Thursday 31 October 2013

Decor Crimes

“Total modernising, but trying to keep the character of the property back to the cottage style.” “60s is Victorian, isn’t it?” “All the doors have been dipped when they moved in 10 years ago.” “This is our Victorian-inspired room”.  “Artex – it’s a bit old-school.” “Corridor rooms.” “The Wow Factor - finished to a very high standard.”
(All from makeover shows and property programmes)

“The copying on show in Milan proves that not only do most designers not read history books, they also don't read magazines they are not in.” (Kieran Long)

“Cheltenham: Staying in the most incredibly middlebrow hotel. I've seen no colour but taupe in days. This is Britain's default genius loci.” (@tomdyckhoff)

“Glade plug-ins, square plates.”

In American sitcoms, a vivid crocheted Afghan over the back of the sofa is a sign we’re in a blue-collar home.

More here.

And some from

Worst interior design fads: Artex walls, avocado bathroom, woodchip walls, removal of original features, fake laminate wood flooring, exposed brickwork on interior walls, brightly coloured Formica kitchens, lino, spiral staircases, wood panelling

Worst furniture fads: built-in bar, mock fireplaces, animal print rugs, net curtains, MDF built-in cupboards, black ash furniture, futons, reproduction "antique" furniture, teak sideboards, multi-functional furniture

(Don’t they know that teak sideboards and lino are really hip?)

If you have a terrace house, please don’t install:
granite worktops
marble bathrooms
ranch-style stone chimney
rustic white-painted door with black iron knocker, horseshoe, nail heads, letter slot
stone cladding, especially multi-coloured

(Of course, it’s your terrace house – do what you like.)

Looks to avoid:
3D plates hung on the wall
60s psychedelia (Instead of opening the doors of perception and ushering in the Age of Aquarius, it immediately became just another décor style or dress fabric.)

an island, with a tiny overhang, and bar stools for eating in the kitchen (So you can’t relax and there’s nowhere to put your knees.)

boutique hotel style
bright overhead lights
bunting made out of remnants
carpet in the bathroom (Especially pink. Especially when it goes up the side of the bath.)
carpets in pubs
converted mill with the machinery in the living room
copying your parents’ décor (your clothes and lifestyle won’t match)
corner bath
cosies for dining chairs
cottagey feel: same old bland interior, with one “rustic” detail
country house hotel style (gilt mirrors, lots of chintz)
country kitchen: science lab with rustic doors

diagonal wood cladding or wall tiles (80s)
divan beds (except they’re comfortable and can double as sofas)
Dralon (velvet-look material for sofas)
exposed stone wall – in your bathroom
exposed stone wall in an old cottage – especially not lacquered (The original inhabitants would have plastered and painted.)
extensions that create a long, narrow room and make the original rooms too dark

faux granite worktops
feature wall with very dark wallpaper
fitted carpet in churches
front and back rooms knocked through to make one long, thin room
furniture blocking a window

Georgian door with fanlight on a 60s council flat or 30s semi (architects call them “embellishments”)
gold Roman blinds

gravel everywhere: on your sitting out area, on a “membrane” with weeds poking through, as parking for 20 cars in front of your McMansion (It’s all over Prince Charles’s faux-old village of Poundbury, I hear.)

huge three-piece suite crammed into a small room
leather sofas or suites
matching curtains and wallpaper

modernist interiors in a Victorian/Edwardian/30s shell. Gutting a 30s house with small rooms, turning it all into one “space”, and filling it with lime-green sub-Eames furniture.

nested tables

new houses based on converted old houses (They’re being built with a long thin “open plan living kitchen dining area” with a window front and back modelled on two knocked-through rooms.)
ochre-toned art (if you want to sell a picture, use lots of red)

painting a decent Edwardian pub exterior in orange/cobalt, orange/jade or lilac/violet (Mid-noughties - they’ve all been repainted brown, black or grey. I wonder why.)

prominently placed family portraits
ragrolling, dados and stencils (80s)
removing all internal walls from a tiny cottage
removing all original features later than 1900
removing half-timbering from a 30s semi
reproduction antique furniture, patterned carpets and Chinese rugs in a modernist flat (pensioner style)
room with a nautical theme

shells in the bathroom (80s whimsical)
sofas and chairs jammed against the wall, miles apart
space wasted on hallways and corridors, especially in a studio
stripped-back inglenook containing a small wood-burning stove
tartan wallpaper/carpets/furniture
turning part of a room into a “kitchen area” instead of making the whole room into a kitchen you can live in
TVs in cupboards or covered with a cloth

varnishing floors, furniture and all exposed wood in pale orange
Victorian conservatory on modernist house
Victorian grate, Regency mantelpiece

