Where to look for a mid-century property in London

I couldn’t find a guide like this online so I thought I’d compile my own based on my (so far unsuccessful) property search. Please note:

  • I’ve only listed areas that seem to have an unusually high concentration of mid-century housing stock (so I haven’t included areas which feature one big mid-century housing estate if it’s an anomaly for the area)
  • This is not a compilation of live listings of properties currently on the market – I’ve just tried to give an idea of the sorts of properties that exist in certain areas and that occasionally come onto the market for sale
  • I’ve listed areas that are a commutable distance from central London
  • This is by no means an exhaustive list and is just representative of my limited horizons – any further suggestions regarding areas I’ve missed would be very much welcome!

Dulwich

Thanks to the Dulwich Estate, there is an abundance of mid-century apartment blocks and terraced houses designed by Austin Vernon & Partners clustered in an attractive, almost wooded setting near Gipsy Hill station. Flats in the blocks, named after explorers (Drake, Raleigh, Grenville, Marlowe, Knoll, Lowood), are spacious and reasonably priced at around £425k. The houses are more expensive (around £650-750k, depending on size and design). If you’re not fussed about an architecturally significant property, there are a number of reasonably priced mid-century style housing developments and apartment blocks about (see Linley Court).

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Interior and exterior of Austin Vernon & Partners house on the Dulwich Estate

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Exterior and communal areas of Lowood Court on the Dulwich Estate

Things get more expensive towards Dulwich Village. A house in Lings Coppice, a 1960s housing development near East Dulwich station, is about £800k. Though small, the houses are very characterful with a rather special double height/void situation going on in the staircase area. Houses in the Peckarman’s Wood development nearby are possibly even more spectacular but very rarely come up for sale.

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Houses in Lings Coppice, Dulwich

The elegant Park Court in nearby Penge is also worth a look. Two bedroom flats go for between £400-425k depending on condition (prices here have remained static for a couple of years).

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Exteriors of mid-century houses in Dulwich

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Interiors of mid-century houses in Dulwich

Highgate/Archway

Highgate is resplendent with beautiful mid-century houses but these are only for people with several million to spend. A flat in one of the numerous mid-century apartment blocks are slightly more affordable – there are quite a few along Shepherds Hill. The nicest flats can be found in Highpoint, which start from around £700k but have a £15k in annual maintenance fee attached.

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Highpoint One, Highgate

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Communal area of Highpoint One, Highgate

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Interior and exterior of mid-century house in Highgate

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Exterior and interior of mid-century house in Highgate

Archway is home to Stoneleigh Terrace, a renowned designed modernist estate. I’m pretty sure that the construction of these flats means that it’s difficult to take out a mortgage to buy one but when they do come on the market, they’re around £400k for a one bedroom, £525k for a two bedroom split level maisonette and around £700k for the larger house-style properties.

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Stoneleigh Terrace, Archway

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Interior of flat in Stoneleigh Terrace, Archway

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Communal grounds in Stoneleigh Terrace, Archway

Forest Hill

I think I’ve pretty much covered everything that Forest Hill has to offer from a mid-century housing perspective in previous blog entries! There are lots of mid century terraces including some nice Norman Starrett-designed ones (prices range from around 450k for a little two bedroom house to £750k for something more substantial) and a smattering of apartment blocks around the Hyndewood area (£350-375k).

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Mid-century terraced houses in Forest Hill

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Exterior and interior of Norman Starrett house in Forest Hill

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Exterior of another Norman Starrett terraced house in Forest Hill

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Interior of Norman Starrett terraced house in Forest Hill

There’s also one of those Austin Vernon & Partners-designed apartment blocks (at £500-525k, the flats in Frobisher Court are a lot more expensive than identical flats in Gipsy Hill and I’m not entirely sure why).

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Frobisher Court, Forest Hill

Chislehurst

I don’t know much about Chislehurst, an affluent-looking residential area slightly to the south and east than the more popular Blackheath. It does, however, seem to contain a high concentration of attractive mid-century houses, including this incredible Norman Starrett estate (there’s a house currently on the market which looks like a deluxe version of the Norman Starrett houses that we’ve been to see in Forest Hill) and some handsome detached properties. There seems to be less in the way of mid century apartment blocks or estates. Prices for the houses seem to range from £850k to upwards of £1.5million.

