Oh how I well remember one episode of furniture fad madness from my slightly younger days. As a family we lived in a small village near London, in a newly built cul-de-sac at the top of an old established lane of gorgeous Art Deco style houses all filled with traditional oak, walnut, mahogony and ash furniture. They were mostly aspiring young families in our road – on the way up to greater things. At the time however, they would have been the original scandi ultra modern and practical furnishing folk. We did not have this fantastic store then, the nearest thing was probably Habitat. Our neighbours were a young couple with toddlers – they were always strapped for cash and never had enough money to last the week. This did not stop the wife from wanting all the most modern designs in her home. They bought black a faux leather pvc set – it was low, completely flat with little in the way of cushioning for seating. The chairs were just the same – square blocks on metal feet. Very modern and looked just like a magazine but so uncomfortable that they had to change them within a year. Ahh, where was ikea when we needed it!
It’s a couple of years now since I last visited the most modern furnishing outlet that I’m familiar with. There are many now out of town establishments but I can’t think of any other beyond the famous scandinavian one that can match it for modern bright thinking outside the box. Being able to walk around the massive complex is organised and in fact it is difficult to get anywhere without following the well designed routes. There are play areas for parents to leave their offspring, so that they can concentrate on finding and buying the perfect ensemble for their needs. There’s also a cafe for the poor flagging shopper. I always love seeing really modern style furniture and room settings – although I admit some of the ideas on their tv advertisements are baffling and leave me wondering exactly what the point was! However, the furniture, although not that lovely solid oak or ash that we think of at home, it is sustainable and everything they put in their catalogue and warehouse is very carefully sourced to provide the best for the supply chain.
I was watching a very well known repair programme on tv – it’s becoming cult viewing for many families. The format is very simple. A reasonably well known character from the antiques genre is the ‘manager’ of a very large thatched barn out in the sticks somewhere. He invites members of he public to contact him and his team about having their favourite old heirlooms repaired and refurbished. This is a fantastic concept because it is show-casing some of the most amazing talent we have in the country – there’s the chap who is fantastic with mending clocks and watches, anything in that line. the more complicated the better. Then there’s the lady who is an absolute whizz with leather – be that saddles, riding crops, boots, leather chairs and in fact, anything at all made of leather, she can strip back and lovingly bring to perfection. Another regular expert is an art and picture restorer – this woman exhibits the most incredible eye for detail and as with all the experts featured, she explains what she feels is wrong with the article and what she plans to do to restore and bring back to life. Obviously there is a lot of staging of the work but it has spawned a whole new generation of folk who want to learn how to make do and mend stuff instead of constantly replacing with new.
I was staying over with my chum in Cyprus a few weeks ago and we had a blissful couple of hours wandering around the brand new shopping mall. It is indeed a wonder – lots of shiny glass and chrome. Huge stores with a few bits of stock, one or two bored looking store assistants and very few customers. We enjoyed a flit through the expensive end of the clothing stores and then on to the even more expensive Italian furniture stores – they still go in for these massive sets of furniture. When Cypriots have ‘made it’ in business life, be it as owner of a company, or as the local muktah, there is much rejoicing and greasing of palms. It also allows Madame to select new furniture. The designs are like something out of a 1940s Hollywood blockbuster. Huge settees with rolling backs and arms – matching side chairs. The accompanying furniture is just as big – huge dressing tables, sideboards etc. usually in rosewood colour, or ornate mirror finish, like the Palace of Versailles. It was a relief to get back to our base with light scandinavian simplicity – easy to move about and clean!
