One small step for man, one giant leap for our homes!

Here is our latest article for Vintage Lige magazine..all about how the space race in the late 50s and 60s influenced the design of our homes.

One small step for man, one giant leap for our homes!

Space exploration during the 1960s was not just about NASA officials and the competition to see who would successfully reach the moon first. It influenced everyone on the ground too, even impacting the design choice in our homes.

The Space Age began in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, followed with the first man in space in 1961. One of the defining moments in modern history happened in 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. This decade started and ended with a fascination of the unknown and a great belief in the future. Television didn’t escape the excitement either with programmes such as the Jetsons characterising life in 2062, with high tech gadgets and a space influenced home. Before this, the focus was on the past, now we were aiming to the future….far into the 21st century.

Every part of the house was affected. Lighting, ceramics, furniture, fabric, clocks and even toys took on space age shapes made from newly developed plastics.

Beam me up…

The biggest impact was on lighting. At a time when the Victorian reproduction look was booming, spaceship like shades emerged with interwoven pieces made from gently folded plastic or metal. Furniture designers of the time also got on board with Guzzini’s pull down mushroom light and Panton’s astronaut helmet inspired lamp. For budgets that couldn’t stretch to these, the choice was a simple paper moon shade.

The defining lights of this era were both rocket shaped. The lava lamp was designed in 1963 but didn’t become popular until later in the decade. The hippy generation loved its psychedelic feel, but with its torpedo shape and flowing lava inside, it is reminiscent of outer space.

The rocket lamp made from spun resin was a must have in the 1960s. Standing on 3 teak legs, the orange rocket is tall and eye catching….and lit up sends a warm glow around the room.

Furnishing your pod!

Furniture also embraced this love affair with all things space related. Many people rejected the country cottage pine trend, instead choosing new radical shapes and materials. Chairs became pod like with popular styles such as the Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair, with its winged back and metal swivel base. Even wicker joined in with the ceiling hung pod. The Arkana table captured the mood perfectly with the free flowing lines of its tulip base. With the addition of a glossed white finish it looked futuristic and sleek.

The ultimate space design was Panton’s inflatable chair, designed as early as 1960. However, it was his S chairs that literally defied gravity. This one piece of free flowing plastic took an amazing 10 years to produce with the end result being stackable, brightly coloured and still influences furniture design today.

Complementing the look

Clocks became a feature in the 1960s, desired for their style rather than just function. Metamec’s starburst clock was seen as modern with its glossy moon like face and teak spikes. Candle holders were often on 3 legs with the candle forming the rocket.

The 1960s kitchen got involved too, using the newly fashionable and durable melamine. Egg cups in flying saucer shapes brightened up the home as well as camping trips. The ultimate in space age influenced design is the Caddy-matic: a rocket shaped tea dispenser. Designed by Arthur Douglas, they were wall hung, sprung loaded and always in bright colours.

The science behind it all

While the 1960s look was rocket shaped, the 1950s was influenced by the planetary world. At the Festival of Britain, great displays of molecular structures explaining our universe were shown to millions in the newly built Dome of Discovery. The focus here was on the science behind what would be achieved in the next decade.

New designs for the home had brightly coloured ball feet, hooks for the wall resembled the science seen in the dome, magazine racks, coat stands and planters all joined in creating a modern look to complement silver metal legged chairs and kidney shaped tables. Still seen today, they are a great way to add a 1950s look to your home.

Both Lucienne Day and David Whitehead designed textiles for the festival.. New bark cloth designs emerged covered in stylised planet forms, always with Saturn’s rings, which were joined by bright swirls and spindly drawn connectors. Even the plant designs such as Day’s Calyx is reminiscent of the atomic world with rocket shaped flower heads again with the fine lines connecting each plant.

Nothing since has impacted home wares on such a scale as this, except maybe world travel. Ironically, interior design recently has been influenced by the past, replicating this space age look…the look that actually focused on the future. Modern retailers now sell almost exactly the same pieces…but the originals are still out there to be found. The way we are going our homes will actually look like the Jetson’s, in 2062!

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Fabulous Fifi

For anyone that follows our blogs, you will know we are renovating a poorly neglected 1920s house. Check out “Our Patterned Palace” for a glimpse of the array of 60s wallpaper and carpet on every (and I mean every) wall. It has been a labour of love but……

We have finished the first room!!!!!!