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Norman Starrett house, Chislehurst

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Exterior and Interior of Norman Starrett house, Chislehurst

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Single-storey mid-century house, Chislehurst

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Exterior and interior of Roy Lancaster-designed mid-century house in Chislehurst

Ham, Richmond

I really like what I’ve seen of Ham and would consider moving there if the transport links improved (it’s serviced by buses only with the nearest rail links over a mile away). There’s the large Eric Lyons-designed Parkleys Span estate (around £400-425k for a two bedroom flat) and the even nicer Langham House Close just by the common (around £475k for a two bedroom flat). There are also some nice enough mid-century-style houses at around the £550-£650k mark, which seems like decent value.

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Shelley Court in the Parkleys Span estate in Ham, Richmond

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Exterior and interior of Shelley Court in Ham, Richmond

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Langham House Close in Ham, Richmond

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Communal area and interior of a flat in Langham House Close in Ham, Richmond

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Exteriors of mid-century houses in Ham, Richmond

Weybridge

An episode of Location Location Location brought Weybridge to my attention as an area with a decent amount of mid-century housing in the form of apartment blocks (including the charmingly ugly Stroudwater Park) and some great houses.

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Stroudwater Park, Weybridge

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Interior and exterior of flat in Stroudwater Park, Weybridge

Amongst the best houses are those at Templemere, a rather stunning Eric Lyons-designed housing development (much larger and bolder than the average Span estate). Prices seem quite reasonable for an area that I’ve always associated with being a very pricey commuter town (around £350-400k for a 2 bedroom flat and £600-750k for one of the more modest mid-century houses).

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Templemere estate in Weybridge

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Interior of house in Templemere Estate, Weybridge

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Span estate in Weybridge

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Exterior and interior of mid-century house in Weybridge 

Beckenham

One of the biggest revelations for me during my property search has been this unassuming south east London district next to Croydon. One of the first properties I came across was Blair Court, a rather stunning modernist housing development.

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Blair Court, Beckenham

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Examples of mid-century houses in Beckenham

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Exterior and Interior of mid-century house in Beckenham

This wasn’t the only property of this type in the area- there appears to be plenty of other developments, one-off houses and unusual apartment blocks, including the outlandishly designed Apex Close. Prices are around £500-750k for a house and around £350-400k for a two bedroom flat.

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Apex Close, Beckenham

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Mid-century housing development in Beckenham

Blackheath

Blackheath is home to possibly the most centrally located and priciest Eric Lyons-designed Span estate. The estate really is massive and contains multiple apartment blocks and houses in different styles and sizes. The most desirable Span properties are the larger T15 type houses (around £900k) and the flats in the South Row block, on the southern side of the heath overlooking the water (£550k for a two bedroom flat). Aside from Span properties, I’ve come across a number of slightly more nondescript mid-century terraced houses (around £550-650k).

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Examples of Span properties in Blackheath

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T2 Span house in Blackheath

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Interior of T2 Span house in Blackheath

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Mid-century property, Blackheath

Images sourced from property agent sites (including The Modern House), Modernist Estates, WowHaus and a Google image search 

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Raleigh Court, Crystal Palace SE19

Raleigh Court, Crystal Palace SE19
Apartment block forming part of Dulwich Wood Park estate
Architect: Austin Vernon & Partners
Year built: 1959

I wasn’t planning to do a blog entry about this flat that we went to see in Raleigh Court last month (mainly because the photos I took were rubbish and dark) but I noticed the other day that it’d been reduced in price (click here to see the original listing with much better photos!) so thought it was worth a mention.

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As I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to buy a flat on this estate on three separate occasions so I’m very familiar with the various issues associated with these flats and how good (and bad) they can look. This particular example wasn’t the best I’d seen but it wasn’t the worst either.

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Located on the second floor of Raleigh Court, it wasn’t on a high enough floor for it to have panoramic views but it was bright enough inside (even in the low early evening light) and didn’t face into one of the other blocks. It was relatively neutral decor-wise, retaining the original, open-plan layout that I’ve always liked and the original iroko floor in the main living area. The newish kitchen and bathroom were fine, if not exactly to my taste and the original 1960s hot air heating system that still features in a lot of flats on the estate had been replaced with a modern gas central heating system. The lease, sometimes a problem with flats on this estate, had been recently renewed and was of a decent length (around 120 years).

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I thought that the original asking price of £440k wasn’t too bad as I’ve seen flats of this type go for up to £475k on the estate at the height of the market. However, the stagnant property market appears to have caused prices to fall to mid-2015 levels as the seller recently reduced the price to £425k, the same price that a number of similar, slightly worse flats on the estate have gone for in recent months.

Unfortunately, my partner wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about these flats as I am so we didn’t put in an offer but I’d recommend going to see it if you like the estate, especially given the new price.