Victorian lamp standards in 60s shopping malls
walls covered with clocks and decorative plates
whimsical bronze figurative garden statues (and sculptures of lions made out of chicken wire)

More decor here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Classy Quotes 14

Parents would speak softly, vaguely about influences, friendships and the social environment as children move into adolescence. (A Guardian writer explains why she and her family are staying in the city – and why so many friends left. 2013-10-26)

‘“Don’t fuss; don’t ask personal questions; don’t touch the teapot (this was reserved for the hostess); tea in first, milk after; understatement and stiff upper lip.” But there was also something unnatural in the resolutely unspoken nature of English communication, and a patronising element in the controlled superiority… an unshakeable belief – unshaken to this day, even by the loss of an empire – in their self-evident superiority.’ Refugees Hilde and her husband Peter “in all that time were never invited into a single English household there or involved in the social structure”. She had been a literary and social star as a young woman in Vienna; she ended up being frozen out in Wimbledon. She later wrote about her experiences: “The narrator is bemused by the formality of her host family. The four children, all younger than twelve, speak with the same decorous, joking expressions as the adults, with any regression into baby-speak frowned upon by their demanding parents.”(Writer Hilde Spiel on the English during WWII, quoted by Lara Feigel in The Love-charm of Bombs)

An upper-class hostess in a family where emotions were rarely discussed or prioritised and were secondary always to manners. ‘It seems so gauche,’ [wrote Mrs Graham Greene. She] pretended that any unpleasant events were not actually occurring and concealed any negative emotion behind a manner of ‘the most brilliant feyness’. (Lara Feigel, The Love-charm of Bombs)

It is sickening that vulgar, middle-class virtue should pay. (Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage)

All post-16th-century English art contains a sub-text concerning class… modern readers find it unforgiveable. (Angela Carter)

Bourgeois values: independence, perseverance, forethought, circumspection. (Angela Carter)

One important function of bourgeois fiction is to teach people how to behave in social circles to which they think they might be able to aspire. (Angela Carter)

We settled into a curious kind of deviant middle-class life, all little luxuries and no small comforts, no refrigerator, no washing-machine, no consumer durables at all, but cream with puddings and terribly expensive soap and everything went to the laundry. (Angela Carter on the 1950s)

One might also say that anyone bemoaning middle-class decline is really just complaining about a loss of privilege. (David Thomas, Daily Telegraph 14 Oct 2013)

It’s always a difficult line for MCs of either gender to tread – showing you’re fun and spontaneous without going too crazy. (Middle Class Handbook)

MCs often feel under huge pressure to be "interesting" – to talk about exotic travels, fascinating books and esoteric pursuits. (Middle-Class Handbook)

Lesley Bright came out of her O-level practical to find her teacher, Sister Claudia, who had been praying to the Holy Ghost that Lesley would put on her carrots in time. “My task had been to provide a nourishing meal for manual labourers, and I’d been praying that my Cornish Pasties with vegetables were equal to the task, as I had no idea what a manual labourer was,” recalls Lesley. (Daily Telegraph, Sept 2013)

The author describes her subjects as “ordinary people”, and ordinary here seems to mean lower middle class. (Revew of The English in Love by Claire Langhamer Obs Aug 2013)

40 years ago I overheard this at the (state) school gate:
Mummy A: I’m going private, she’s bright and I want her stretched.
Mummy B: No you don’t. You want her to get two A-levels and marry a chartered accountant!
(Writer-in to the Guardian Aug 2013)

They are so busy preserving their status that they can’t enjoy it… “The status of one’s child and your own reflects and builds on one another, it has become mutually defined,” says [anthropologist Wednesday] Martin… [Getting your kid into the right school] requires Olympian displays of school fundraising, donations, coaching and lobbying (The Times on very, very rich women, Aug 2013)

The saturation of the high street with boho meant of course, that the look couldn’t last for long. (Linda Grant, Guardian, June 13 2007)

432 people own half the land in Scotland. (Independent, August 2013 And they don't want to sell it to small farmers.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 26 October 2013

More Class in Angus Wilson


All from the short-story collection A Bit Off the Map.

