I’ve been leafing through some more up to date house and home magazines lately. The thought has occured to me that it’s some time since I furnished this house – in fact it hasn’t been done downstairs for the twenty years since moving in. about time to see what’s about in the current range of furnishing ideas thinks I. . . . Whilst perusing said magazines, an overwhelming feeling of de ja vu came upon me in that many of the schemes and colourways have a very distinct look back to the 1970s and 1980s. I was amazed however to see in the most popular ‘home makeover’ mag, that one enterprising young HR director has ripped out quite a smart oak and cream kitchen and dining area that had double doors through to a lounge of similar colourway . . . and replaced it with a green, orange and white geometric patterned combo. Once I’d overcome my surprise, I realised it was very space saving, looked easy to keep clean and was ultimately very cheerful and could easily absorb the mess a child and dog can create without any difficulty at all!
If you’re thinking of buying new furniture, it makes great sense to steer away from the plasstics and manmade products that won’t last and will have to be disposed of in the not too distant future. As we all know, oak and other woods have provided us with furniture ever since man evolved from floor squatting in caves. We are all familiar with pictures from the heritage houses, great tables and testles – sideboards and dressers in massive pieces of oak and ash, or elm. But for those who desire less builk, less age and something a tad lighter, there are some really fabulous modern pieces available today. Modern oak furniture has a lightness of colour and feel yet will be substantial and serve the family well for many generations. There are complete dining sets with neat easy to manage chairs; for those who like the more industrial look, this is in abundance – oak topped tables with metal ‘hairpin’ style legs and supports. A fresh and inspiring selection within the modern budget too.
We do need to have the most comfortable sofas to be able to really relax as a family. When you see the adverts, there is the nuclear family, mum, dad, boy and girl. They are happily placed on the sofa, all watching tv together and having a jolly time. Life is rarely like that so getting the right furniture for the sitting room can mean arduous searches for inspiration and ideas. Some people really hanker after the low slung all hard leather chesterfield sofa – I know they look fantastic, very classy and with care, will outlive the owners a couple of times over. However, for me they are just too low and don’t offer any support around the lumber region. I prefer to go for a more structured back where I know I can put a hefty cushion to lean against. I also need to have the matching pouffe that is placed to the side of my knees so I can swing my tired legs up and across. Essential for me to get my ankles off the ground when they start to swell. My absolute favourite piece of furniture in my house though is the beautiful solid oak sideboard. It is very modern with a door each side and between these sit 4 very plain drawers with no knobs, handles or anything, you simply pull them open from the bottom or the drawer facing. This item has been mine since January 2015 and I have cherished it each and every time I go into the dining room.
One of the joys of living in or near a very old village is the chance to get to know people who have owned property there as a family for many years. These families, especially if the local farmers for example, will usually have an impressive home that has been lovingly nurtured and car for. There will be the rather odd additions that someone carried out donkeys years ago and rather oddly mismatched windows and doors. I recall being given a tour of the oldest farmhouse in a neighbouring village. The current family had owned it for 3 hundred years and the furniture was all from that period. All except one or two pieces that had not got a hope of ever blending in with the older stuff and no attempt had been made to do so. The newer pieces were a light wooden bureau in the sitting room – it was a lovely pale blond shade that really caught my eye and it opened up to reveal the home computer equipment with cables all hidden nicely down conduits. Another piece was a recliner armchair in almost all the reception rooms. These have a distinct advantage over the chesterfield sofas dotted around every available space – maybe traditional but offers not a scrap of comfort for old bones.
I’ve just come back from a wonderful Christmas house party with friends and relatives out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a really fantastic thing to be invited to join a household where anything goes – no standing on ceremony or over the top smartness. Having said that, Christmas jumpers are almost a requirement now but no one is cast out for failing to observe this quaint little joke. We all pile into the sitting room where we spill over on to the superbly comfortable selection of four seater sofas and matching armchairs there are oak side tables to match the very neat tv cabinet and coffee tables. Although the furniture is very new in terms of only being two years old, it is all timeless in design and reflects this wonderful ambience in the whole house. The same can be said of the upstairs guest suites too – the solid oak furniture is painted palest grey which is picked out in the carpet and curtains. Lusciously warm brushed cotton bedding is covered with a furry throw which adds to the feeling of luxury already permeating. It is all modern but it has the feel of a luxurious country house hotel that could have been there for ever.
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!