Embracing homes from the seventies

Why homes built in the seventies are worth more than a second look.

imageFew eras have committed more heinous crimes against good taste than the Seventies. Who can forget all those shaggy carpets, bean bags and lava lamps, to say nothing of the massive sofas and the starburst clocks on the wall.

And why did people suddenly decide that turquoise, lime green and orangey brown looked good?

Yet not everything about Seventies homes was equally vile. We may snigger now at the naff lounge in Abigail’s Party, but the decade’s homes had redeeming features too.

“Houses were built for the client – as they wanted – not just to satisfy the architects themselves, which represented a fundamental change in philosophy,” says Alan Powers, a professor of Architecture and Cultural History at the University of Greenwich.

“People started to make better use of space and those big windows meant homes became lighter inside.”

You could hardly find a better example of Seventies architecture than Ceol Na Mara, perched on the North Downs of Sussex, overlooking the sea.

This is a Barry Manilow stage set of a house, with its wonderful curved staircase sweeping down into its white-carpeted hallway.

It was one of the first homes designed by Steve Banister, who worked on it with his father Robert’s design team.

“It has a definite Spanish style – a reminder that people were holidaying on the Costas in the Seventies and bringing back design influences,” Banister says.

“And just look at the space I had to play with! The owner wanted a 6,700sq ft interior, and for the first time in my life I found myself encouraged to use space just for the sake of it.”

A closer look at Ceol Na Mara reveals some good aspects of the decade’s detail we take for granted today. The big double-glazed sliding doors leading out to the terrace were state of the art and enormously expensive at the time. For all the bedrooms to have en suites was also cutting edge.

Banister is still proud of his creation. “The cylindrical drum of an entrance tower works well. It’s like the pin in a hinge and all the other rooms spin out from it,” he says. “I like the way the terraces run down towards the house so that the outside and the interior meet.”

Of course, the Seventies is best known for its suburban housing estates. In 1970, 291,000 new homes a year were being built and a large proportion of these became what we now call “sprawl”.

Scorned by social engineers for being middle-class ghettoes and criticised by environmentalists for making car use virtually obligatory, these estates do have one saving grace – they are popular with buyers.

The best housing estates are safe, quiet and well kept. People still like their roominess, their large-ish plots, enabling the children to play safely, and their integral garages which, estate agents tell us, are used for storing everything but the car.

The Seventies house has one other great selling point – it is extremely malleable. Built when buyers preferred small kitchens with tiny “breakfast bars” and dining areas in the corner of the living room, they have accommodated the fashion switch to big kitchens. Walk around any estate now and you will find kitchens with conservatories tacked on to make kitchen family rooms.

“Knocking through” has become part of the language of the close. Outside, in those generous garden plots, you will find home offices sprouting like mushrooms as half of suburbia runs a business from home. The loft spaces have become studies, playrooms or extra bedrooms.

Some of the best renovation jobs on outwardly rather bland houses have taken place along the coast. “I have lost track of the number of homes built in the Seventies which our buyers have transformed into the epitome of seaside chic,” says Jackie Stanley, a north Cornwall estate agent who is selling Wuthering Heights for £499,950. The five-bedroom house, two miles outside Padstow, is crying out for a makeover.

“It’s so simple really – you paint the walls white throughout, put granite surfaces in the kitchen, add perhaps a wood-burning stove and you have it. The big open spaces of the Seventies house suits the rough New England style perfectly.

“If you want extra touches then change the downstairs lavatory into a wet room, with storage for wetsuits, and make the garage into a gym.

“They may not look as good as Thirties villas along the coastal path but the simple truth is that Seventies properties give you a lot of house for your money.”

“New England style” Wuthering Heights, Cornwall. £499,950 through Jackie Stanley (01841 532555) and crying out for a makeover.

St Dennis Road, Padstow, directly overlooking the Camel Estuary. Sanderling is for sale with Jackie Stanley for £725,000.

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