"The polished yet wilting rubber plant which loomed above them had now the familiarity of the aspidistra – once, after all, also a modish exotic…

The unselfconscious dowdiness of the members of The Crowd… [not for them the] uniformity of elaborate male hair styles and female horsehair tails, of jeans and fishermen’s sweaters… But the clothes of The Crowd – the tired suits, the stained flannels and grubby corduroys; the jumpers and skirts, the pathetically dim brooches and ear-rings – were no conscious protests, only the ends of inherited and accepted taste, the necessities of penurious earnings… The Crowd were already taking off the numerous scarves and gloves which both sexes wore at all times of the year… In between was an insurmountable barrier of sports coats and duffle coats, woollen scarves and raincoats… The girls of The Crowd had naked faces and dirty hair… His eyes swept the hideous nakedness of the young women’s faces.

[These pseudo-intellectual young people of just post war have been long forgotten. They probably morphed into Beatniks. Wearing no makeup was very radical for the time. Rubber plants were a sign of modernity. The joke in this story is that these young people are not socialists but followers of Ayn Rand.]

Their protégé: “had been taken back to far grander places in his time – rooms with concealed cocktail cabinets and fitted-in bars.”

Here’s another milieu: "A small Edwardian house. The lawn was planted with standard roses. The half-timbered upper storey was a bold black and white, in the porch hung a wrought iron lantern… [It betrays the] rich Guildford business background that Sheila had tried so hard but had failed to shed…. Carola would admire the simplicity of Sheila’s table-setting, though she wondered strangely at the lack of doilies, of little mats and of colourfully arranged salads and fruit that she copied so carefully from women’s magazines. Sheila must praise Carola’s new blue dress, and wish that she could speak about the dreadful little doggy brooch."

A mother-in-law speaks: ‘There are standards – gracious living, you know – that are surely worth something. It seems terrible to throw it all away unless you’re very sure you’ve got something to put in its place.’  [I think this translates as: "We’re always in danger of sliding down the class system and if that happened it would be a disaster." Or else: "We must go on living as if we had servants even if we have to do all the work ourselves." This way of life was gradually phased out during the 50s and 60s, perhaps because it was unsustainable.]

Professional gardeners like: ‘Double begonias and calceolarias, they couldn’t have more ghastly taste.’

An embarrassing grandmother (a fashionable dressmaker made good) has: “saxe-blue spangles in the ornament that crowned her almost saxe-blue neatly waved hair”. [The middle classes never tinted their grey hair blue, mauve or pink. Saxe blue is grey-blue.] She eats a “canapé of prawns in aspic” and sits on a “striped period Regency couch”.

Her grandson Maurice drives off to visit his uncle’s deserted girlfriend, who lives in a downmarket house of multiple occupation: “a dirty mid-Victorian house with its peeling stucco and straggles of grimy Virginia creeper”. [What would it go for now?]

He is greeted by one of the lodgers: “She drew him into a little ill-lit hall and bent her long neck – yellow and grubby.” [Middle-class writers were always accusing girls of having dirty necks – but it was probably hard to keep clean when you had to share a bathroom.]

Sylvia’s room is barely furnished: “The walls were cream-distempered and dirty; someone had started to cover one of them with a cheap ‘modernistic’ wallpaper.” [Thirty years on, Cubism has been reduced to interior decoration.]

She quickly recovers: Her figure is emphasized by “her tight white sweater, and her hips seemed almost tyre-like beneath her tighter black skirt.”

A teacher who rather regrets she has become too “good” for her background adds one refined touch – beech leaves in a vase – and chews “very carefully with her front teeth”. She shudders at “the vulgarity, the terrible, clashing bright colours of the drawing-room at ‘The Laurels’”.

More here. And more nonconformists here.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Class in Angus Wilson

Hand-woven djibbah

In Such Darling Dodos, Angus Wilson writes about groups of people who are imprisoned together by money. Adult children get a small allowance. Even after the war (when most people had jobs), it’s acceptable for young women to live at home without studying or working. The idea is that they will meet a suitable young man and get married, but their parents have no spare money for the strenuous social life that would enable this. Things changed in the 60s. A bit.

