It’s not often we start a property article with a trigger warning.
However, to fully appreciate the historical importance of High & Over – an extraordinary 5000 sq ft home for sale in Amersham, Buckinghamshire – you need to start by watching this short video clip on YouTube. Filmed in 1931, the narration is very much of the era and some of the commentary won’t exactly resonate with some of today’s audiences.
Nonetheless, this archive footage delivers what is arguably the birth of Modernist house construction in the UK, showing how this change in architectural style had a significant effect on wider society. But take yourself back 90 years and imagine the reaction among its affluent suburban neighbours.
Widely considered the first modernist house built in the UK, High & Over wasn’t exactly met with high regard when it turned up alongside the staunchly traditional homes sown into the local landscape. Fortunately, attitudes have changed, and today’s huge affection for the Modernist movement has seen the house become an internationally celebrated architectural gem.
The story starts around 1925 when a young, ambitious Amyas Connell was studying architecture at the British School in Rome. He became acquainted with Bernard Ashmole who was the director at the time, and they shared an interest in classical Roman architecture as well as modern European designs. This led to the commissioning of High & Over and inadvertantly starting a style called Moderne.
While it’s always retained its residential use, the house was split into a pair of family homes for a long period of time. In fact, it wasn’t until the 21st century that it was reinstated as a single residence.
In 2010, retired art historian and journalist Katherina Harlow was persuaded by her artist husband, Paolo Guidi, to venture out of London to view “something of a curve ball”. A previous property purchase near Old Street in London had stalled and, knowing how much of passion for modernism Katherina had, Paulo had secured a viewing at High & Over.
“I was a little sceptical about how far away the house seemed to be. I’d really been fixated with London for a home, but I remember feeling really pleasantly surprised how quick the tube was to Amersham: it took no time at all”.
“It was late October, and when we arrived, we made our minds up there and then. It was a quick sale that ended up completing in the December. We decamped to Paris while the sale went through, and used our time researching as much about the house and its history as we could”.
“We unearthed some really useful information, but what impressed us even more was discovering the historic value as well as understanding how the house polarised opinion of the local residents at the time.”
“We learnt that the house was featured in many famous publications including Pevsner’s Buildings of England, Taschen’s World Architecture, and Irving’s 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die: The World’s Architectural Masterpieces. It’s also been used as a location in magazines, film and television series including Poirot, but we’re perhaps most exited knowing that our home received an accolade when exhibited as Modern Architecture at MOMA in 1932.”
Back to completion day and picking up the keys: “We turned up full of enthusiasm and immediately started unravelling what can best be described as sub-standard workmanship. Basically, nothing worked and leaks started appearing from nowhere! We then spent months picking through the old works and putting everything right”.
Restoration of this architectural statement has been an ongoing process more or less ever since. Under the architectural guidance of Stephen Blandamer, whose specialist areas are nuclear power stations (of course!) along with complex historical buildings, the brutal elegance of High & Over was fully restored.
Huge improvements have been made both inside and out. One sizeable portion of the refurbishment was reconfiguring the ground floor to reflect its original style and layout.
As part of the painstaking process, a copy of the kitchen design was partly lifted from the Pathe video and partly around the La Cornue range style cooker, very much an object of desire for the time. This design was handed to a Kent-based Millside Joinery who constructed an amazing replica of the original. The original Internal doors and windows were also copied, with specialist company Holdsworth Windows in Warwickshire tasked with the fabrication and installation.
Katherina still has plans, though. “We’re future-proofing the house hopefully”. With the assistance of their architect, an application has been submitted for the installation of solar panels hidden on the roof. “We may not necessarily get the benefit of all that sunlight and energy that the top of the house harnesses for ourselves, but, if we’re successful, the new owners will continue the legacy of this house as it was in 1931: a thoroughly forward-thinking home”.