WF Crittall’s 1934 house is a British modern classic, and not just because of the metal windows
When Sarah Hodgson and her partner Tim Kirby moved to New Farm 22 years ago with three small children in tow, it quickly became apparent that living in the house came with certain obligations.
“For a few years we would have descendants of the original owners turning up asking if they could have a look around and reminiscing about when they used to visit the house,” says Hodgson. Strangers even pull up on to the drive on a Sunday afternoon asking if they can have a tour: “I don’t think I’ve ever said no.”
A modernist gem, with sleek horizontal lines, flat roof, pale pink walls and turquoise steel window frames, New Farm isn’t the kind of house you expect to find hidden behind a hedge in rural Essex. But in fact this area has form when it comes to pioneering architecture. Just a few miles away, Braintree was the home of the original Crittall factory which made the steel window frames so emblematic of the “British modern” style after the First World War.
Some of the earliest examples of this architecture can be found in Silver End, the village which founder Francis Henry Crittall built for his workers just outside Braintree. His son WF Crittall (nicknamed “Pink”) had dreams of becoming an artist but eventually joined the family firm, pouring his creative energy into the design of his house, New Farm, which he built in 1934.
The moment you step through the front door, Pink’s artistic flair becomes apparent: from the three-storey glass and steel “tower” which floods the entrance and staircase with light, to the beautiful inlaid wooden star on the hallway floor. Pink worked with the leading architects of the age to create features such as the octagonal wood-panelled dining room and the imposing concrete first-floor balcony which filters light on to the garden terrace below through a series of glass portholes.
Metal plays a starring role, from the window frames to the striking green and red steel staircase banister and even the skirting boards and door frames. “Because he was going to live here, he put a lot of thought into it and everything was really beautifully designed and clever,” says Hodgson. “Almost everything still works.”
So how to go about furnishing a modernist masterpiece? New Farm today feels like a lived-in family home rather than a shrine to minimalism. “We’ve not been precious about it,” says Hodgson. “We never felt that it had to look like a 1930s wonder house because that’s not how it was when the Crittalls lived here. Although it looks quite striking from the outside, inside it was designed like a traditional country house.”
Where possible they have kept the original fixtures and fittings. In the sitting room and library the shimmering oriental wallpaper, which the Crittalls had brought back from one of their factory visits to China, is still intact, although its patina has dimmed over time. “It must have been quite wild when it was new,” says Hodgson. And in the hallway she replaced the original grass wall covering. “It’s very fragile but it has this lovely warm glow.”
Although there are some period pieces – a pair of art deco bedside cabinets, a 1930s Steinway baby grand piano, a replica Le Corbusier lounger – it sits alongside furniture which the couple bought in the 1980s and the odd vintage find from local auctioneers Sworders.
Owners of modernist-style homes often feel compelled to buy a job lot of white emulsion but Sarah has gone the other way, painting the walls in a rainbow of flamboyant shades: vivid orange in the kitchen, raspberry pink in one of the bathrooms and “Liverpool away kit circa 1998” in one of her son’s bedrooms.
Now the boys have left home the couple plan to sell the six-bedroom house and its five acres of gardens and orchards and move to somewhere smaller. “It is a lovely house but it could take your life over. We used to invite lots of people round for weekends, but now we’ve become hermits – which is another reason why we shouldn’t live here because it’s the sort of house where you should invite people round.”
Hodgson says she’ll miss the house “something awful” – the sense of space, the beautiful grounds, the clever little design details. She opens a cupboard door in the pantry and points to a little shelf which has been specially designed to hang your broom from. “I’m really going to miss things like this.” But the uninvited visitors? Maybe not quite so much.
Published: 23:41, 8 September 2015 | Updated: 09:29, 9 September 2015
Rocketing property prices are pushing thousands of homeowners to sell through cheap online estate agents.
Traditional High Street agents charge sellers a percentage of the sale price of their property — so the more your home is worth, the higher your fee.
