Private house by Walter Greaves, 1980-81, built for himself and his wife.
Reason for Listing
Severels, a private house of 1980-1 designed by Walter Greaves, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: in its plan, form and detailing, Severels is a particularly unusual and finely-executed example of post-war domestic architecture;
* Planning interest and use of materials: its highly creative floor plan, executed in timber-frame and narrow vertical cladding, gives the building an organic freedom of form, which produces soft, spacious, interiors, and an expressive exterior, which relates strongly to its natural setting;
* Quality of detailing: care and precision is applied throughout the building's quantity of simple but finely-detailed interior joinery and fitted furniture;
* Interest of architect: Severels is the finest work of an architect of considerable talent, but who built relatively little; designed for himself and his wife, it is the ultimate expression of his love of timber, creative approach to spatial planning, and his meticulous skill for detail.
Severels was built in 1980-81 by Walter Greaves (1925-2004) as a home for himself and his wife Annabel, after their four children had left to pursue their own careers. As a personal labour of love, on a site he knew well - part of his former garden - the house could evolve exactly as he wanted, and he was still planning small additional fittings at the time of his death. The garden, with a part-canalised stream, was also designed by Greaves and provides a beautiful complementary setting. The house's unusual name is an old local field name that appealed to Greaves because it reflected the articulated nature of the house.
Walter Greaves was a meticulous designer and detailer who was known for his exceptional draftsmanship. He studied at Regent Street Polytechnic and worked on the Royal Festival Hall for his tutor Peter Moro (1911-1998); most of the published perspectives of the interior are his. Moro handed him the job of building a new house in Sussex for the Tawse family, for whom Moro had designed Harbour Meadow at Birdham (Grade II) in 1938-40. Greaves married the client's daughter, Annabel, and set up in private practice, mainly designing private houses. He never employed assistants, and made all his drawings freehand, at a half inch to a foot, and carefully organised on graph paper. His unique talent as a draftsman can be seen in the drawings for No. 1 Pond Road, Blackheath, and for Severels, already with the RIBA; many more are held by the family. Greaves lived in Blackheath during the 1960s, where he built several houses, including one for Leslie Bilsby, a prominent local builder and director of the pioneering Span development company. He was particularly fond of building in timber, because of its warmth, ease of working and flexibility. It was also particularly suited to Greaves' increasing predilection for breaking down the plan of a house into compartments or modules, which could be seen in his house for Bilsby in Blackheath, but reaches its ultimate state of development at Severels: a house of striking originality and interest.
MATERIALS: the construction is almost entirely of timber, on a concrete raft foundation and with a brick stack. External walls are clad in vertical cedar boarding and the pitched roofs are slate.
PLAN: the house is formed of a central two-storey range, flanked on both sides by 2 single-storey wings; all five elements are expressed as separate 'modules' with rounded corners, linked at ground floor by a broad, single-storey, spinal hallway. The principal entrance opens into the hallway on the left side of the central range, and a secondary entrance opens into the hallway on the right side. Further doors around the house open into the garden, and upstairs onto the flat roof over the hallway. The central two-storey module contains the cloakroom, stair, bathroom, and upstairs and downstairs bedrooms. The single-storey modules to the north contain Greaves' office and the garage, and those to the south contain the living room and kitchen.
EXTERIOR: the roof of the central two-storey module is formed of four opposing pitches, with each of the single-storey modules having a single pitch in a direction opposing that of its neighbour, all linked by the flat-roof of the hallway. The result is a complex skyline of flat and mono-pitched roofs, set-off by the irregular elevations formed of the projecting curve-cornered modules and the recessed, mainly glazed, walls of the hallway. To the centre of the entrance front is a large flat-roofed oriel which lights the stair; and to the garden front is a large arched brickwork stack, and a second sloping oriel.
The elevations are clad in vertical untreated cedar boarding, now grey, and the joinery is thick-sectioned timber with glazed external doors set within glazed screens. The up-and-over timber garage doors are also glazed with opaque glass. The windows are rectangular, with top-hung, side-hung, and fixed, casements.
INTERIOR: the cedar cladding which wraps round the modules externally, passes through the walls of the hallway, into the internal space of the house - continuing to define these curve-cornered forms. The relatively low boarded ceiling of the hallway contrasts with the ceilings of the single-storey modules, which are open to their sloped roofs, with exposed timber trusses and the ceilings lined in pine boarding. From the hallway, full-height white-painted timber doors in unpainted surrounds serve the downstairs rooms, and a folding screen closes off the dining area at the far south end of the hallway. The dining area provides a link between the living room and kitchen modules, the three areas divided by half-height cupboards. The living room has a dark brick stack with a round-arched fireplace containing a stove. Half the room is lined with bookcases that follow the curve of the walls, while the other half of the room is largely glazed, with a fixed window seat overlooking the garden, and a clerestory window in the soffit over the lower ceiling of the dining area.
At the centre of the house is an open-tread timber stair, cantilevered out from a stepped timber skirting, with thin steel balusters and a thick timber handrail. The upper floor has a large landing from which a guest bedroom, bathroom and WC, and main bedroom with dressing area, lead off. The first-floor rooms also have exposed timber trusses and boarded timber ceilings.
Throughout the house there is much built-in furniture, mainly in the form of shelving, cupboards, and wall-mounted surfaces for sitting at. The furniture is executed in unpainted softwood with cupboards having flush-panel painted doors with tubular metal handles to match the internal room doors. The aesthetic is consistent throughout the house, from the bedrooms, to Greaves' office, the kitchen and the living room; it is simple, precise, and consistently good. The meticulous planning of the house extended not just to immediate practicalities, but also allowed for future needs. Greaves suffered from MS, and foreseeing a time when an upstairs main bedroom would be impractical, designed the two downstairs bedrooms, beneath the main bedroom, to allow removal of the dividing wall - thus creating a downstairs bedroom of equal size to the main bedroom above. Conversely, the main bedroom upstairs has two adjacent doors, and was designed so as to allow the easy insertion of a dividing wall to create two rooms from one.
Several on-going maintenance issues have resulted in the periodic renewal of fabric at the house, most notably the external cedar cladding, which is regularly damaged by woodpeckers. A recent flood has meant that internal cedar cladding has also had to be renewed due to water damage. The replacement of sections of cladding, and other general repairs have been executed with sympathy to the original fabric and have not impacted on the building's strong concept or aesthetic.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.