When I think of the houses designed by Oliver Hill I imagine either the architectural wedding cake houses of the Essex coastline or Agatha Christie’s Poirot where many of Hill’s houses where used for external shots.
Hill was born in 1887 and would have observed the fashion of Arts and Crafts. The early houses he designed are almost post-arts and crafts, they look like country houses people lived in, not William Morris fantasy castles. They are softer and less regimented. He soon became known as an architect for the rich, designing country houses.
Cour House, Carradale, Kintyre, Argyll
Above is Cour House, Kintyre. Built between 1921-2, it is a large house in three wings. The walls are whinstone rubble walls. There is a Library to the East of the Hall and a long rear wing to the West.
Fox Steep, Highfield Lane, Holly Cross, nr Wargrave, Reading, 1925
In 1922, the Site was purchased by Mr & Mrs Donald van den Bergh, who were looking for a place to build a weekend retreat. Donald was the son of the Industrialist Henry van den Bergh, born in Oss in the Netherlands, moved to London in 1870 to work in the family margarine business. This merged with Lever Brothers to become Unilever in 1929.
The Fox Streep site was named ‘the Foxes’ at the time of purchase and was apparently being used as a small Inn. The Van den Bergh’s appointed Oliver Hill as architect to create a cottage orné with all the conveniences of a small-scale country house. Gertrude Jekyll was consulted for advice on the layout of the gardens and Albert van de Velde completed the interior decoration.
Oliver Hills plans for Fox Streep, c1922
The house was originally supplied with both gas and electric, with the facilities for storing gas and plant for generating electricity situated in the external garage buildings to the north. A chauffeur’s flat was built next to the garage and above the garage there was an indoor playroom, known as the ‘sunshine room’ and quoit court to provide a space for activity for the van den Burgh’s daughter, particularly at times with poor weather.
The van den Burgh’s permitted the house could be used for refugees
during the second world war, after which the family sold the property. †
Cock Rock, Croyde, North Devon, 1925 – Front of the property
Designed by Oliver Hill and built c1925. The house burnt down in 1943, leaving a few remnants around a tall stone chimney and a separate thatched pump house. A new house was built in 1953, also designed by Oliver Hill and slightly SW of the first one. Here the images are of the 1925 property. I love how the house is in three parts with the dramatic chimneys. The house is thatched and with so many chimneys it might have also been the reason of its downfall in 1953.
Part of the charm Hill has with many of these designs is understanding the architectural vernacular of the area. Before house design was more industrialised areas did have a tone and style of housing of their own. The Fox Steep house has cleft wood panelling. Here the Devonshire house has white painted walls and a slightly irregular shape roofline.
Cock Rock, Croyde, North Devon, 1925 – Front door
Cock Rock, Croyde, North Devon, 1925 – rear of the property
Cock Rock, Croyde, North Devon, 1925 – To the side
The last house in my list (below) is a good example of how the eye can be fooled. At a first glance this house looks like it has been standing for hundreds of years but in fact it was built from scratch in 1925. It is the most beautiful of all the early designs by Hill I have seen. Traditional but with much more light coming into the building. It reminds me in some ways of the modernism that Frank Lloyd Wright was also trying to subvert from traditional architecture.
Prinsted Farmhouse, Sussex, 1924
This house was recently built for an invalided officer who is working a small farm in West Sussex. The picturesque traditional manner in which it has been built was with oak timbering and brick nogging above. The found floor is laid with white elm boards, and the doors are simply constructed of elm cross boarding. Elm was also used for the staircase. The floor contains the living room, workroom, office, and kitchen.
Dr. Lindley Scott has filled the charming house, designed by Mr. Oliver Hill, with choice furnishings; and the garden is a miracle considering the confined space. This consists in a long strip following the old course of the Westbourne River ‡
† Fox Steep House – Wokingham Borough Council
‡ The Smaller House – Architectural Press, 1924