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Philip Jebb was one of the leading private-client architects working in Britain during the second half of the 20th century.
Jebb practised from 1953 to 1994, at first as a freelance in London, in New York, and San Francisco in 1955-56, then in 1956-58 in an office shared with his brother-in-law Francis Pollen. From 1958 he ran his own firm, through eras of austerity (the 1950s), high taxation (the 1960s) and a depressed building industry (the late 1970s) before a final boom in country-house work (the 1980s and 1990s).
Jebb’s versatility in an age of increasing specialisation, the celebrity of some of his clients, and his reputation in painstaking historic buildings work have perhaps diverted attention from his success in executing new buildings (in both contemporary and classical idioms) during what was a fruitful and fulfilling career. Some accounts of Jebb’s work have dwelt on the frustrations he suffered in turning a client’s proposal into a building – that he “stood out of the mainstream” during architecturally “darker” decades. And yet his experiences in having work built seem typical of the 20th-century architect, from giants such as Sir Edwin Lutyens, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier down.
An apposite comparison was suggested by a note sent to Jebb in 1993 by his friend and client Sir John Smith. It was found at Coutts Bank and is in the hand of the architect CFA Voysey:
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Total number of clients in 40 years up to end of 1921 – 224, of which 53 have employed me more than once. Have built 117 houses in the same period, in addition to many other works. Total amount of fees for same period – £31,172-13-10.
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Jebb answered by return:
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Thank you for riveting Voysey statistics which caused me to waste a lot of time calculating from my “Job book”... that in the 35 years to 1993 I have had (approx) 180 clients of which 57 have employed me more than once. In the same period some 440 jobs were given a number (i.e. had a file started) of which (approx) 224 led to building work and 217 did not. Interesting

Jebb felt the influence of his immediate great predecessors, including Lutyens, Wright and Le Corbusier, as much as that of his favourite classical architects, William Kent, John Soane and Nicholas Hawksmoor. In the late Fifties he admitted to the casino-owner John Aspinall – for whom he was working on restoring two first-rate Palladian buildings, Howletts, in Kent, and 44 Berkeley Square, in Mayfair – that he still longed to design a substantial modernist building. His most satisfactory built project in that respect was the Castlerosse Motel, at Killarney, Co Kerry (1960), his most openly Wrightian work. Arne Jacobsen, then at the height of his réclame, paid Jebb an compliment exquisite in its brevity – “Thank you for your nice hotel” – written on the reverse of a business card.
Yet Jebb was no avant-gardiste, nor a polemicist in his own cause. He saw no good in promoting his own work through advertising or giving interviews to magazine journalists, advising younger associates and collaborators, such as the interior designer David Mlinaric, to follow the same course. At the same time, he was happy to help those researching studies of those he worked with, including biographers of the decorator John Fowler, the garden designer Lanning Roper, and his lifelong friend and brother-in-law Francis Pollen. He cared for the history of his profession, admired in particular the work of the historians John Harris and Howard Colvin  and had developed a synopsis in the early Fifties, while completing his diploma at the Architectural Association, for a biography of Hawksmoor.
Jebb’s reluctance to encourage writing on himself or his buildings, meant that critical reception of his work really starts with the publication of obituaries in the British national newspapers after his death in 1995.
The first extended newspaper article on one of Jebb’s new buildings was published in 2001, the first full-scale magazine profile of Jebb and his work in 2004, and the first Country Life feature on one of his new houses in 2005.
To Francis Pollen’s biographer Alan Powers, Jebb and Francis Pollen (though very different as architects) formed part of an alternative narrative of British architecture in the postwar years; one little celebrated in the architectural press during their lifetimes. To Powers’s contemporary John Martin Robinson, author of Jebb’s unsigned obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Jebb was the most distinguished traditional architect practising in postwar Britain and his work at 44 Berkeley Square (1961-63) and Curzon House, the best Georgian restorations in Mayfair. Stephen Gardiner, the architect and journalist and author of Jebb’s unsigned obituary in The Times, particularly admired Jebb’s ability to marry the demands of property development and classical propriety in a new building at 12/14 Cheyne Walk, London, in the early 1970s, without suppressing his own authorial verve or resorting to architectural pastiche. “For sheer architectural expertise…” Gardiner writes, the building “is excellently achieved”:

This is an 18th-century row of considerable quality. Perfection of detail and proportion was essential to produce a work in harmony with the rest. But the development was for a block of flats, not a house, which made the aesthetic problems far harder to resolve. Yet Jebb managed to do so, and in such a way that his facade shows up the horribly inept Victorian addition to Rossetti’s house, a near neighbour, and other ugly alterations from the period elsewhere. Jebb, by picking up salient elements of the best in the terrace… pulled off a singular feat in this work of the 1970s: few passers-by would realise it was not built two hundred years ago.
 
