High Cross House, Dartington

Late last year we visited friends in Devon who showed us around the Dartington estate near Totnes. Dating from medieval times, the estate includes the 14th century Dartington Hall, as well as a clutch of early 20th century modernist buildings. One of these is the Grade II* listed High Cross House, designed in 1932 by William Lescaze, and one of Britain’s most important modernist buildings.

Briefly operated by the National Trust and open to the public, it’s now closed and sadly starting to fall into disrepair – although we’ve since heard there are plans to restore and reopen it as a learning lab.

While the house was officially closed, we were able to sneak into the gardens and snoop around the outside of the building!

High Cross House was one of the first International Style buildings in Britain and was extremely controversial at the time. It was designed as a home for William Curry, the first headmaster of Dartington Hall School.

Made from interlocking rectangular blocks joined by a curved section, the house features several balconies and a roof terrace. Colour was used boldly inside and out, while all furniture and finishings were designed alongside the house itself.

This document includes detailed information about the history of the house as well as plans for the restoration.

The neglected estate was purchased by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in 1925. They set about restoring the estate buildings and setting up a host of new projects including Dartington Hall School, Dartington Tweed Mill and Dartington Glass.

Dartington quickly attracted a creative community from all over the world, including Walter Gropius, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Ben Nicholson, H. G. Wells and Aldous Huxley.

Henry Moore’s Memorial Figure, 1945–46 overlooks Dartington Hall and Gardens.

Following the construction of High Cross House, Lescaze was also asked to design several other modernist buildings across the estate, including another home, Warren House, a series of workers’ cottages, and three boarding houses.

Workers’ cottages, also by William Lescaze.

While more modest in scale, they still reflect the ideas of the modern movement.

Warren House was designed for the dancer and choreographer, Kurt Jooss.

One of the boarding houses. These are now being used as a school and business centre.