The rock garden… looked so bare and pathetic in winter, but he anticipated with pleasure the masses of aubretia, crimson, lavender, blue, that would blaze there in May. (Only purple aubretia is permitted, and Upwards insist that it is “aubreta”.)

Here's the room that goes with this garden: “the Medici prints, the little silver bowls, the mauve net curtains, the shot-silk covers, the beaten copperware, the Chinese lanterns and Honesty in pewter mugs – it was all so pathetically genteel and arty.”

A spinster wears: “lucky charm bracelets and semi-precious necklaces”. Jingling or clanking jewellery was warned against by etiquette authorities.

“Dresses on Priscilla would always seem like hand-woven djibbahs.” A djibbah was what we’d call a kaftan (though the word was also used for a child’s overall). They became a uniform for progressive women like Priscilla who in the late 19th century refused on principle to wear corsets. They also became short-hand for a certain kind of woman: intellectual and fey. She might be a social reformer or a spiritualist.

Tony, an elderly conservative Catholic, visits his Oxford cousins: He entered that awful sitting-room with its Heal’s furniture, its depressingly sensible typewriter and long low bookcases… Hard little, bright-covered books full of facts, a dangerous array of so-called scientific knowledge that tried to treat man as a machine. Long, low bookcases were a marker for university lecturers. Penguin (orange) and Pelican (turquoise) paperbacks were full of the “illusory paradise of refrigerators for all”.

Priscilla has written to Tony to say that her husband is ill. Now she regrets it. The sort of wretched, hysterical outburst that one hopes so much will never happen, but which always does at these hateful, morbid times. According to her code, all expression of human emotion is hysterical or morbid.

Kitty visits her relative’s employers: “Kitty came downstairs to meet them, her fox fur and eye-veil resumed for the occasion.” The net eye-veil was part of her hat.

Margaret’s “dainty” room features: “Venetian glass swans and crocheted silk table mats”.

In another story, landlady Greta is out with her elderly boyfriend. He had told her so often that physical caresses in public were ‘just not done’… She no longer said ‘serviette’… She never went out now without gloves… but she also no longer blew into them when she took them off. She was jealous sometimes… but he told her not to be so suburbanBlowing into your tight leather gloves was a class marker: But did anybody really?

Here's poor Jacky Bast from Howard's End in the early 1900s: Her appearance was awesome. She seemed all strings and bell-pulls – ribbons, chains, bead necklaces that clinked and caught and a boa of azure feathers hung round her neck, with the ends uneven. Her throat was bare, wound with a double row of pearls, her arms were bare to the elbows, and might again be detected at the shoulder, through cheap lace. Her hat, which was flowery, resembled those punnets, covered with flannel, which we sowed with mustard and cress in our childhood, and which germinated here yes, and there no. She wore it on the back of her head. (She also "sees to" her hat by blowing on it.)

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Get the Look

“We wanted a cottagey stately home kind of feel.”
1991 Martin Parr, Signs of the Times

Sort of the Scandinavian-French-New England style.
(Bunting-loving seller on Sarah Beeny’s Selling Houses)

Natural simplicity/modern heritage/boutique townhouse (Argos ranges)

The Modern Heritage Lounge Look: To create this traditionally-inspired Heritage style, a leather sofa with an antique feel looks stunning accented with sumptuous textured cushions in deep blues and plums. Adorn walls with Darwinian inspired botanical prints in bold picture frames and opt for paint effects and patterns with the patina of age. Occasional pieces with period detail and a sense of craftsmanship complete the Heritage collection. (

Fair Client: "I want it to be nice and baronial, Queen Anne and Elizabethan, and all that; kind of quaint and Nuremburgy you know – regular Old English, with French windows opening to the lawn, and Venetian blinds, and sort of Swiss balconies, and a loggia. But I'm sure you know what I mean!" (Cartoon by George du Maurier, Punch, November 29, 1890)

We're aiming for a fairly cosy, retro-farmhouse kind of look. (blog post commenter re ripping out a 30s kitchen)

Middle-class Upwards loathed the home makeover show Changing Rooms, with its staple-gun approach to design: the opposite of the genuine shabby chic achieved by living in one house for generations. In one episode a Goth couple got – not Dracula’s castle but a pseudo-medieval bedroom with hardboard arches, fleur de lys everywhere, ochre walls and red and blue swags.

