Heatherdale: A Machine For Living In

“A house is a Machine for living in. A famous French architect said this a few years ago and a great many people did not understand him. They thought he must mean that a house ought to look like a piece of machinery – hard, shining, and certainly uncomfortable to live in.  But he was quite right really. He wasn’t talking about what a house looks like.  He was telling us what it is made for.” Geoffrey Boumphrey 1937

Geoffrey Maxwell Boumphrey (1894-1969) may not be a name many are familiar with, but back in the mid twentieth century it adorned the jacket of many a wholesome coffee table reference book. ‘The Shell Guide to Britain’ series, ‘Engines and How They Work’, ‘Along

Accompanying booklet for the BBC’s Broadcasts to Schools Spring 1937

The Roman Roads’, ‘Sea Farmers’, ‘Down River’ are all titles featuring Boumphrey’s wisdom. For a period he even sat in the editors chair at ’The Listener Magazine’ (Radio Times meets Points of View). ‘Your Home & Mine’, from which the above quote is taken, was an accompanying booklet for the BBC’s Broadcasts to Schools in the Spring of 1937. It aimed to educate children in the development of our homes, from the earliest settlements through to the present day modernist movement, and even speculate as to what changes might occur in the future.

The success of this particular project led him to expand the text into 1938’s full book ‘YOUR HOUSE and MINE’. 250 pages of easy to understand architectural basics charting the rise of the spaces we live in. To illustrate the striking differences between multiple eras of architecture plenty of glossy black and white plates are included. So when it came to showcasing ‘the modern home’, there could be no better example than his own minimalist mansion: Heatherdale.

Geoffrey was a keen out-and-out modernist. So much so that in 1933 he had gone into partnership with fellow author, and stalwart of the twentieth century design reform movement; Philip Morton Shand. Together they founded Finmar, importers of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto‘s groundbreaking pressed plywood furniture. Boumphrey waxes lyrical about the benefits of ply in YHaM: “Plywood never shrinks and so does not need to be held in a grooved panel, a form of construction that was invented purely to allow for the shrinkage in solid wood… Thick plywood can be built up of as many as thirteen laminations, and designers realised that they might use this new unshrinkable wood in a new way. Why should not a whole carcass be built of sheets of plywood, stiffened internally with battens where needed?”. He goes on at some length on this subject including photographs of items of furniture from his own abode.

“A Luxuious Modern Armchair” from Your House and Mine

Presumably looking for the perfect setting to showcase Finmar’s latest imports, in 1935 Geoffrey, with the help of consultant architect F.R.S. Yorke (one of the most celebrated modernist British architects of this period) set to work designing his own streamline masterpiece.

Axonometric Diagram by Nikoulaus Pevsner from Pevsner Architectural Guides: Worcestershire

Completed in 1937, Heatherdale was Geoffrey’s home for about 10 years before he moved on. At some point, presumably fairly early on in its life, the name was changed to Conigree and now has a covenant preventing it from ever being called Heatherdale again. The house still stands and I was lucky enough to recently be shown around it by its fifth and current custodians.

Situated on the top of a hill in Bredon, Conigree overlooks the Avon and its surrounding common land.  Looking West the views stretch almost as far as the eye can see with the Malvern Hills sitting proudly on the horizon. This exposed location works both ways, as the house is visible to passers by from miles around (you can clearly see it while travelling up the M5, look East between junctions 8 & 9, you can’t miss it).

Conigree in 2016

It’s an imposing robust property with a flat roof. This comes as no surprise as again, Geoffrey talks enthusiastically about the benefits of flat roofs in ‘Your House and Mine’. “There is nothing experimental about flat roofs, there are examples up and down the country that have needed no repair for over 100 years. But it is only within the last few years they have become cheap as well as reliable”. He talks about the reduced stress on the walls, the option of overhead natural lighting, easy maintenance, and reduction of the ‘over turning effect of wind’.  “A flat roof gives the owner an extension to his garden, where he and his family may sunbathe, play or rest without being overlooked. In the summer he can sleep out there, secure from interruptions”. 

