Real Estate

Art Deco Essex house – unchanged since the 1930s – for sale

A rare example of a Sunspan home — one of only 15 of its kind — is for sale, having been in the same family for nearly 90 years.

The four-bedroom house in Chadwell St Mary in Essex is a true time capsule, having been virtually untouched since the Thirties.

It was put up for auction in 2018 with a guide price of £415,000 but is back on the market through an estate agent for £475,000.

What are Sunspan houses?

The first pre-fabricated houses to be built, Sunspan homes were designed to draw as much light into the living spaces as possible. The architects did this by positioning the structure to allow south facing light into two sides of the building.

Sunspan houses were designed by David Pleydell-Bouverie and Wells Coates, the pioneering architect behind the famous Isokon building in Hampstead where Agatha Christie lived among Russian spies and émigré artists in the Forties.

Their cutting-edge Modernist design and inclusion of all mod cons (for the time), including central heating and a bathroom with shower, made these homes the epitome of contemporary luxury and glamour.

With its curved walls, large windows and impressive staircase, some of that glamour remains to this day, especially for fans of Modernist and Art Deco design.

The housing model was exhibited at the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1934, which is where the grandfather of the current seller first saw it and commissioned his own.

A family house with a history

“The house has been in my family since it was built, it was the hub of my family where everyone would gather on special occasions,” says Andrew Skinner, a solicitor who lives in Essex.

“My guess is that my grandparents bought it because they were nouveau riche and the contemporary Art Deco style would have appealed to them.

“Building the new house was accompanied by a move out of Tilbury town to one of the surrounding villages — it would be a pretty typical prestige move.”


In the lounge: Winifred Skinner, Andrew’s grandmother, front centre, and aunt, Binky, behind her

The house has remained in the Skinner family ever since, with Andrew’s aunt, Winifred May (known as Binky), taking it over when her parents died.

A true Art Deco time capsule — complete with air raid shelter

Thanks to this, the property has remained virtually unchanged and was Grade II-listed in 2012, with Historic England noting how little altered the building was both inside and out.

From the curved oak front door with its original stained glass window onwards, period features abound.

Built-in cupboards, space-saving sliding plywood partitions, doors with Art Deco detailing, a curved, embellished brick fireplace, sprung wooden floors and curved staircase are all original. The property even has its original heating system.

The bathroom, which would have been state-of the art at the time, is also unchanged, complete with Thirties bath, hand basin and shower.

The original windows were replaced with double glazing in the Seventies and Andrew’s aunt made some slight modifications.

There was once a tennis court on the grounds, which stretch over 3.5 acres of green belt land, but that was dug up.

A Second World War air raid shelter does remain on the site, although Andrew is uncertain exactly how much wartime use it saw.


Air raid shelter: the Second World War bomb shelter was used for storage in later years

“It certainly was put to use in my lifetime, for storing things, but it probably was used in the War because the Germans used the River Thames to navigate,” he says.

“They bombed the port of Tilbury, which is quite close, and when they were flying back from raids over London they would jettison the rest of their bombs over Essex.”

Another later addition to the property is the garden courtyard.

“My grandparents built the Spanish courtyard in the Sixties. They were pioneers holidaying in Spain and they liked the architecture.”

While Andrew would love the house to go to a lover of modernist architecture for a restoration project, he’s more concerned that the home retain its family atmosphere.

“If people restored it as it was in its former glory that would be great. But really and truly, if someone just loved the house I’d be happy because it was a happy house and it should be again.”

The property is for sale for £475,000 through Balgores Property.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.