Flat-roofed timber clad house surrounded by trees
Bentley Wood, near Lewes, East Sussex © Victoria Albuquerque
Bentley Wood, near Lewes, East Sussex © Victoria Albuquerque

1930s Modernist Architectural Gem Listed

A 1930s architect’s house in rural Sussex – a key work of progressive English modernism – has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

Bentley Wood was built in 1938 by the renowned Russian-born British architect Serge Chermayeff (1900 – 1996) for himself and his family. 

The house is considered to be one of the most important buildings constructed during the inter-war period in Britain, and is now recognised for its architectural and historic significance on the National Heritage List for England.

Bentley Wood is a key building designed by a major figure in English modernism and over 80 years later is still a striking contemporary home. It has served as inspiration for generations of architects, critics and fans of the Modern Movement and its special interest is being celebrated and recognised by it being added to the List.
Emily Gee, Director for London and the South East Historic England

Ageless geometry

Designed in 1936 and built two years later, it is influential for its ageless geometry and the way it sits sensitively in its natural setting overlooking the South Downs. It was one of a small number of modernist timber houses built in England before the Second World War. Timber was increasingly seen as an appropriate material for modern architecture, attractive for its practicality and scope for prefabrication.

Bentley Wood attracted interest in architectural circles from the outset. It was visited by celebrated architects including Ernõ Goldfinger and by Frank Lloyd Wright on his first visit to England, and praised by critics.

Of all the modern country houses I have seen, this is one of the best as a machine for living in...A regular Rolls-Royce of a house
C. H. Reilly (Architects’ Journal, 28 September 1938)

Distinctive personal style

The house reflects a transition away from Chermayeff’s collaborative work with Erich Mendelsohn towards a distinctive personal style. Together, Chermayeff and Mendelsohn are seen as one of the country’s most well-known modernist partnerships. All of their surviving buildings are now listed - their best known building being the much-loved 1935 De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill (Grade I listed).

Bentley Wood was in part a frame for Chermayeff’s art collection, with paintings and sculpture originally displayed throughout. These included works by John Piper, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore, whose Recumbent Figure (now at Tate) was commissioned for the garden. Its full-height sliding doors, split levels and semi-open plan arrangement create a sophisticated flow of space through the house and connect it with the wider landscape.

Alterations reversed

Over the years the house suffered extensive alterations, damaging Chermayeff’s original vision. It was assessed for listing in 2002 and was turned down because of these unsympathetic changes. However, a number of these alterations have been reversed thanks to the careful work of the most recent owner and the architect’s intention is now clear to see again.

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