Saturday, April 17, 2021

If I Were You

One of Chelsea’s most important modernist houses comes to the market

 

Built for the parliamentarian and playwright Benn Levy and his actress wife and designed by the Bauhaus school founder Walter Gropius, 66 Old Church Street is one of Chelsea’s most significant modernist houses. It’s no wonder that, even though in need of renovation, therefore, a £45 million price tag has been attached to the house by agents Beauchamp Estates.

 

66 Old Church Street, London, SW3 6EP
66 Old Church Street, London, SW3 6EP

Benn Levy (1900 – 1973) was educated at Repton and Oxford and served in uniform in both World Wars. He was the Labour Member of Parliament for Eton and Slough between 1945 and 1950 and a Zionist sympathiser but was better known as a successful playwright. An advocate against censorship in theatres, amongst his plays were This Woman Business, Topaz, Springtime for Henry, Madame Bovary and Rape of the Belt.

 

Levy married Constance Halverstadt (1910 – 2005) in 1933. Better known as Constance Cummings, this American actress appeared in many films but her most renowned role was as Ruth in the David Lean directed Blithe Spirit with Rex Harrison in 1945. On the stage she starred opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Royal National Theatre and after a pause, returned to the screen in 1986 in Dead Man’s Folly.

 

Benn Levy (1900 – 1973) and his wife Constance Cummings CBE (1910 – 2005)
Benn Levy (1900 – 1973) and his wife Constance Cummings CBE (1910 – 2005)

Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969)
Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969)

An image of the house prior to 1970s modifications
An image of the house prior to 1970s modifications

A magazine article titled "Constance Cummings and Benn Levy At Home"
A magazine article titled “Constance Cummings and Benn Levy At Home”

The couple had two children and commissioned the renowned architect Walter Gropius to build them a house in Old Church Street in 1935. The building, which formed part of a scheme with the adjoining Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff designed Cohen House (built for the publisher Denis Cohen), was the only largescale residential project Gropius (1883 – 1969) worked on after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1934.

 

66 Old Church Street was constructed using a then untried form of rendering known as Brizolite and other design features numbered glass crete, reeded glass and a type of brick also used to build the Empire State Building known as Nori bricks. Though renovated in the 1970s, it remains largely loyal to its original design.

 

The house is somewhat unassuming from the road
The house is somewhat unassuming from the road

The 48ft reception room is spacious and bright
The 48ft reception room is spacious and bright

The kitchen is dated but functional
The kitchen is dated but functional

Staircases outside and in
Staircases inside and out

The terrace is the perfect spot to relax on a summer's day
The terrace is the perfect spot to relax on a summer’s day

A view of the garden
A view of the garden

On the market for the first time in over 40 years, 66 Old Church Street is, say the agents, “wonderfully preserved as a showcase for its unique features but is now in need of modernisation”. It extends to 7,477 square foot over three floors and has 8 bedroom suites, a 46 foot long reception room and several terraces. The building stands in private mature gardens and benefits from a double garage.

 

Undoubtedly a project, 66 Old Church Street is a hidden house with a heritage. It was listed Grade II in 1970 and we hope whoever buys it respects it.

 

 

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