There are no fancy curves or towers that often feature in 1930s moderne houses, just clean lines and straight edges. Laid out in an L shape, it originally featured two single story sections at either end with tubular railings. Black metal framed ‘Crittal’ windows contrasted the smooth white render. Render that was unfortunately stripped off in the 1950’s exposing the bare bricks. Then followed a spell in pink, and then green masonry paint (what where they thinking?!). The current owners painted it cream in the mid 1990’s, but are considering a return to the pale render of its heyday.

While it’s clearly the same property Boumphrey designed in the ‘30’s, changes to its layout have taken place. The single story North balcony has been lost in a second floor extension, while a kitchen extension has been added in a matching style to the West. A further section has been added to the Northern single story area, but doesn’t feature railings. A modern conservatory also sits on the West side which was added a few years back to replace a crumbling mid-twentieth century lean-to.

The plot has also shrunk over the years with a row of bungalows sat in what was originally the lower reaches of the garden. Apparently responsibility for this is shared among the previous owners, each building a couple more to sell off during their tenure.

The most noticeable change on the exterior is the lack of original windows. Modern UPVC double glazing may add thermal efficiency and ease of maintenance, but fail to create the charm of the original metal frame casements.

img_0743Inside Conigree is a modern family home with little sign of its minimalist past. The original reinforced concrete staircase with tubular banister, some internal doors, and the fitted wardrobe and dressing table photographed in YHaM (now painted white with different handles) are the only original features remaining. That said, we can’t all live in museums, and it’s still a lovely space to be in. Should a future owner wish to revert to Geoffrey’s vision of clean smooth lines and ply, it could easily be done.

I’d like to say a huge thanks to current owners Roger & Di for taking time out of their Sunday afternoon to show me around and let me take photographs for my Streamline Worcestershire project.

Northern Neon Lights

Nestled in a fairly nondescript area on the north-westerly drag out of Worcester sits one of the most iconic 1930s buildings in the city: a towering symmetrical red brick monster called Northwick.

Northwicksmall1Appearing from virtually out of nowhere, it can catch the unsuspecting motorist by surprise,   surrounded by a patchwork of different period houses and business’s, one couldn’t say it blends in with its environment. A huge neon lit fin soars into the sky flanked either side by robust angular wings. It’s almost fortress-like appearance is enhanced by narrow outer windows running virtually the full height of the upper storeys  (looking more like arrow slits than anything designed to let light in). Below this there is a more traditional 1930s curved canopy with long wide steps leading up to a row of double doors.

Designed by Charles Edmund Wilford to be used as a theatre, it was quickly converted into a huge 1109 seat cinema. Run by an independent operator that also ran the Scala cinema in town, it opened its doors on 28th November 1938.

As with many cinemas of this era, the increasing popularity of television in the 50s & 60s meant it struggled to continue attracting sustainable numbers to the box office. On September 10th 1966 Northwick closed its doors as a cinema, screening Dean Martin in ‘The Silencers’ and Audie Murphy in ‘Arizona Raiders’ on its final day. By the end of the month it had reopened as a bingo hall, changing hands several times until finally shutting again in 1982.

 Concerned for its future, in January 1984 Historic England gave Northwick grade II listed status. The building then stood empty for almost 10 years until it was resurrected, opening in June 1991 as a venue for live entertainment and the occasional film on a temporary screen. This only lasted until 1996 when once again it was boarded up.

 In August 2003 a planning was made to demolish the building and construct flats on the site, but these were objected to by the Cinema Theatre Association and were thankfully rejected by the local council.

Its current owners, David and Helen Gray purchased Northwick  in 2004 and extensive restoration works began to return the building to its original glory. After 18 months of collaboration with local and national heritage conservation departments, Northwick reopened as Grays of Worcester, a high end interior furnishings showroom.

While you can’t help but be impressed by the exterior, it does nothing to prepare you for what awaits inside. As you stand at the back of the auditorium you are greeted with the last remaining complete work of interior designer John Alexander. Moulded from fibrous plaster, either side of the proscenium arch are trios of over-life-size mythical figures ascending a golden staircase. They point skyward while surrounded by a feast of scrolls and curls, all up-lit from the treads. Standing below them one feels almost intimidated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the odd visiting child has been concerned by their presence over the years!


