There’s a detached house in an area near Merthyr Tydfil that stands out from the crowd, inside and out, and is definitely worthy of the phrase ‘truly unique’. It’s not just the fact that it is an upside down house, has stilts, and has been described locally as a ‘spaceship’ or a ‘James Bond-style’ home, it’s also the fact that when you step inside you are literally being transported to an immaculate designer home frozen in the 1970s.
The whole of this amazing retro home is perfectly preserved as a luxury home from the era – from the mirror tiles and glass brick walls to the handmade carpet and statement pieces of furniture, everything is in its place and looking as special as the day it was built and decorated.
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This retro gem is a bespoke, luxury home built for local couple Margaret and James Grainger in 1971 by celebrated Welsh architect and designer Ifan Prys Edwards – and pretty much nothing has changed since.
At the time, the house was top of the range and was definitely ahead of its time. How many modern homes now have integrated sound systems? This James Bond house had one installed in 1971 in the ceilings of the entertaining spaces.
How many modern homes have an internal intercom system and not just a front door intercom? This spaceship house landed in 1971 with a top of the range intercom that meant Margaret could tell James from the bedroom to the kitchen that it was time for breakfast in bed.
How many modern homes are now upside down houses, with the bedrooms on the ground floor? This incredible building, described by some like something from TV’s Thunderbirds’ Tracy Island, was at the forefront of the trend in 1971, and for a very good reason; the couple loved to entertain in the home’s most special room, the ‘broken-plan’ lounge diner that includes a built-in bar.
But this incredible and special house wasn’t always appreciated, or even loved, by the couple’s grandchildren when they were young, who thought it was “a bit weird”. Granddaughter Amy Grainger and her sisters, Michelle Grainger Mead, Nikki Webb and Kate Grainger, were rather embarrassed at their grandparent’s totally unique home.
Amy says: “I always remember thinking ‘what the hell is this?’ It was like walking into a spaceship because none of the rooms were square. When I was younger I was a bit embarrassed by it because I used to think it was not like anybody else’s house, and I was a bit like ‘Oh my God this is so weird!’
“People would be saying, ‘What? That’s your nan’s house? What’s it like inside?’, and I’d be thinking oh my God, everything inside is so old! But my nan loved it, especially when people would say it looks like something out of James Bond and that it could be used as a film set.
“Researching about the house so much has given me a new-found respect for it. I never recognised it as anything special before but as an adult looking back now I’m thinking it was amazing – it includes top of the range everything. It cost about £30k when it was built in 1971.”
The house is a snapshot of the glamorous times her nan and civil engineer and businessman grandfather used to enjoy at the house, which was definitely a party pad of its time.
Amy says: “I can understand now as an adult why my nan was so proud of it then. When people made a big fuss of it I thought they were just being polite but the fact is now I’m older, it’s just nice to think of the kind of glamour, the parties, fancy cars and life that came with it for them – all centred around this house.
“They used to do a lot of grand parties and used to have a maître d and all that kind of stuff, and my nan used to do a lot of the catering for the parties and the dos. There’d be different salads made up and gateaux and cakes, all on the best china. She was a proper, original buffet queen.”
As James Grainger was an engineer Amy says her grandfather always loved gadgets, so there are quite a few features inside the house that were ahead of their time and designed into the fabric of the building way before the vast majority of people even knew these gadgets existed.
Amy says: “Where the bar is, they had a sound system behind the bar that was connected to all the speakers throughout the house and then they had intercom in every room. A lot of the stuff in the house is specifically made for the house, like the handmade Italian carpets that are still in place.”
The fact that this house is so well preserved inside is wholly down to Margaret. Amy says: “My nan was always pretty much thinking about preserving the home, she’s always been a clean freak and a neat freak – everything had its place.”
So much of the original furniture is still in place and it’s these unique retro pieces that give the home an added, special layer – it’s not just the fixtures and fittings that have survived, but much of the decor and interior design too.
Anyone with a love of retro who wants to buy and preserve this time capsule home will be pleased to know that they can buy the furniture too. Amy says: “A lot of the furniture is original to the decade and all the furniture is staying in the house and can be bought separately to the house sale.”
But the unique design of the “weird” house did not stop Amy and her sisters enjoying spending time there, and there are many special childhood memories of the property.
Amy says: “There were some rules in the house, and me and my twin sister used to get into rows because we’d be running up and down the spiral staircase, and my nan would be telling us off. But she’d also let us spin around on the kitchen chairs.”
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This is the first time in the property’s history that it has been on the market but even when it goes from the family who had it designed and built to a new owner, the memories of their time in the home will live on.
Amy says: “Memory-wise my favourite room is always the kitchen; being in the kitchen when my nan was cooking. But my favourite thing was my grandfather when he used to let us sit in the living area with him.
“He’d do us a little glass of pop in a little glass cup from the bar and my nan would be saying – ‘give them a beaker, why are you giving them the good, cut glasses?’ He was very naughty from what I can remember!”
Amy says it’s a house built specifically for entertaining, that was the brief to the architect, and the result is a home that can be sectioned off or opened up. Amy says: “You can close the wall off between the living room and the bar, and it becomes homely and comfy or you could open it up, move the sofas and it is then a big party room.
“It is a very sociable house, nan at 97 still loves entertaining people, there’s always people going back and fore. I don’t remember any time when I popped in on the off-chance when there wouldn’t be a table full of women sat around, with nan at the centre entertaining people. Queen bee I call her!”
The house has two double bedrooms and a shower room on the ground floor. Then up that special spiral staircase and into a broken-plan living space upstairs across two areas that includes the bar. On this floor there are a further two bedrooms, that beautifully intact 1970s kitchen, and arguably the funkiest retro bathroom in Wales.
Features to notice as you gawp your way around this mesmerising museum piece of 1970s interior design include smoked mirror tiles in the bathroom and the bar area, a lime green glass brick wall, wood panelling, the original front door with wrought iron detailing, and a very special telephone table in the hall.
But this is not the entire list, there is so much to see in here it makes your head spin, but it also gives you the thought to say thank you to Margaret for preserving such a masterpiece of the decade.
Her care and attention has left the house as a wonderful, high quality specimen – a house untouched by any interior soul-destroying renovation, and a time capsule that can now be enjoyed by everyone who sees it.
And when it comes to selling this special slice of real estate Amy, a 39-year-old domestic abuse support worker from Aberdare, and her three sisters are going to feel awful.
Amy says: “I’ve gone from thinking this house is embarrassing to being really defensive about it. It’s not everybody’s taste and that’s fine – it wasn’t my taste to start with – but now I so wish I could buy it myself.
“There is no other property like it, I think if somebody said to us ‘we’re going to buy it and gut it’ I think the four of us would probably be reluctant to sell, but you can’t dictate what somebody does with a property once they buy it. But it hurts my heart a bit to think that it could just be destroyed.
“I would love it to go to somebody who shows it as much love, or even half as much love, as my nan has shown it through the years, someone who is respectful of its architecture and uniqueness.
“We’d hope that they’d respect the beauty and originality of it, that they leave it untouched and respect the special soul of this special house.”
The house is for sale for £550,000 with agency The Modern House, call them on 020 3795 5920 to find out more. And to make sure you don’t miss any dream homes in the future, join the Amazing Welsh Homes newsletter.