Our bedroom was covered in pink psychedelic wallpaper which we actually liked, but was not in a good state of repair.

This has been replaced with an amazing wallpaper called Fifi. It is from Sanderson and is part of their 1950s range. Recently they have pulled together a fantastic collection of original prints from wallpapers and textiles which are both eye-catching and fun.

Coinciding with the 60 year anniversary of the Festival of Britain, this range is nostalgic of the many fabric designers who showed their new radical ideas here at a time when this country was just coming out of rationing.

The Fifi design was an original wallpaper which was recently found in someones attic. It depicts ladies with hourglass figures and Dior’s New Look shapes which launched in 1947.

Tight bodices, nipped in tiny waists and full wide skirts. Splashed with purple and green it looks amazing with our Murano and Whitefriars glass collection.

I love white walls…perfect for showing off your vintage homewares. Teamed up with cream stained floors the room is bright and calming.

People often think white with cream is wrong, but i love it. Look at our Panton lamp against the cream of the wallpaper.

The room is quite big so we have added a 50s chair, a glass topped kidney shaped table and a cocktail cabinet.

No….we are not drinking martinis in the bedroom!  It is full of my glorious 1950s bag collection: lucite box bags, Dorset Rexs, Atlas window pane bags, Caro Nans, Enid Collins, Midas of Miamis…..I LOVE THEM!!! They are kept behind glass to protect them from sticky fingers!

All we need now is some curtains and to find frames big enough for our amazing vintage magazine covers, as mentioned in our blog “We’ve got it covered“.

Let us know what you think of Fabulous Fifi?? And maybe check out the whole Sanderson 50s range…

Flat-pack Backlash!

Here is our latest article for Vintage Life Magazine called “Flat-pack backlash”. Why not have a read……

The Flat-pack Backlash!

Today’s modern furniture comes in a flat box with an Allen key and a set of instructions. Often the end result is a flimsy, soulless cabinet which is the same as everyone else’s.  Maybe it’s time for a flat-pack backlash?

As it’s the 60th anniversary of  the Festival of Britain this May, where we showcased to the world that British design was innovative, contemporary and beautiful… lets look back and fall in love again with mid century furniture appreciating it’s history, sturdiness and sleek design.

The 40s:

In 1943, the government outlined the exact specification for furniture made during the war.  In a time when bombed houses were being rebuilt and many newly weds were setting up home, they  formed a committee of influential designers, to create the Utility Furniture Catalogue. They dictated the design, material and even which screw should be used. The designs were simple, functional alluding to the Arts and Crafts movement. Cabinets sat on plinths rather than legs, handles were wooden as metal was scarce and most were made from strong oak and dark mahogany. Even though the committee saw this as their big
chance to influence the country with “good design”, most pieces were plain, looking to the past rather than the future.

The 50s:

Enjoying a growing sense of optimism and freedom, we now demanded a change in our homes. The Utility dark wood was seen as gloomy, the design drab and with aluminium, fabric and light wood becoming readily available again it seemed that a change was needed in furniture design.

In 1951, the Festival of Britain on London’s South Bank was a real turning point.  It’s aim was to create a feeling of recovery and  inspire better design for new towns being built. 8 million visitors came to see contemporary architecture, industrial and furniture design. Room sets were created with modern furniture offset against the new fabrics and prints of the day. The wood had turned light overnight, with English elm and light oak being the favourites. Legs on all furniture were thin and splayed making them seem to float off the
floor. Chairs and tables were curved and traditional styles reworked into the new look.  Ercol was one of the key players with their simple yet elegant Windsor chair, dining tables and sideboards.

Ercol’s elm is a great range to collect now as it sits perfectly in both a modern or classic setting. The iconic butterfly chair (1958), the nest of pebble tables (1956) and the day bed are ones to look out for.

These new styles were labelled “contemporary furniture” and for the first time since before the war the chair you sat on revealed your status. It was quite expensive so in reality only middle class families bought it, with the higher classes preferring Heals and Harrods. Furniture retailers chose not to sell it as traditional styles outsold it, so it was left to the independents.