Looking up further, the ceiling still features all the original light fittings surrounded by yet more decorative plaster work, painted scroll borders and intricate golden air vents. Exploring around you’ll find original signs for the toilets and stalls, correct doors and handles along with the odd glimpse of period Art Deco carpet.

Wilford designed 10 theatres in England, as of 2016 only 4 including Northwick survive. Cineworld in Chelsea is the only one still operating as a cinema, The Regal in Bridlington is a Gala bingo and the Century cinema in South East London is reportedly derelict and vacant. These facts alone make it a privilege to be able to visit Northwick in 2016 at all, but what’s more astounding is that it’s managed to survive virtually unmolested these last 78 years.

Thanks to the owners David & Helen and all the staff at Grays of Worcester for their permission in letting me photograph the building for my Streamline Worcestershire project.



Well it was a long time coming but on Saturday February 13th we moved into our kitchen. Key utensils, bags of saucepans and cans of miscellaneous grub were whisked from one end of the flat to the other as efficiently as we could manage. This all happened in a frantic rush after work as I simultaneously tried to clear an air lock in the central heating and cook a romantic Valentines meal. A candlelit food shoveling exercise followed while baby Beatrice balled away in her bouncy chair, making the most of the cavernous acoustics of the new room. Bliss!

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The weeks leading up to ‘the big move’ had proved full of ups and downs. Our lavish plan of numerous bands of sweeping colour on the walls had been thwarted by paint adhesion failure (the low tack frog tape removed all paint back to the bare plaster even when only lightly applied). After much head scratching I opted for a simple two tone effect of grey and white. The black band provided by carefully stuck electrical tape running around the room! It sounds a bit Heath Robinson admittedly, but it’s actually quite effective and shows no signs of pealing some two months on.

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The severely damaged original floor is still in place and has been buffed, sealed and waxed within an inch of its life. Not that you’d notice, it’s still rather rough and ready, but exudes plenty of character. new kitchen 003

The gloss white kitchen units from Diy-Kitchens were delivered on time and proved extremely easy to fit together. I wrestled with kick boards, handles and the integrated dishwasher but ultimately emerged victorious. The ‘Maron Jupiter’ (dark brown) quartz worktop arrived a couple of weeks later and was swiftly fitted by the suppliers, Natural Stone.

Last job was a spot of tiling. The choice of a combination of large slabs of gloss black with mosaic counterparts on top was a last minute decision but proved fairly quick and easy for the enthusiastic amateur to fit. I personally think the final result looks rather nifty, if perhaps a bit more 21stC modern than 20thC Modernist.

Above the mighty fireplace hangs a modern deco-inspired beveled mirror mounted on an angle so that you can see yourself stood in the room below. new kitchen 006The beautiful veneered larder is a tall boy I managed to extract from a full suite advertised new kitchen 018on ebay. The clothes rail was removed, shelves fitted, a charity shop spice rack hung on the inside door and obligatory Robertson’s Golly Enamel attached to the other.

The delightful table and chairs are were a donation from my aunt and uncle. This original mid 30s ‘magi-cube’ set was the very same suite that my mother dined at as a child. A light new kitchen 010sanding and varnish plus new seat coverings were all it needed to restore it to its former glory.

In one last act of total indulgence we treated ourselves to a new fridge, toaster, kettle and microwave all in gloss white. But what should we sit our precious new Akai microwave on? The plan was always to have it separate from the worktops next to the fridge. The answer presented itself on Valentines day as we strolled around the huge Malvern Flea Fair. A totally dilapidated early Bush television (Some later internet investigation dated to 1951) presented itself with a £20 price tag. It quickly found its way into my workshop and 7 days later I’d sanded, varnished and moved the rather heavy fellow into its new home.

new kitchen 007new kitchen 008

So 12 months in the planning and about 5 in the making we’ve got ourselves a splendid room the whole family are in love with. The only problem now is my lack of motivation for converting the old kitchen into Dorothy’s new bedroom! In my world, the winter is for interior design stuff and the summer is for playing with old cars.. the summer is on its way so I better get a wriggle on!

new kitchen 013

The Reshuffle Pt1 – A Study in Grey

2015 is going to yield some fairly major changes in art deco magpie hq. The forthcoming arrival of our second bright young thing has required us to have a rethink about the layout of the flat and presented a September deadline. The plan is to convert a huge dark cellar room currently used for logs and garden tools into a stylish 30’s inspired kitchen diner, transform our existing kitchen (at the other end of the property) into a third bedroom and use the dining room as an office/study. It may all sound a bit extreme, but trust me.. it’s the only way we can get an extra bedroom in a sensible location. It’s bound to end up being a tedious and expensive project, but should be a huge improvement in the long run.