And as property prices have increased, so, inevitably, have the costs.
A typical fee is around 1.5 per cent plus VAT — but can be as high as 3.5 per cent. That means on a home worth £150,000 the estate agency fee can be up to £6,300.
Rocketing property prices are pushing thousands of homeowners to sell through cheap online estate agents
Online estate agents, meanwhile, charge a flat fee that can be as low as £395 including VAT, regardless of whether your home is worth £100,000 or £1 million.
And many sellers find them more convenient because, unlike most High Street chains, online agents work around the clock.
Britain’s largest online firm, Purplebricks, claims that 70 per cent of its business is done outside of traditional working hours through its helpline, which allows customers to book viewings or give decisions on offers.
Paula Higgins, chief executive of campaign group HomeOwners Alliance, says: ‘Online estate agents are fast becoming mainstream and they are only going to become more popular. And this is the High Street estate agents’ own fault.
‘They do nothing to instil trust in their customers and are not transparent about how much they charge. And, as property prices continue to rise, fees will just keep going up.’
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The important thing to know about online agents is that they are not a DIY service. You don’t have to take photos, write sales information, or value your home — this is all done for you.
But you will have to show potential buyers round (which many people may prefer) and some services cost an additional fee.
More than 1,000 homes are added to online agents’ websites each week. There are around 40 firms to choose from, including House Network, HouseSimple and Tepilo, which is run by TV property guru Sarah Beeny.
Purplebricks, which launched last year, sells 1,500 properties a month. The second-largest online firm, eMoov, has sold 1,322 properties in the past 12 months.
Industry experts estimate that 4 per cent of all homes are now sold through an online agent annually — around 48,000 — and predict that internet firms could handle up to 50 per cent of all sales by 2020.
TV property guru: Sarah Beeny runs online estate agent Tepilo
Sellers should shop around before committing to an agent, and watch for VAT in the costs quoted — some firms include it in their overall price, others don’t.
easyProperty recently launched sales packages after its lettings launch last year and quotes prices including VAT. Its cheapest option is the £475 deal which gets you listed on the main property portals and it will collect offers and negotiate for you.
To get the best price, you have to pay up-front — eMoov charges £595 if you pay when you list your home, but £1,195 if you pay when you sell.
HouseSimple is one of the cheapest firms. It charges £395 and you don’t have to pay until your home sells, or after 12 months (whichever comes first).
Alternatively, you can choose to pay just £9 a week with an additional £495 fee when a sale goes through.
The prices of many of the agents are listed on the HomeOwners Alliance website, at hoa.org.uk. For protection, you should check that your agent is registered with the Property Ombudsman.
Once you register with a firm online, it will get in touch to arrange for an agent to visit and value your home. You should get more than one valuation to be sure your home is priced correctly.
Then someone will take photos, measurements for a floorplan and write the advert, which you will be sent to approve. You will then be given a ‘for sale’ board.
The advert will be posted on property websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla, which is part-owned by Daily Mail parent company DMGT.
Rightmove has 90 million visitors a month and Zoopla 45 million. But your advert will not appear on the website OnTheMarket, which is run by High Street agents, as it refuses to advertise properties being sold by online firms.
The internet agent will field any inquiries and organise viewings. Buyers can make an offer by calling or emailing the agent, which will negotiate the deal if you agree to it.
Be sure to watch for extra costs. Tepilo charges £120 for professional photography, £75 for a floorplan and £60 for a ‘for sale’ board on top of its basic £595 fee.
And Purplebricks’ prices vary depending on where you live — in Coventry, for example, it costs £798, whereas in London, it’s £1,158.
If you are looking to sell quickly or live in a rural area, you may be better off with a local agent who knows the market.
Martyn Baum, president of the National Association of Estate Agents, says: ‘Many traditional estate agents have as strong an online presence as online agents, with enhanced services available.
‘Buyers need to look at the different levels of service on offer and choose what works best for them.’