Return journey to the Fifties and a mid-century modern masterpiece
Farnley Hey is for sale for the first time in more than 50 years, giving one lucky buyer the chance to own a perfectly preserved design Sharon Dale reports.
WHEN daring young architect Peter Womersley was awarded a RIBA bronze medal for Farnley Hey in 1957, he couldn’t have dreamed that it would survive into the 21st century virtually unaltered.
It was one of the first post war buildings to be listed by English Heritage in 1987, but for the first 30 years, this magnificent example of mid–century modern architecture lay unprotected and exposed to changing trends and fashion whims.
That it remains a fabulous Fifties building both inside and out, from its flat roof to its Formica cupboards, is down to the astute and sometimes eccentric Yorkshireman Joe Battye and his wife Jean.
The house, in Farnley Tyas, influenced by the work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his Swiss counterpart Le Corbusier, was designed by Peter Womersley as a wedding present for his brother John. It was constructed by another pioneer of modern design Peter Stead, of Huddersfield construction company Law Stead.
Completed in 1956, Farnley Hey was on the market three years later and, such was the interest in a property more California than Kirklees, estate agents charged £2 for a copy of the particulars – the equivalent of £30 today – to dissuade time wasters.
“My father saw an advertisement for it and rang my mother who was a teacher. He insisted she leave school and meet him at lunch time so they could view the house immediately,” says Robert Battye, who inherited the house from his father nine months ago. “She thought it would be like living in a goldfish bowl, but he loved it. He liked modern design.”
A man ahead of his time and a lover of the latest gadgets, Joe Battye recognised what was and still is a wonderful home.
The natural light from the enormous picture windows, the open plan lay out, which is cleverly orchestrated on different levels to create distinct zones, and the spectacular views down a wooded valley and across the Pennines give the property its “wow” factor.
“Both my parents loved it and said the only way they would leave was to be carried out in a box and that’s pretty much what happened,” says Robert.
Joe and Jean embraced the mid-century modern concept and set about collecting furniture that would perfectly suit. The Fifties design classics, including a Danish dining suite, original Arne Jacobsen chairs, formica wardrobes in the bedrooms and textured formica kitchen units, are still there as most of Womersley’s features and finishes such as the original York stone flagged floors, cantilevered mezzanine gallery and built-in unit housing a Grundig wireless behind a leatherette door.
The exterior has been renovated over the years and given a new flat roof and new glazing, but the steel frame, stone and wood cladding and the opaque yellow glass are all intact.
Joe and Jean refused to be swayed by the changing face of home fashion through five decades and only made only a few changes to the Womersley original, enclosing an external balcony off the mezzanine floor to create another floor-toceiling window, remarking that it was like “having a constantly changing picture”. Joe also swapped the oil heating for an innovative convected heat system. “He was very interested in new technology and designed the heating system himself. It’s very clever and has steel tanks full of water that is heated overnight using cheaper electricity,” says Robert.
A great inventor, who had his own engineering firms, Joe also installed a driveway that could be heated to melt ice and snow. Before the idea became mainstream, he had a TV hidden in a cabinet topped with a tasteful bronze statue. At the press of a button, the telly rises and falls. Back in 1963, he installed one of the UK’s first microwave ovens from Harrods. It took two men to lift it. And the Battyes were among the first to have an induction hob and Quooker instant hot water tap.
The house also boasts an early automated home system by PACE with programs to control the heating, outdoor lighting and the opening and closing of doors and the curtains, made from heat reflective fabric devised by NASA. Joe was the master controller and loved to relax on the mezzanine in his Eames chair – his second, as he wore the original one out.
“He enjoyed inventing. He devised a radio-controlled watering system for his orchids, though I have taken that out,” says Robert, who has lived at Farnley Hey while carrying out some renovation.
He and his wife are now selling so they can live-full-time in their home in York, close to their children and grandchildren.
“I hope the house goes to someone who enjoys it as much
GET THE PARTY STARTED: The area known as the “dancefloor”, with the original wood panelled ceiling and audio unit. The silk lampshades are 1950s originals .
The exterior with wood panelling and opaque yellow glass; the study area with a 1950s desk, now a design classic; the exterior of the house which is now grade two listed.
UPWARDLY MOBILE: The original stairs with formica panel, lead to a cantilevered mezzanine level and the first floor.