Among the succeeding generation of architectural historians, Christopher Woodward, Jeremy Musson, Mary Miers and the late Giles Worsley (author of a full-page profile of Jebb’s neo-Georgian house at Oakingham, “A modern classic?” Daily Telegraph, 13 October 2001) have carried the flame for Jebb’s work.
In Jebb’s lifetime, the private-client architect was a rare creature. What gave Jebb extra rarity was his willingness to take on large amounts of commercial work – night clubs, casinos, hotels, property development in London and in Spain. He produced much of his best work to a tight business brief, where space was limited and time short, all without losing sight of the need for a humanising fancy in the final building. He worked best for clients whose sense of proprietorial freedom and visual flair meant they might well have done the work themselves.
Perhaps his finest work – El Cuartón (1966-70), a new village near Tarifa overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar – is one where his personal stamp as an architect is most apparent. It was conceived as a set of holiday apartments on multiple levels running up the side of a cork-tree lined hill, commissioned by Hugh Millais, actor, writer, restaurateur and man of many talents. It was described as Annabel’s-by-the-Sea, as its intended customers were to come from the same tranche of London café society who danced at Annabel’s night club, which Jebb had created for Mark Birley 10 years previously. The brief was for a new 18th-century Spanish village. Jebb’s attention to detail meant the brief was met elegantly and without collapsing into pastiche. At the same time, the positioning of the “blocks” of apartments – in relation to each other and to the steeply sloping site – is a triumph of witty three-dimensional planning. And the main façade of the village, approached from below, has an almost Cubist quality (expressing one plane and many at the same time), quite unlike anything else in Jebb’s work. The villas around the village show Jebb at his most playful and elegant.
El Cuartón was admired by François Spoerry, architect of the celebrated, and exactly contemporaneous canal town of Port Grimaud, St Tropez. More than 30 years after its completion, when Cuartón had developed into a local village, it stood out for architectural historians, including Giles Worsley, as a first-rate example of 1960s Mediterranean resort architecture.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Jebb continued to produce a high volume of historic buildings work for the Landmark Trust, notably on Lundy, in the Bristol Channel. It was also the period when he executed two big restoration projects –Badminton House, Gloucestershire, for the Duke of Beaufort, and Curzon House as a new casino for John Aspinall – and designed his four largest built houses: Las Irlandesas, a town palace in the centre of Madrid for the March family; Montebello, a magnificently sited villa at Totteridge Common, north London, for the record producer Micky Most, with a giant order Colonial entrance front; La Cañada, Guatemala City, a clifftop urban villa for Similiano Garcia; and Oakingham House, near Henley-on-Thames.
One of his last complete works – the restoration and enlargement of Poston Court, Herefordshire, a hilltop rotunda by Sir William Chambers – called on all his strengths as an architect: familiarity with the classical language, sympathy for an historic building and ingenuity at planning in confined spaces. To Marcus Binney, writing in the Times, the revitalised house was “immaculate baby grand, the suavest conceivable expression of the new taste for grandeur in miniature”. When Country Life featured the house in 2005, they described it in a cover line as “Modern masterpiece: Philip Jebb’s last country house”.
Towards the end of his life, Jebb arranged with English Heritage for a large number of his drawings to be passed to the National Monuments Record, at Swindon.
Castlerosse Motel, Killarney, 1960. Building was completed four months after the first drawing was made
La Cañada, Guatemala City, 1987
Jebb, 1972, at Lambay, Co Dublin, where family summers were spent with his  parents-in-law, the artists Arthur and Daphne Pollen
The William Kent staircase, Clermont Club, 44 Berkeley Square, restored by Jebb and John Fowler, 1961-62, and Jebb’s club dining room, 1963
Photographs: Colefax & Fowler Ltd
philip Jebb 1927-95
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El Cuartón, Tarifa, Spain, a village of holiday flats, 1966-70