Sunday, 25 June 2017

World of Interiors 10

I admired a friend's house: she had a dish full of blue and white sherds which she had collected from the beach, and chandelier crystals hanging in the windows. I tried to copy, but the results always looked lame.

A childhood friend had a bedside light in the shape of a toadstool house with figures of elves. She also had a collection of glass swans and Wade china animals displayed on a shelf. I couldn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t let me have any of these beautiful things.

It was a shock when contemporaries moved from grubby student houses to grown-up flats with fitted carpets and proper furniture, and hoovered the carpets and kept the place tidy. I was also surprised that it had been their plan all along.

In Crouch End you are judged by the neatness of your log pile.

It was one of those little mid-Victorian corner tables — I believe they call them "what-nots" — which you will find in any boarding-house, littered up with photographs and coral and "Presents from Brighton." (The Power-House, John Buchan)

A new building is opened with great fanfare. Within a week, it is plastered with hand-written signs reading “EXIT”, “NO WAY OUT”, “DRAW BOLT AND TURN HANDLE”, “USE OTHER DOOR” and “FOR SOAP, PRESS BUTTON UNDER COUNTER”. Twenty years later, the notices are still there – tattered, torn and mended with yellowing sellotape.

Bournemouth's ignoble coast cowers to the right, heralding the pine-trees that mean, for all their beauty, red houses, and the Stock Exchange, and extend to the gates of London itself. So tremendous is the City's trail! (EM Forster, Howard’s End)

New buildings must be “in keeping” – but with what? Apparently it’s “the local”: a style that sprang straight from the earth, like Georgian and Victorian buildings in London stock brick.

The bar’s done up in a style called “Sheboygan rec room”: dark carpet; wood-panelled walls; plush, aging armchairs; smallish TVs. (

Someone has labelled Theresa May’s picture (with her husband, to show that she’s normal): “blousy curtains, floral footstool, showroom sofa, patterned cushions, spotless carpet”. The beige fitted carpet is clean, because she doesn’t have children, a fact she had to explain away in early July 2016. She also has a coolie-hat lampshade and some neat, pointed exposed bricks round the fireplace, a brass-mounted fire screen and a bunch of flowers in the grate.

Upgrade your home! 
Add recessed lighting
Reface your kitchen cabinets and add new handles
Buy a rug
Paint the walls
Install crown molding (a cornice), but remember it “looks best in traditional homes and can look out of place if you have an ultra-modern minimalistic home”.

COUNTRY COTTAGESWhen Jilly Cooper wrote Class in the 70s, she noted that Upwards were struggling to afford second homes in the country. They were forced to buy “bolt-holes” so far out that they drove most of Friday evening to get there, and most of Sunday evening to get back to “town”. Poor loves! For most of us, country cottages are a thing of the past, but maybe Cooper moved in different circles.

I remember some friends at the time telling me about country cottages they had viewed – most of them were impossible due to improvements that weren’t, like woodchip wallpaper and carriage lamps outside. Easily removable, but what about the filled-in fireplaces? Another friend exposed the fireplace of his Cornish cottage: it had a massive stone lintel, and filled the room with smoke.

Tropicana Regency, Versailles Provençale (Great Interior Design Challenge)
Metallic, exotically printed fabrics scream Great Gatsby!
"My style is simple but very ornate..." (GIDC)

“Fits in with the whole country feel.” Money for Nothing on a sideboard made of a rusty feeding trough and some teak table-legs. “They have a lovely big rustic interior,” says Sarah Moores. Does “rustic” mean “living in a pigsty”, though?

“Aztec” is now applied to kilims and ikat – anything with blocks of colour with a jagged edge. I don’t know how the Aztecs would react to that, but it might involve sharp knives.

In Babbacombe’s by “Susan Scarlett” (Noel Streatfeild), mother figure Mrs Carson is always doing up rooms on a shoestring with some “gay” or “dainty” cretonne curtains and bedcovers. Cretonne is stout cotton printed with a pattern, usually flowers, and Mrs C bought the fabric in a sale. Clearly readers were meant to follow her example. But what was Streatfeild warning against? Reusing old, dark curtains?

In a 70s Archers episode, Peggy talked of redecorating in earth colours (terracotta and peach). Would Peggy really do anything so hippy? (In the 70s everything suddenly became brown, cream or terracotta because we were worried about the environment.)

IT'S DECADENT TO...Decorate your pizzeria like a shipping warehouse.

Clad your tower block in brick panels. (I’ve even seen brick panels put on the wrong way up, with the bricks vertical.)

Paper your walls in a simulated concrete design.

Antic has taken over 45 venues and turned them into “granny chic” pubs. (Guardian June 2016) Clients may not realise that the “delightfully twee establishment... is owned by an aggressively expanding business”. They combine exposed brick walls with skip and boot sale furniture. Their designer says her job is about “taking risks. You might think, is that horrible or is that lovely? I’m not sure.” (So not “taking risks” as in kayaking up the Amazon?) They turned an old job centre in Deptford into a pub and called it The Job Centre. Local people were narked, and it closed. They’ve bought a concrete pub in Elephant. The designer says: “Yes, it’s carpark chic. Maybe that’s where I should be going with it.” (The Guardian writes as if “granny chic” was new, but it has been around in East London for about ten years like a blight.)

Ultra-cool Rowena Upward is building a new house modelled on ad hoc temporary dwellings, and filling it with orange plastic stacking chairs picked up from pavements. As she says, “It's no more patronising than doing up a thatched cottage that used to be a rural slum, or my ranch-style bungalow, modelled on the cabin of a settler in the Wild West”. Samantha is still wondering if Moroccan chic has gone out.


He had... a very large flat overlooking Marble Arch, impersonal and full of antiques which he paid a friend to choose for him. 'This is one of the biggest flats in London, and I can prove that', he said. 'It has ten rooms, three bathrooms and the furnishings are worth a fortune.' (Nik Cohn on the late Irvine Sellars of Mates boutique, a feature of Carnaby St in the 60s)

In the 50s, it was terribly grand to own a house which still had a powder closet – it showed that the house dated from the 18th century when the gentry needed a small room for powdering their hair or wig. But have we stopped trying to pretend we live at Chatsworth or Versailles at last?

Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires (“brown” pieces) have become furniture non grata.

Could hipsters save the antique furniture trade? (Apollo Magazine)

While the modern style has stayed the same forever - people still have Eames chairs and Bauhaus chairs or whatever - because it's all about functionality and use and iconicism, the 'traditional' goes through huge fads almost in cycles. (

See the 30s Tudoresque vision of Merrie England, with a lot of brass and oak. It was a debased form of the late 19th century Arts and Crafts, and the fad for vast refectory tables and carved wooden chests. Late 19th century Louis IV revival (baroque, rococo) ended up as flimsy reproduction furniture and would-be Aubusson carpets: pensioner chic.

More here, and links to the rest.


  1. At our local charity-furniture-recycling place, they are not interested in any Victoriana, old pine. The only things they can use are G-Plan and 1950s/60s chairs, sideboards which shoot out the door apparently. I suppose we all hate what our parents had, but then the next generation...

  2. 80s black ash is where it's at! ;-)

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