Fred Hobart, now 88, built the house himself with his father, and – 60 years on – its cantilevered design and forward-thinking features still attract admiring comments, especially from Scandinavian and American visitors more familiar with modern housing concepts.
Time has not stood still for Fred: his latest improvement to the house is an internal lift large enough for a wheelchair – an addition that he says will allow himself and his wife Blanche to go on living there, and enjoying every room, even if it becomes too difficult for them to climb the stairs.
In his bid to persuade a planning inspector to grant permission, he built a scale model of the house to try to win over his neighbours, and they signed a petition expressing support.
Fred, who grew up in Tufnell Park, faced a problem after he qualified as an architect and became an associate in an architectural practice.
“I was 28, I had very little money, but enough for a very small plot – and I did have my own ideas and design for a self-build, detached house that could take full advantage of a very limited site.”
Luck was on his side, and when the original purchaser failed to complete, he became the owner of a 31ft. wide plot that fronted on to Granville Road, Barnet, having once been the site of an orchard and stable for a house in Wood Street.
Fred’s design was for a ground floor with an integral garage and access at each side of the house despite the narrowness of the plot.
A cantilevered first floor was designed to provide extra space, and the two-foot overhang over the ground floor ensured there was enough space upstairs for an extra room.
“There is nothing new about a cantilevered first floor. Elizabethan houses used to overhang the pavement to gain extra space.
“Although today most people still prefer traditional houses built of brick, with pitched roofs, the 1950s and 1960s were pioneering years for modern housing,
“The 1951 Festival of Britain had encouraged a lot of free thinking, but unfortunately the planners at Barnet Urban District Council didn’t agree with my ideas.
“My application was turned down in November 1958 on the grounds it was out of keeping with the other houses.
“Even when I was granted permission by a planning inspector in March 1959, Barnet refused to approve the work under building regulations; they said the house wouldn’t stand up, and then when I started work they predicted it would only fall down if I did build it.”
Fred and his father finally started construction in September 1960 and they finished the house a year later. The total bill for building materials and the contractors they hired was £6,000.
“My father’s life-time ambition was always to build his own house, and I was already skilled at carpentry, so we were an ideal team. We used contractors for the ground work and drainage – and later for the electrics and plumbing – but we did almost everything else.”
The house is a testament to their craftsmanship. Exposed brickwork inside on the ground floor is complemented by veneered wood panelling. Upstairs there are rooms with elm and mahogany panels; downstairs there are tongue-and-groove pine panels.
Over the years he extended the house to create extra ground floor space, but his original concept of an open plan house designed to let in lots of sunlight continues to please him to this day.
Two years ago, Fred installed gas central heating having had finally to admit that his original dream of an all-electric house had become too costly to sustain.
“Back in the late 1950s there was all this talk that nuclear power was going to give us cheap electricity and I designed the house to be all-electric with a warm air system backed up by a large electric heater battery.
“The house has a three-phase electricity supply, enough for a small commercial business, and later I installed electric storage heaters, but finally two years ago I switched to gas central heating.”
Fred recognises that his house does have a Marmite effect on some people. “A few people have said they think the house is ugly. One woman said she wouldn’t like to live in that ‘dark house behind the trees’, but really it’s very light inside, with sun streaming in through the windows.
“I couldn’t visualise living anywhere else and my wife loves the house as well. We live in the whole of the house and we enjoy living here every day.
“My house is not outstanding architecturally, but it does have an interesting history and does have some architectural interest. It has retained its appearance and characteristics without change for the last sixty years which I suppose is worthy of merit.”