Middle-class Upwards do some historical research on the period or look they want, or think they do. Perhaps they are just as guilty of “getting the look”.

“Moroccan is all about sumptuous fabrics and glowing colours.” (TV programme Get the Look)

This translates as “gold thread”. “Inspired by” and “theme” are key. “The wallpaper picks up the geometric theme” – but it’s a pattern of seed-pod slices. You get the “French look” with “curves and gilding”. Boot sale buys are transformed with a bit of paint. Underneath it all is a small Victorian terraced house.

The Get the Look website

offers a choice of:

Shabby chic
Mid-century modern
Art Deco

Bright & bold
Hollywood glamour

Glam Rock'n' Roll
Boutique Hotel

For Hollywood Glamour, “Animal prints and glitz are mixed with muted shades and 1950s style furniture for true Hollywood style. The black sofa brings out the colours of the flamingo wallpaper and the cushions bring a glimmer of luxurious materials to the room - mohair, silk, sequins and diamante. Existing furniture is livened up with a feathered trim added to the standing lamp.”

If Argos customers can get an  off-the-peg Heritage Lounge Look (industrial, worn leather, old books), what will the Upwards do?

And I hate to say this, but it's "standard lamp".

World of Interiors, and links to more on decor.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

World of Interiors 2

Dough-craft wall plaque

The most recent house a middle-class Upward can live in is Edwardian – they haven’t reached 30s Arts and Crafts yet. Chinese millionaires love Tudoresque houses – they think it’s the most upmarket style. For Upwards, this is just another reason for loathing all things Jacobethan. Upwards hate half-timbering because it is just stuck on, not "honest" – though they don't mind classical fireplaces modelled on Greek temples.

In a BBC poll (Sept 2013), “period properties” were ranked:

Upwards, with their Edwardian terrace houses and genuine enamel colanders, like to live in the past (with central heating, broadband, digital TV and Macbooks, of course). The 20s and 30s are too recent for them. Hipster Rowena Upward is always trying to revive a moment that all her relatives will loathe. She’s buying up 80s jewellery, hoping for a boom. She's always ahead – back in the 80s she arranged broken bits of blue-and-white china on an old tin tray and hung a single chandelier luster in her window to reflect the light. When Samantha tried to copy her, it never really worked – the sherds and crystals got lost in the clutter of postcards, nicknacks, books and coffee mugs. However hard she dug, she couldn’t find enough blue-and-white fragments in the garden. She suspected Rowena of breaking plates on purpose.

An old-style millionaire built a many-gabled mansion in the 80s. “He added a 20-foot waterfall to the back of the house and installed an indoor shark tank and private burro zoo….” But ostentation is out. [Now] interiors are ripped out, to turn elegant collections of rooms into enormous voids.” (New York Times)

Upwards always call an eat-in kitchen a “kitchen/breakfast room” because they don’t want to imply that they’d eat dinner in their kitchen, even if they don’t have a separate dining room. And “diner” is American. Nor can they talk about “banquettes” or “breakfast nooks”.

The ever-wonderful Middle Class Handbook notes the way poshos mix old paperbacks, Cornishware mugs and Duralex glasses with expensive wine and looseleaf tea. “Their TVs are old and small.” This is real upper-class shabby chic. You have lived in the same house for decades (extra points if you’ve had the same holiday cottage for decades – preferably since the 20s). If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. You just add things, and the result is what “eclectic” café style is aiming at. You do the same with your clothes (and jewellery). And the holiday cottage is full of kilims and durries that have faded almost to extinction with age, also hardbacks with tattered dust jackets spotted with damp and mould.

Lower middle Jen Teale has spotless beige fitted carpets – she has them professionally steam cleaned. According to the Middle Class Handbook Brits buy 25% fewer carpets now than they did in 2006. Jen hangs a reproduction Renoir over the fireplace. Only Teales and working-class Definitelies have “wall plaques” (the Sun, the Green Man, the Virgin Mary). About 20 years ago actress Jane Asher started up a craft magazine which was damned by a reviewer just quoting the words “doughcraft wall plaque”. Doughcraft was an 80s Upward craft – they have moved on to making their own bunting.

Very posh people and the Nouveau-Richards have dining pavilions in the garden.

More here, and links to the rest.