Old Dining RoomNo major work can be undertaken until I’ve had a massive disused oil tank removed. So in the meantime I decided to work backwards by creating my dream study in what was a rarely used dining room.

The walls were previously decorated with a bland pale pastel green emulsion. I had planned to give the room a somber 1940’s austerity feel with some light grey paint, but after a successful pre-Christmas experiment with wallpaper in the lounge I opted continue along a similar path with the study. The chosen design is Cavern in Dove Grey, once again by Graham and Brown. The sample looked great, the first few lengths applied… less so. It’s a very angular geometric pattern that when presented in its full glory is perhaps more suited to a brutalist mid-60’s inspired theme. However, we’d committed so it seemed churlish to back out and rip it off. Papering continued, and as we completed each wall and tested pictures and bits of furniture against it the design rapidly grew on us.

study 005I’ve already got a few decent bits and pieces to use in the room, which I’ve split diagonally to create two areas. One half centered around a burr walnut veneered desk (an up-cycled dressing table) and filing cabinet (will probably be replaced with an oak one when acquired), the opposite side a reading area with a 1930’s Globe Wernike stacking bookcase and a club chair liberated from our bedroom. Everything sits on an original handwoven Chinese Art Deco rug bought on the cheap a few years ago. It’s got a whopping great stain in the middle, hence the bargain price, so I’ve booked some professionals to clean it in a few weeks.

I’m guilty of injecting a pretty eclectic mix of 20th century items with my pre-war paraphernalia here. A 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica globe (originally free when signing up for the complete set), 1960’s Poole Pottery Helios lamp & drinks cabinet along with contemporary artworks, but I’d like to think they sit fairly comfortably together.  In addition to the filing cabinet, my wish list includes an original Herbert Terry Anglepoise lamp, an old glazed notice board & a groovy swivel chair of some kind. Other than that I think we’re done here.

s 008Filing Cabinet with globes 005

study 001

Parallel Lines

If there’s better way to spend down time during the festive season than painting lines on a wall, then I’m not aware of it! The inspiration for this genius idea came from a photo of the inside of the ‘watch room’ at Duxford Air Base. A broad grey stripe sweeps around the entire room, echoing the runway it overlooks.

The Watch Office, the forerunner to the Control Tower, as it might have been during the late 1930s.
Yellow 'Frog' tape - a must
Yellow ‘Frog’ tape – a must

Alas, I don’t have a watch room, but I do have a porch that was in need of a bit of a spruce up. A splash of white on the walls provided a good base for some masking tape based experimentation. With the help of a laser level I taped a border around the whole room, then another, and then another (lines – they’re a bit moreish).

After some photoshop mock ups, a black and goldebay 001 colour scheme was decided on and several coats of acrylic paint were duly rolled on. I was reliably informed that black is a good undercoat for gold paint, giving a deep bright shine. Good advice it would seem. On removing the tape I was so darn pleased with the effect I threw caution to the wind and painted some intersecting verticals in celebration. The finished product evokes thoughts of  vintage railway carriage livery, or perhaps a more glitzy section (I refuse to use the word ‘bling’) of a London Underground map.

The icing on the cake was to replace the standard pendant light fitting with a reproduction Bakelite job and throw down a new rug. One revamped porch, done! What a fine place to remove ones shoes, even if I do say so myself.


Cinema Style – Fin

After two weeks of evenings spent scaling the heady heights of our lounge on a wobbly ladder we have completion in the Graham & Brown Cinema wallpaper project. It’s subtle but very effective, even if it doesn’t exactly dazzle in the photos. Pattern matching in the corners wasn’t even remotely easy considering the uneven nature of our aged walls, but as long as you don’t look too closely.. it’s passable.

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