Life in a Mid-Century Masterpiece

Shelley Klein reflects on growing up in an extraordinary home in the Scottish Borders commissioned by her father, the influential textile designer Bernat Klein

In 1957, the celebrated architect Peter Womersley was commissioned by Bernat Klein – an influential textile designer whose fabrics were used by the likes of Christian Dior, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent – to design a four-bedroom house in the Scottish Borders. Today, the house stands as a fine example of modernist architecture built in Britain during the mid-century period.

As recognition of its design and rare status, Klein House, which has recently been put up for sale, has a Category A listing – the highest grade of listing given by Historic Environment Scotland, and one not often awarded to post-war buildings. Here, Klein’s daughter Shelley gives personal insight into the history of the house and shares her memories growing up there. 

“I was born here in 1963 and I’ve lived in lots of places, but this house has always been home. My father, Bernat Klein, was a textile designer and commissioned the house from Peter Womersley in 1956.

“One day he was out driving with my mother and he came across Peter’s first commission, Farnley Hey, completely by accident. He was so drawn to the building that he knocked on the door and asked if the same architect could build a house for him!

“Peter became a really close family friend and moved to the Scottish Borders shortly after he completed the house in 1957. He became the legal guardian for my siblings and I and he spent a lot of time with us here.

Bernat Klein and Margaret Klein in the living room with Shelley and Gillian, c.1960

“He was a very private man but he loved parties and being one of the gang. Professionally, I don’t think he was the easiest person to get on with as he had very strong opinions about what he saw. However, my father trusted his vision completely and felt that Peter shouldn’t be interrupted in realising the design.

“Over the years my father adapted a few things but most of it is exactly as Peter designed it. All of the soft furnishings are designs that my father made for the house – the fabrics for the sofas and curtains are an extraordinary type of slub yarn with a mix of wool and mohair. They have a wonderful three-dimensional quality to them.

Klein House

“My mother Margaret loved what dad did with the house, but it was really his passion. They used to have fantastic parties here and it was always being used for fashion shows. Fashion editors would fly up to Edinburgh and come to the house to watch models walking up and down the living room – my sister and I would hide in the bedroom and try on all the wigs, it was great fun.

“As a child you’re not really aware of what a building is, it’s just a home – but I feel differently now. I came back to look after my father for a few years before he died and it’s given me time to appreciate the house for the architecture as well as all of the memories it gave us.”

This interview is an excerpt from The Modern House, read more here