A Modernist house in Cornwall, Norman Foster and a Citroen DS
Our rather wonderful Citroen DS Familiale is featured in the latest issue of The Road Rat Magazine photographed outside Creek Vean House in Cornwall. It is no coincidence that legendary architect and car lover Norman Foster guest edited this issue but what connects him to this modernist house in the small sleepy and beautiful Pill Creek in Feock?
My wife and I are fortunate enough to spend much time on the South Cornish coast in the small but perfectly formed village of Feock. Last summer I purchased a Porsche from a new client who is well steeped in the world of modern architecture and shares my passion for Cornwall. Mere mention of Feock brought forth a rather unexpected level of excitement followed by “you must know of Creek Vean House”, which of course I had never heard of…
It turns out that Creek Vean was the first property designed by Norman Foster and Richard Rogers together with their partners fresh from their architectural degree at Yale University, the world leading centre of modernism in the early 1960’s.
They returned to the rather more austere and bland UK in 1963 with unbridled enthusiasm and ambition, setting up Team 4, consisting of Norman Foster and his soon to be wife Wendy Cheesman along with Richard and Su Foster.
Their first commission came from Su Rogers father, Marcus Brummell, art collector and successful media man who owned a beautiful piece of land on a creek in Feock and wanted to build a stand out retirement home where he could display his notable art collection.
Following this revelation I took much more of an interest in Creek Vean, cycling past at every opportunity. It is a truly astonishing design of two flat roofed elevations, one two storey, the other single storey in uncompromising concrete with amazing views of the Fal estuary through a huge expanse of frameless glass. Still an arresting sight 55 years after completion and rightly described by The Modern House Journal recently as ‘setting the agenda for late 20th century modernism’. On each visit you notice a new exquisite detail and for the remainder of my bike ride I would consider what cars should be on the drive.
Earlier this year I got a phone call from an excited Michael Harvey, the editor of Road Rat confirming that Norman Foster would be guest editing a forthcoming issue. Turned out this wasn’t just another celebrity editor tag, Lord Foster really would be properly and passionately involved and wanted quality. I thought Hairpin had better up their game for their inside back cover residency and my thoughts soon turned to the link with Creek Vean ending the magazine with how it all started, I guess.
Some weeks ago whilst passing I spotted someone on the roof and engaged them in conversation, it turned out to be architect Dick Dickinson who with his wife Gill have spent the past twenty years restoring and preserving the house having bought it from the original commissioning owners. It turns out he was on the roof charging a light bulb as ensuring the purity of the glass corridors led to them being lit by roof mounted external light fittings! They very kindly invited me in, over the bridge from the road and I can assure you that the visually arresting and clever design continues inside with incredible correct period detail and a display of iconic period furniture and fittings.
My idea of featuring Creek Vean in Road Rat with a suitable car in the drive was well received by the Dickinsons so it was now a case of what car. Having spent some time dwelling on this I had come around to the Citroen DS, similarly a shape shifting design and a likely choice of a progressive and affluent but never flashy man of the mid/ late 1960’s Dick Dickinson had the same thoughts and fortunately I had a lovely example in my garage.
The DS was duly transported from the Cotswolds to Cornwall and the multi-talented enthusiastic Road Rat Art Director Sam Walton arrived in a fortunately sunny Feock for lunch and a photo shoot. Things went well and “the shot” was achieved early on that afternoon. The results were well received at Road Rat HQ and most importantly I was complimented by the great man himself whom I had the honour of meeting at a recent launch party for the issue. Our DS was also in attendance starring at the Foster & Partners HQ in Battersea.
A really enjoyable little project that brought together the car and its place in history, design, culture and art, things I am most passionate about. This cross collaboration of disciplines and attendant nostalgia much in evidence at the 2022 Exhibition Motion, Autos, Art, Architecture curated by Norman Foster at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao deserves more attention me thinks.