Alison & Peter Smithson’s Iconic Fifties House

Design: Alison & Peter Smithson

Photographer:  Ian Parry

Credit:  Ian Parry/EWAStock

Derek and Jean Sugden’s unassuming Hertfordshire house is actually a fine example of post-war architecture with a steady stream of architectural students coming to view the iconic 1950s design. The Sugdens were responsible for its creation and lived there for over fifty years.  They  originally commissioned Alison & Peter Smithson to design and build them a practical modern house.

A retired civil & structural engineer and acoustician Derek Sugden was working on a couple of projects with Peter Smithson in 1956.  Derek asked the great man if he could recommend a gifted young architect to produce a house for £2,500.  “I was a bit thrown,” he remembered “When the already quite famous Peter said he’d do it!” 

Alison Smithson produced the first set of designs, which had slit windows and a butterfly roof with a central gutter, which the Sugdens did not like. Using the same floor plans, but with bigger windows, Peter Smithson presented a second scheme which they loved and immediately accepted.   All did not go smoothly as planning permission was refused initially, eventually granted on appeal.  Then the builder went bankrupt which left Jean to manage the sub-contractors, no easy task with school age children.

The house was completed in January 1957 and has had only one or two changes since.  The original open-air back yard was changed into a conservatory, helping to insulate the house; the industrial-looking solid fuel boiler was replaced by a gas-fired version, which serves the original underfloor heating; a galleried bedroom overlooking the stairs was enclosed with panelling and the windows, (originally brown, green & and yellow) were painted white.  Otherwise it remains much the same as when it was first built.

A huge amount of thought and effort went into every aspect of this unique home.  For example the sitting room has dark and light zones to differentiate between summer & winter use.  The dark winter area with seating facing the fire and curtains drawn behind you;  in summer the sofa  is pulled in front of the empty fireplace to take full advantage of the fabulous views across the tree-filled garden. The house overlooks mature gardens on every side and the windows are placed so that the garden can be seen from every window.

“We’ve enjoyed the house enormously and we love it, as do our children and grandchildren,” said the Sugdens, “But we don’t think that any of them would want to live here.”  Derek lived on there for a number of years after Jean died but following his death the house in now for sale.  Perhaps waiting for a new family to enjoy this unique property.