Modernist High Cross House To Open To The Public

High Cross House

First Posted: 25/01/2012 14:41 Updated: 25/01/2012 15:32   PA

It has many ornate and ancient architectural gems among its collection, but the National Trust is to open the doors of a house where the straight line is king and the simple and functional is admirable.

There are no soaring buttresses or elaborate sculpting at High Cross House in Dartington, Devon, which the Trust is to open to the public from March 7 this year as one of the few 20th century buildings in its collection.

Instead the house's appeal comes from its sleek and sharp straight lines, a cornerstone of the Modernist look that sought to strip away the pretensions of Victorian and Edwardian architecture during the 1920s and 1930s.

Robyn Brown, general manager of the National Trust in the English Riviera area of Devon, said: "It is one of the top five Modernist houses in the country.

"It is a fantastic, brutalist architecture, as you can see very clean lines, very machine-like and indeed that is what it was designed as - a machine for living.

"This isn't the first Modernist building for the National Trust to take on. We have Willow Road in London and of course we have taken on the Beatles' houses in Liverpool, so the departure isn't that new."

High Cross, built in an International Modern style, was designed by Swiss-American architect William Lescaze and completed in 1932.
It was commissioned by philanthropists Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst as a "machine for living in" for WB Curry, the first headmaster of Dartington Hall School, which lies a short distance away. A Steinway grand piano owned by the Elmhirsts still occupies pride of place in the geometric and spacious living room.

High Cross is still owned by the Dartington Hall Trust, which was set up by the Elmhirsts to manage their artistic interests, but will be managed as a tourist attraction by the National Trust.

The link-up will see the building turned into a "local hub for contemporary arts", where visitors can see artists at work and "engage" with them.

"The house is going to be shown to the public over 12 months of the year; we are going to be using it very much as a launch pad for local and national artists," Ms Brown added.

Formerly opened by the Dartington Hall Trust as a venue to exhibit some of its 20th century art collection, the National Trust is taking on the house with its indigenous furniture only. These are pieces commissioned by Curry for the house, including some Bauhaus.

The living and dining rooms will be shown much as the property has been seen before but the rest of the house will be shown "naked", with the local community given the opportunity to give ideas on how it should look internally.

Vaughan Lindsay, chief executive of the Dartington Hall Trust, said: "We hope the partnership will bring many new visitors to the estate to enjoy High Cross House, explore Dartington's glorious grounds and gardens and find out more about our charitable programmes in the arts, social justice and sustainability."

The National Trust's other modern properties are two suburban houses in Merseyside, 20 Forthlin Road and Mendips, the childhood homes of Beatles Sir Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

It also owns 2 Willow Road in Hampstead, north London, built in 1939 by architect Erno Goldfinger for himself and his family.

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