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In the UK modernist vanguard

Justine Sambrook

Starlock at Rye, Sussex, 1925

Starlock 1925
Starlock 1925 Credit: RIBA Collections

The county of East Sussex was at the vanguard of the introduction of international modernism to Britain. But before the likes of Saltdean Lido and the De la Warr Pavilion, a humbler, often overlooked example appeared on the edge of the Romney Marsh in Rye as early as 1929.

Starlock was commissioned by the artist and designer Marjorie Townley for her parents. Townley was heavily involved in organising the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, where she collaborated with the architect Frank Scarlett. She subsequently asked Scarlett to design the house and he drew heavily on the influence of Le Corbusier’s villas in Vaucresson. Townley herself took control of the interior decor. The pair collaborated again in 1975 to write the book 'Arts decoratifs 1925: a personal recollection of the Paris exhibition'.

Nikolaus Pevsner and Ian Nairn, in their Sussex volume of Buildings of England, described the house as ‘the first of the white, cubic buildings in Sussex and one of the first in England’ and advised: ‘Historians ought not to neglect it.’