Home of the month: Holwood - a modern vision

The distinctive pair of padded red and green chairs either side of the fireplace in the hall are by

The distinctive pair of padded red and green chairs either side of the fireplace in the hall are by John Makepeace and are going to auction. - Credit: Archant

When David Landau turned his talents to designing a home for his family, he created a modernist masterpiece – awarded the 1963 Ideal Home of the Year. Pat Bramley takes a tour of the house and its history with the architect’s son

The carefully thought-out garden wraps around the house so it can be seen from all the principal roo

The carefully thought-out garden wraps around the house so it can be seen from all the principal rooms - Credit: Archant

In 1961, London architect David Landau bought two-and-a-half acres of land in one of the best roads in Mill Hill, Barnet, to build a fine house for himself, his wife Dorothy and their two children, John and Margaret.

Although there was no building on the plot in Nan Clarks Lane at the time, the site was historically important. A blue plaque on Landau’s five-bedroom property records that it was the spot where the 18th-century English politician William Wilberforce once lived. Wilberforce bought a residence here and 140 acres in 1826 at the end of his parliamentary career after ill health forced him to retire. His large household included two of his married sons (Willberforce and his wife had six children), and their families. He lived at the estate until 1831, two years before his death.

More than a century later, the modernist style of the property designed by Landau caused considerable excitement. Two years after it was completed, it was awarded the 1963 Ideal Home of the Year.

The architect and his wife remained at the house they called Holwood for the rest of their lives – Dorothy until her death in 2010 and Landau until he died in September, aged 100.

The architect's round table and chairs in the sleek kitchen

The architect's round table and chairs in the sleek kitchen - Credit: Archant

Thier son, John, says his father never ceased to look for ways to improve and update the family home. ‘He was working on plans for the house right up to the day he died. And he still played on his tennis court,’ he says.

‘He was a man with definite ideas about design. ‘He was proud to be the last living architect to have worked with Joseph Emberton on the Simpsons of Piccadilly property – now Waterstone’s book shop. It’s a listed building. In fact, the building Dad designed which I like best is in Swiss Cottage. He built two blocks of flats there. The block on the left hand side, 2 Avenue Road, is my favourite. It’s brown brick with distinctive balconies, which are known as the piano balconies.’

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Landau junior wishes his dad had held on to at least one of the flats in those blocks. They change hands now for several million. A seven-bedroom detached house in the same road recently went on the market at £25m.

David Landau was born in 1915 to parents of Eastern European origin. ‘My father’s parents arrived in this country as political refugees at the beginning of the last century. They’d got on a ship intending to go to America and ended up in Scotland – as you do,’ laughs the son. ‘And that’s where they met. After they married, they lived in Brighton.’

Landau extended the bedrooms and added ensuite facilities

Landau extended the bedrooms and added ensuite facilities - Credit: Archant

Landau was the first of his clan not to go into the family business. Up to that time they had all been in tobacco with Landau’s father’s uncle and cousin owning the well known tobacconists M Landau in Eagle Street, a road off Piccadilly which runs down to Jermyn Street.

Young Landau, who would go on to be a barrister, although his time now is more taken up with his psychotherapist practice and writing (he’s currently working on a screenplay), was in his last year at prep school when the family moved to the newly-created Holwood. The son remembers moving there because he bused to school each day to and from Potters Bar.’

Although his father was a modernist architect, his son says he was opposed to the brutalist school of thought that was prevalent from the 1950s to the mid-70s.

For his own house he wanted ‘to create a calm open space; an open spacious environment’.

The design he produced half a century ago, particularly its semi-open-plan ground floor, has stood the test of time. It’s as likely to be copied today as it was then.

The living space has a spacious, open-plan feel

The living space has a spacious, open-plan feel - Credit: Archant

According to his son, the architect’s tireless quest to realise the potential of his house and to keep abreast of innovations meant he was always hatching schemes to give his home an extra dimension, whether practical or aesthetic. Originally the house had a flat roof but Landau later changed it to a pitched one.

He also at various points over the years extended the kitchen and one of the bedrooms, pushing the end walls out into the garden. He also added extra bathrooms.

His son’s an daughter’s bedrooms weren’t en suite when they were at home and they had to share a bathroom. Now both rooms are en-suite, each with a bath and a shower cubicle. The master suite had always had a dressing room and an impressive en-suite bathroom. And since being extended, the fourth bedroom now also has an en-suite shower room. Even the fifth bedroom has its own fitted handbasin alongside a double built-in wardrobe.

The kitchen and the morning room to which it leads both overlook the garden. The kitchen worktops look like they are stone, but as Landau junior says, they’re not. ‘Dad was dead against using stone for worktops. He said it was unnatural – stone should only be for floors.’

Formal planting creates vistas in the garden

Formal planting creates vistas in the garden - Credit: Archant

A breakfast bar would also have been out of the question. ‘To him, bar stools were an anathema. He said they were uncomfortable.’ That decision means there’s plenty of space in the architect’s kitchen for his round table and four stylish white pedestal chairs. Meanwhile, the main feature of the entrance hall is the helical staircase, like an expanded coil spiraling up to the first floor. The round pillar above the elongated fireplace in the wall dividing the hall from the dining room conceals what Landau’s son calls ‘the smoke stack’.

The distinctive pair of padded red and green chairs either side of the fireplace in the hall, with feet that look like they belong to astronauts landing on the moon, are by John Makepeace and are going to auction.

A lot of the furnishings in the home emanated from the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition. Among them are lamps from the Antelope range and other examples of work by 50s designers such as Ernest Race. ‘There are two wonderful chairs from that period in the living room,’ Landau says, adding, ‘and in my old bedroom there’s a terracotta console table designed by my father.’

All the principal rooms in the house look on to the garden. ‘It’s quite rural in this part of Mill Hill. The garden (at two-and-a-half-acres) folds itself around the house. My father was very keen on landscaping. He had very strong views on how it should look.

‘After his death, I began sorting through his things and I opened a books called Yew & Box. Inside was an article cut out from The Telegraph in 2005 written by the gardening expert Dan Pearson. The message of the article was that extreme formality, while it can be exhilarating, can be hard to live with. At the top of the page my father had written “DL agrees 100 times”.’

The one-time Ideal Home of the Year is still often in the limelight. As an icon, not just of the 60s but also contemporary design, Holwood is frequently used for film shoots. It’s on the books of London agency Lavish Locations and a portfolio of the house is shown to location managers and marketing executives looking for a stylish background for TV or film work or advertising campaigns.

Lavish Locations managing director Janie Richardson says it was recently used for a week-long shoot for the Sky 1 comedy You, Me and the Apocalypse. It’s also been the backdrop for commercials for Virgin Media, Weetabix and Honda as well as photo shoots for a coffee table load of glossy and weekend magazines.

The continued interest in this lovingly-created home just goes to prove that while tastes change, good design is always good design.

Holwood is for sale through Statons in Totteridge for £4.75m.

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