Private house, with terrace and garden walls. 1964-5 to the designs of Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith and executed by his practice Law and Dunbar-Nasmith, Architects, for the de Rothschild family.
Reason for Listing
Upper Exbury, 1964-5, by James Dunbar-Nasmith for Leopold de Rothschild, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
*Architectural interest: a classic arrangement and setting of a country house, recast in a modern, post-war idiom, designed expressly to provide a versatile music room;
*Architect: designed for Sir Leopold de Rothschild by his childhood friend the architect Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith. Law and Dunbar-Nasmith were one of Scotland’s leading architectural practices of the post-war period and this is the architects' principal English house and its most significant and ambitious house in terms of scale and finish;
*Plan: at the core of the house, a group of interlinked rooms designed for entertaining, focussing on a divided-level music room which has cleverly-placed windows at upper level looking out over the Solent;
*Materials: throughout, but particularly in the music room, carefully detailed, high-quality materials and craftsmanship and bespoke fittings and finishes are evident.
Upper Exbury is a country house built in 1964-5 to the sole design of James Dunbar-Nasmith for Leopold de Rothschild; Dunbar-Nasmith was one of Leopold de Rothschild's oldest childhood friends. The design however was implemented by Law and Dunbar-Nasmith, Architects.
Law and Dunbar-Nasmith were one of Scotland’s leading architectural practices of the post-war period. The architects completed a number of houses at the beginning of their joint practice during the late fifties and early sixties; Upper Exbury was the principal English work of this period.
This particular house addressed the client's love of music and was built round the need to house two grand pianos in a space designed carefully with the audience and acoustics in mind. Built on the kitchen garden of Exbury House, in the extensive de Rothschild estate, the house is positioned to take advantage of impressive views south over the Solent and Isle of Wight. It is one of the few post-war country houses to be built in a modern rather than traditional style. Indeed it is one of the more substantial country houses of this period, having in common with traditional houses of that genre its approach to room arrangement, focus on entertaining and relationship with the spectacular site. It is the architects' most significant and ambitious house in terms of scale and finish, and stands out for the quality of the interiors and fittings and the sense of space created by the principal rooms.
MATERIALS: traditional in approach, constructed with buff sand-faced brick walls, timber painted black and a Delabole slate pitched roof with roof lights and dormers; brick stacks. Windows are timber-framed. Doors are also timber, glazed on the garden front, except for those to the dining room which have been replaced with powder coated aluminium sliding doors. The terrace is paved with stone slabs. Downpipes and rainwater goods are hidden, being routed internally through the house.
PLAN: the plan reflects the function of Upper Exbury as a country house for weekend entertaining and concerts. The plan is essentially L-shaped, with a hall containing a staircase and lift at its core linking the five levels: the ground floor is below garden level, and first and second floor levels are higher in the north wing. The main living rooms and a two-storey bedroom wing are on an east-west axis, and all face south on to the garden. The service wing reaches north at right-angles to this, and is now enlarged at its north and east ends. The house is approached at the north-west angle, with service access from the east: both address the main entrance at ground level in the sheltered underpass at the junction between the north and east/west wings. The lobby leads to the staircase hall, with storage rooms to the east. At first floor level, living spaces interconnect. To the south is the double-height music room projecting south into the garden, the focus of the house. It is on several levels, connected by steps around the central fireplace; anticlockwise they are: a lower seating area, the concert platform, a breakfast area with access to the terrace to the east, and a balcony at second floor level above the seating area. To the east is the double-height dining room, which projects east into the garden. To the west is a sitting room, divided from the music room by a sliding wall. In the remainder of the west wing are two bedrooms, slightly projecting south to create recessed balconies, with en suite bathrooms and a dressing room, accessed from a corridor/picture gallery on the north side. Leading from a narrower corridor along the north side of the west wing at second floor level, there are two further bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a dressing room, again with two recessed balconies.
The north service wing has separate external access at first floor level in its north-east corner, and a stair at its centre between first and second floor levels, also connecting to the main staircase hall to the south. It has a garage and plant at ground floor level, kitchen and staff sitting room at first floor level, and bedrooms and bathroom above at the second floor level.
EXTERIOR: external elevations are simple and unpretentious; three storeys visible from the north and two storeys from the south. From the north-west, the entrance is concealed in the underpass. The north side of the bedroom wing has a band of windows at first floor level, with four individual windows at second floor level. The west façade of the staff wing has less ordered fenestration, with dormers, and two chimneys. From the east (service access) the projecting dining room has a monopitch roof and clerestory windows. The service wing has minimal fenestration. The double garage is flanked by an underpass leading through the house to the left, and a drive up to first floor level to the right Two lean-to extensions have been added. The south (garden) elevation is particularly successful. The bedroom wing's double band of windows is relieved by balcony recesses and provides access to the terrace on the ground floor. The pitched roof, punctuated by the chimney, extends down to first floor level above the projecting music room.
The walls of the house are extended to the north, east and west to form garden walls. To the east, a tall brick wall, a modern interpretation of a crinkle-crankle garden wall, shields a high terrace walk on its south side, the curved east end intended originally to enclose a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, which is no longer there.
INTERIOR: inside, walls are largely white-painted render, with oriental wallpaper in the sitting room. Ceilings in the hall, dining and music rooms are wood-lined, with acoustic features designed into the latter two, painted render elsewhere. Floors are timber in the dining room and music room, stone slabs in the entrance hall and largely carpeted elsewhere. Specifically designed fitted furniture and fittings survive throughout. Notably, fittings include cast-aluminium balcony balustrade supports by Ann Henderson, sculpted crystal door-knobs by Helen Weir and sculptural glass light fittings above the hall. Rooms were also conceived as backdrops for specially commissioned artworks. The double-height multi-levelled music room is the focus of the house. The ceiling is open to the slope of the roof, with large pivoting timber shutter to the roof light, full-height glazing to the south and a double-height window to the west. There is fitted seating and shelving. The dining room is also an impressive high-ceilinged space, with a fitted sideboard running along the north side. The room has replaced sliding doors with modern windows and fittings. The kitchen has been altered and refitted. Bedroom and service wings are simply finished.
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