Designed by modernist British architect Peter Womersley, Farnley Hey is a mid-century architectural jewel nestled in the hills of rural Huddersfield. A groundbreaking design upon its creation, even today it is considered somewhat of a rulebreaker – affectionately known within the local area as the ‘Marmite House’ as a result of its ability to divide opinion.
However, meticulously maintained, the building remains as impressive now as it did upon its completion in 1954. Described by English Heritage as typifying ‘the best of the 1950s in its lightness, sense of the picturesque and optimistic stance’, Farnley Hey is truly an icon of mid-century design.
So, when BCFA member Camira were looking for the ideal location to photograph Zap and Armadillo, the newly reimagined mid-century textiles of Jens Risom, Camira knew they had to get in touch with its owners – Christian Harvey and Vicky Davies.
Commercial Interior Designers at Leeds-based Fusion by Design, the couple had worked with Camira on a number of their projects and, luckily, were more than happy to lend them their home for an afternoon. Whilst there, they learned more about this incredible building – and what it’s like being the custodian of such a prestigious house.
Firstly, thank you for letting us borrow your home! Were you excited for Farnley Hey to be featured as part of the Camira | Jens Risom photoshoot?
Yes, it was a joy. We know Camira as a stand out British textile manufacturer that embodies the spirit of modern design. The added fact that you’re based so close to the house meant the collaboration made total sense. When we discovered the shoot would be for brand new fabrics reproduced from the era that Farnley Hey was designed and built, it got even more interesting.
What was it that drew you to Farnley Hey? Can you tell us a little about the history of the house?
Whilst we were casually looking at properties we noticed a uniquely modern house for sale, for the first time in over 50 years. It looked like it could have been anywhere in the world. But it wasn’t, it was near Huddersfield, it was very well known, and it was called Farnley Hey.
We had to see it, and on viewing we felt even more drawn to the house and its setting. The house was designed by the increasingly-reputed modernist architect Peter Womersley, the first of three for his brother. It is one of Britain’s early examples of post-war modernist architecture which was more common on the continent and the USA at the time. This era and, in particular, British modernist design and architecture are close to both our hearts, so the chance to live somewhere like this was very special.
There’s an incredible mid-century modern style running throughout the home, from the furniture to the art, what is it you like about this design period?
It really comes down to the stance of a building and its connection to the setting. The proportions, the choice of materials used and how these make living in and around the place easy and enjoyable. We believe this is the foundation of all true modernist architecture and design. We are still happily growing into the house, adding small additions along the way which suit our way of life and, naturally, the building.
You inherited much of the furniture from the previous owners, how have you complemented these with additional items? Do you have any particular favourite pieces?
Most of the acquired furniture is of Scandinavian origin. We have made way for some items we brought with us and some which we have bought since moving in. All of these decisions have developed through living here over the last five years. Our favourite item is the original Robin Day Form unit which has been a perfect addition to the lower sitting room.
With Farnley Hey being a prestigious part of the UK modernist era, is it a little daunting owning such a key piece of design history?
We know we have a responsibility to preserve Farnley Hey but it’s not a daunting task. Everything we undertake has to be right, it needs to suit us but also the integrity of the building for years to come. Because we believe in the design and what it stands for, this is just part of being here. Above all, this is our home and Farnley Hey is a house to be lived in just like any other, but there is no escaping its charm and it’s a fantastic place to live!
Finally, what is your favourite space or feature of the house?
Its setting and the relationship with the outside due to the amount of vision and natural light. Freedom of movement throughout the spaces, which are subtly defined rooms at different levels, within what is essentially one large space.
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