiful."

The couple had been living in a colonial-style house in Connecticut, and had grown used to supersized American houses.

The Lakeside Drive house fitted the bill – it had four bedrooms, an expansive living space, large garage and the potential to expand. Happily the couple could see through some of the less successful style motifs of the era, such as the thick blue carpeting and brown, orange and green bathroom decor. They snapped it up for £700,000.

Over the next two years they spent another £500,000 on comprehensively revamping the house, updating the heating system, adding air conditioning, replacing those dog-scented carpets with cedar floorboards, and building two extra bedrooms and a bathroom above the double garage. They installed a new kitchen with white marble floors and black granite work surfaces, and opted for Philippe Starck fittings in the bathrooms.

All this is not to say that they didn't expunge the property's best original features. They preserved the exposed brickwork in the living room, the recessed spotlights, the high wooden doors and white Canadian maple cabinetry, and the black window sills.

Indeed the couple went to great lengths to make their extension seamless by commissioning bespoke copies of these features for the new rooms.

The house now measures around 4,000sqft and has nearly 150 windows, many of them in the open-plan living space, which has one glazed wall overlooking the lake, and a private terrace.

A sunken seating area has been dug into the centre of the room, dividing it into dining and living space, and a spiral staircase (also original) winds upwards to the bedrooms.

"When the boys' friends come they always say 'Wow, what a cool house'," says Mrs Forde, 47, an artist.

Life at Lakeside Drive certainly sounds idyllic. Mr Forde, 55, had a small jetty built and the couple spend summers' days rowing serenely around the lake. They can name all their neighbours, and feed the ducks simply by leaning out of one of the windows.

Strict rules prevent residents from painting their houses, altering their windows or generally ruining the symmetry of the scheme.

The couple are now moving back to the USA for work. The house – which in its extended form has six bedrooms and three bathrooms – is on the market with The Modern House (www.themodernhouse.net; 08456 344 068) for £1.895m.

Catherine Croft, director of the 20th Century Society, considers Lakeside Drive one of the country's finest examples of Seventies residential architecture.

She is used to people writing off the decade's design as an unholy confection of peeling Formica kitchens and ugly system-built office blocks.

"I think that any kind of blanket knee-jerk reaction without really looking at what is there is silly," she says.

"Architecture in any decade varies considerably in quality, but there are plenty of beautiful and ambitious projects from the Seventies."

The star architects of the day included people like Peter Aldington, whose Grade-II listed Anderton House, near Barnstaple, Devon, was the first modern buildings taken on by the Landmark Trust, and Michael Manser, whose seminal work during the Sixties and Seventies means that the Royal Institute of British Architects' annual Manser Medal for best one-off design (given alongside the Stirling Prize) is named in his honour.

Albert Hill, a director of The Modern House and an architectural historian, believes Seventies design is beginning to edge back into style with young architects.

"They are getting excited about brick again and of course about the big windows," he says.

"Seventies houses tend to be very well built, they are solid; it was quite a masculine era and the architecture was quite burly. But they had the essential interest in light and space, which is what all good architecture is about."

On the market: modern marvels

In the mid-1970s the practice Frost Nicholls built a small bespoke development at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire. A four-bedroom house at Latimer – arranged over three levels, with an open-plan living and dining space and with walls of glass – is on the market with The Modern House (www.themodernhouse.net; 08456 344 068) for £349,000. The L-shaped design makes for maximum privacy and the property is surrounded by mature landscaping.

Open-plan living in a T-shaped house by Douglas Smith Stimpson Partnership could be yours for offers in excess of £500,000. The seven-bedroom house could not be more Seventies – from the , Leicester cul-de-sac location to the swimming pool – and was designed to make the most of the mature surrounding gardens. Full height windows flood the propert with light. It is on the market with Fine (www.fine.co.uk; 01163 190110).

If it is sea views you desire, then Cambria, at Seasalter, moments from the Whitstable coast, could be the answer. The four-bedroom house was built by an unknown architect in the early 1970s and features a central courtyard. The property is on the market for £470,000 also with The Modern House (www.themodernhouse.net; 08456 344 068).

Rafters is an "upside-down" house with three of its four bedrooms on the lower-ground floor. The property is in the village of Kenn, around six miles from Exeter, and is a study in open-plan living with large communal spaces on the ground and first floors, a balcony with some views of open countryside and gardens. Plus, it has a mezzanine level with a study overlooking the first-floor living room. The property is on the market for £460,000 with Wilkinson Grant (www.wilkinsongrant.co.uk).

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
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