The 60s:

The 1960s saw the rise of teak furniture from well respected manufacturers such as G Plan, Nathan and McIntosh. They made functional items such as sideboards but gave them a contemporary feel with extra width (some were up to 7 foot), integrated handles and a gloss finish. Adverts sprung up, creating an aspirational world of men drinking cocktails
in the lounge, ladies putting on lipstick in the bedroom. Before this, adverts were about the room set now it was about the lifestyle. Styles were popular through the 1970s with G Plan becoming one of the first companies to sell mass produced furniture.

Teak furniture now looks great in a modern home with it’s clean lines and simplicity. With a cream wall and a stained floor, a 60s sideboard or coffee table will look as contemporary now as it did then.

However, this modern style, whether in elm or teak wasn’t to everyone’s taste. The baby boom generation, leaving the family home in the late 60s rejected this “contemporary furniture” as being outdated. They saved up for one key piece such as a Sanderson sofa with William Morris fabric or a Habitat chrome glass table.

Interestingly they now inherited their grandparents utility furniture and up-cycled it to give it a new fresh, modern look. Tables were painted in black or white gloss which sat perfectly underneath funky coloured glass, proving that the designs had passed the test of time.

What is clear is that through the mid 20th century, furniture kept reinventing itself under the name Contemporary, with each decade and generation rejecting what came before. These pieces have  become collectable and ironically the flat packers are alluding to these
styles now. Whether you up- cycle some utility or hunt down a Nathan, surely its worth the effort to create an individual look that’s not the same as your neighbours!

Ercol-lection!

Last week we picked up our latest edition to our Ercol family…a gorgoeus 1960’s elm framed day bed with it’s original cushions. It is simply beautiful with it’s elegant bentwood curved arms and it’s practical design. The back is a piece of solid elm with stunning grain to the wood. The cushions are a deep green colour with gold metal zippers. The base cushion is 1 piece with 3 smaller one at the back. It sits on 4 short stick legs that splay out an angle.

It is a 3 seater…perfect for unplanned (tall) visitors to crash out!

I love this furniture…it is lighter than our G plan teak we have in other rooms, both in colour and feel. I love the way it is based on classic 18th century designs but given a contempary twist with a 1950s styling.

The Ercol brand was established in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani. He was Italian whose family arrived in England in the late 1890s. The company was based in High Wycombe where interestingly, other 20th century furniture greats such as G plan also came from.

In 1944, Ercol were asked to make a huge commission: 100,000 low cost chairs of any design. Lucian had always loved the Windsor chair; admiring it’s simplicity and interestingly had also derived from High Wycombe centuries before. He was concerned about the size of the order for chairs with a bentwood frame so worked hard to master the craft of steam bending. He selected the unusual choice of English elm which wasn’t popular due to it’s problems when it was bent…usually warping under the heat.

The end result was shown at the 1946 “Britain Can Make It” exhibition at the V&A. This was an event to showcase the best of industrial and furniture design, set up by the Design Council.

After the war, they wanted to show the world that industry was important, that England was a design force to be reckoned with and Lucian couldn’t wait to show off his modern Windsor elm chair.

This was a success with the chair and other pieces going on sale the following year. Really, this was the first mass produced furniture….it’s clean lines were modern, the elm was light yet practical especially compared with the pre war clunky shapes and colours.

In 1951, they showcased new designs at the Festival of Britain. Further iconic pieces of furniture were introduced throughout the 1950s and 1960s such as the nest of pebble tables (1956), the butterfly chair (1958) and my lovely day bed!!

Ercol is still going strong today, run by Lucian’s grandson. Earlier this year they re-issued their signature pieces which were bought up in record time.

So, back to our day bed…it will fit perfectly in our new home alongside our dining table, 4 Quaker chairs and sideboard.

The sideboard has gorgoeus oval handles that sit within an oval hole. The drawers pull out to reveal a cutlery drawer..this is definately not flat pack!

The quality is amazing…the chairs are stamped 1960 on the base…they are 50 years old and still going strong with their original seat pads.

The table is a later model..chosen as it extends so much. It has 3 concealed leaves making the table when fully extended an amazing 3.5 metres. The grain in the wood is stunning…and I love and appreciate the fact that it is an original which clearly has influenced furniture today.

We are on the look out for the pebble tables and 2 Quaker carvers to sit at the end of the table to add to our Ercol-lection!!!

 If you love the Ercol why not join the “Friends of Ercol” Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=66216888318