Thoroughly modern hourglass by the seaside
On an undiscovered stretch of the south coast, this modernist gem by Patrick Gwynne stands out from the suburban crowd, says Angela Pertusini
If you visit Vista Point in East Preston, close to Littlehampton, don’t lose your nerve. It is not just that a Patrick Gwynne-designed modernist house seems unlikely in this seaside village that wants to be a stretch of Surrey suburbia; you begin to question even the existence of the beach itself, which is concealed behind twisting roads, private estates and high hedging. Keep faith. Both are there, though well hidden.
Vista Point was designed in the late 1960s by Gwynne for his chartered surveyor. Unimpressed by the local house styles in the Willowhayne estate – although there is a Marcel Breuer villa in a nearby road, for the most part, it is a hodgepodge of chalet bungalows, flatulent Tudorbethan and 1930s neo-rustic – Gwynne showed his contempt for the neighbours by devising a home that severed ties with them.
Imagine a chubby hourglass and you are close to its floor plan: one that made the most of the gardens, brought in plenty of light but successfully disguised, from the interior, the fact that any other people lived nearby. With its five bedrooms on the ground floor and its living areas on the first, central spiral staircase lit by a roof dome and mixture of straight lines and gentle curves, it must have been something of a curiosity. Gwynne’s attention to detail was incredible, albeit somewhat controlling. There is so much integrated storage, built-in furniture, recessed ledging and fixed shelving that, even from beyond the grave, he still dictates exactly how the house should be used.
Perhaps unable to make the house their own, its original owners stayed for only a couple of years; a retired couple then lived there for 30 years before Riley Stemp and John Merriman took it over as a weekend home three years ago. The house remained in the kind of gloriously intact condition that purists salivate over: brimful with original fittings, with the only addition being a small swimming pool and pool house that Gwynne obligingly designed in the early 1970s.
“We did get rid of the seagrass wallpaper, which was filthy,” says Riley, but apart from that, the redecoration has been thoroughly sympathetic. The original bathrooms, tiling out here,” says Riley, standing on the high tide shingle and watching a lone dog-walker recede. It’s the middle of August and, true, it’s another grey day typical of this year’s summer, but the light on the water is mesmerising, and, in the distance, there is the outline of Littlehampton, Bognor and the Isle of Wight. Surely it must attract an occasional crowd? “No, not really.”
Clearly this is what she likes about the place and why she and John plan to buy another home nearby that will be easier to lock up and leave – their two children are getting to the age where weekends in London hold more attraction than forays to the south coast. “I look at it and think I won’t ever own a house as nice as this again,” she says forlornly. “But it needs people who can spend a lot of time here. If it is on the market again in 10 years’ time, I’d definitely want to buy it back.”
Vista Point is for sale for £1,295,000 through The Modern House (08456 344068; themodernhouse.net)
Hasta la Vista Point: Patrick Gwynne’s modernist design remains largely intact, though the pool was added later. The interior is a mix of straight lines and gentle curves