I can well remmeber one of the first visits I was able to make to a national trust property. It was many years ago and I’d wanted to go to this tudor manor house for years, having seen a romantic picture and script in a magazine – ift offered viewings of the oldest tudor property on the island with contemporary oak furniture and effects . As it turned out the young family owning it had been pretty inventive with their advertising and in fact the place, although truly old and probably genuine tudor age, was not quite ready for visitors and we turned up unannounced. There was some embarrassment as the host tidied things up and tried to cover the fact they’d forgotten they’d advertised they’d be open. We did enjoy seeing the age appropriate furniture and were struck by the tiny beds – even the master bedroom – it was quite high off the ground; but was only about 5ft in length and not very wide. Of course, folk were very much smaller in those days and it was almost like walking around an untidy dolls house. It stopped me hankering for a very old house with furniture for myself and I rejoice in owning very comfortable and practical modern style furniture!
I was once the proud owner of a victorian mid terrace – built in the late 1880s. It felt old then and very cold all the time, even in the warmth of summer. The shared roof spaces – with just minimal half walls separate each did allow warmth from our immediate neighbours but also the nightmare of a shared problem when one of the chimneys caught fire and serious smoke damage and structural weakness was caused to our property too. Getting the fire services up to roof level was challenging as we had a very narrow back with the kitchen and coal shed tacked on in a line down the garden – leaving hardly room for ladders to reach the upper storey or gutters. The fire service ended up blocking the entire road getting their turntable ladders up to the main fire source, and they then went through systematically checking the adjoinging shared roof spaces and houses attached. The follow up renovations were carried out by professionals paid for by home insurance.
I have friends who own several properties – a house in the local village, in fact one of the minor manor houses of it’s day is their main residence. Then they have a very modern no frills pad in the docklands area of east London – it was bought with a permanent move to the City in mind and was a snip at the time. Very good choice too, the value has quadrupled in ten years. Finally they enjoy trips to the south of france to their old farmhouse – another snip of a property, bought from an ex pat who was rapidly going bankrupt, and they helped his liquidity.
Having lots of places to stay is exciting and a great advantage sometimes. It is also a job to keep everything updated and if they didn’t use a property maintenance contractor for the two oldest properties, these could cause serious worries. Always worth the fee for peace of mind and keeping values up.
Years ago my family went on mass to the Isle of Wight for long carefree camping holidays. The weather forecast were fantastic, hot and dry all the way. We had a caravan and a motley collection of tents, no electric hook ups, no tv, no washing machines . . . . . We always had a great time on these simple sites. One of our favourite pilgrimages was to a seriously old manor house in the middle of the island – nowhere near anything else. It advertised itself as the oldest inhabited property and it certainly felt it. The decor and furnishings were wonderfully authentic and it made us all want to have old cottages from the same age!
Although none of us have achieved that since, in fact we’re all ultra modern, but it has made us all appreciate the homes we do have. Giving more attention to the upkeep for example. They won’t last anywhere near as long, but they’ll see us out!
If you buy a very modern home, it is almost obligatory to fill it with scandinavian rubber wood, cheap and wonderfully long lasting furniture. The 1970s brought us Habitat, the store that had the most up to date, uber trendy furniture. Everything was very streamlined and expensive, compared to the swedish mega outlets that furnish our starter homes for a fraction today.
This made my mind wander back to when my husband and I first set up a home together after years of sharing furnished flats. That was an experience – one I would not wish to repeat, but also, not to ever overlook. The mix of ghasly stained, lumpy, ugly furniture we put up with! Battered looking chairs, tables with mended legs, wardrobe doors with missing handles and a collection of tiny little holes all over the back panels. It made me appreciate fully how lucky I am to have nice looking, good quality furniture today. Ive earned it!
We all need to look at our houses and homes at some time in our busy lives. Once upon a time, say just after the early 1920s, we would have been happy with the small scullery kitchen, the tiny draining board that also had to act as a worktop. Then there was the lack of kitchen cabinets – no wall mounted cupboards for the china and other crockery. Usually there was one large walk-in cupboard that acted as a larder and pan store. There was no room for a washing machine, tumble drier or dishwasher of course – they hadn’t been invented then!
It seems unbelievable to us today that families got by like that. We demand so much more of houses now and our interior designers have a lot to answer to when a reworking or remodelling is needed to give more working space, or that larger lounge and dining area.