Exterior photos from The Modern House (because (i) it was getting dark when we had our viewing and (ii) it’s a really difficult building to photograph from the outside. 

 

 

The Firs bedroom – updated for 2018

Out of all of the rooms in my flat, I’ve long found the bedroom to be the least satisfactory. Something about the way I’d lined the majority of the furniture against one wall (this being the only feasible configuration) and the huge expanses of bare wall gave it a slightly unfinished feel. My solution was of course to acquire yet more design store tat, including some new String shelving, a wooden picture hanger (from the Artek store in Helsinki), a Stendig calendar and a Northern light lamp and affix it all to the walls. I was a bit concerned that this might take the room from unfinished to uncomfortably cluttered but I think it’s an improvement overall.

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London Road, Forest Hill SE23

London Road, Forest Hill SE23
1960s terraced house opposite Horniman Museum
Architect: Unknown to me
Year built: 1960s

We recommenced our property search later in the year by going to see a couple of places including this 1960s house opposite the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.

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Having passed this row of houses a couple of times, I thought they were interesting-looking with their funny boxed-in front gardens and brightly coloured panels. The location appeared to be convenient as well, being a short walk away from the station, the grounds of the Horniman museum and other local amenities. I’d seen a couple of the houses come up for sale in the past but they seemed really expensive compared to other houses in Forest Hill – I recall one in slightly dodgy condition being listed at something around £750k – so they never seemed to be a realistic option. With Brexit hitting London property prices, however, a house in the middle of the terrace came up for sale at still expensive but slightly less extortionate £700k so I thought it was worth having a look.

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The house was in vacant but acceptable condition, showing signs of a hasty post-tenant redecoration job. Upon entering through the walled and gated garden, which felt a bit like a cage, you were met with a small hallway which led into the main living area. This was a great space, both wide and deep, stretching to the back of the house and overlooking a decent garden. There was an actual mid-century fireplace on one wall (though the original exposed brick wall that I’ve seen in other examples of these houses had been plastered over) and the original parquet floor was in decent condition.

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A separate, decent sized but drably refitted kitchen led off the main living area and oddly contained a door which went out into the caged front garden (giving the front facade of the house two front doors). Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bathroom. A further flight of stairs led up to another bedroom, which was decently proportioned considering it was tucked between the eaves of the house.

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Although the house was a good size and had some really nice features, it wasn’t without its issues. It contained a hot air heating system (dry, inefficient, expensive to replace and annoyingly common in mid century properties), the convenient location meant there was quite a bit of road noise (possibly fixable with new double glazing) and a lot of the original features, such as the natural timber balustrades had been painted over with a coat of generic white gloss paint. As such, despite its potential, £700k still seemed expensive.

EDIT: I’ve just realised that this house, which is in my starred Air bnb wishlist, is in this terrace! The owners have done a great renovation job on it.

 

Hyndewood, Forest Hill SE23

Hyndewood, Forest Hill SE23
Norman Starrett-designed 1960s terraced house
Architect: Norman Starrett
Year built: 1964

I really liked this house that we saw a couple of months ago. Slightly different in design to the other Norman Starrett house in Forest Hill that we previously went to see (which I also liked), this one was part of a smaller terrace of eight two-storey houses built in the mid-1960s for the Hyndewood development company.

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While the house was very charming and characterful, it was also (with all due respect to the very nice and stylish sellers) a little rough around the edges. The facade and front garden had a slightly ramshackle feel which continued throughout the house and into the slightly overgrown back garden. However, no amount of crumbling woodwork and peeling paint could detract from wealth of original 1960s features, open layout and overall potential.

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The ground floor of the house consisted of an expansive open-plan living space, which stretched into a glass extension and the garden to the rear. There was a refitted galley kitchen at the front of the house, separated from the living area by a breakfast bar, as per the house’s original design.

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The open-tread stairs (one of my favourite midcentury features) led to a landing on the first floor and three bedrooms. There was also a large bathroom, previously a separate bathroom and toilet that had been knocked into one room. Although it had no external walls, a skylight which almost ran the length of the ceiling flooded the room with light.

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As this article from Midcentury Magazine demonstrates, these houses have the potential to look amazing and this particular house had the advantage of being in an almost original, untouched state. The price wasn’t too bad either – if I recall correctly, it was listed at around the £635k mark. However, the potential number of issues and amount of work that would have been necessary to fix it up dissuaded is from making an offer. It went under offer the next week though so someone obviously saw its potential.

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Dad in the Sixties

Remastered November 2017

When it comes to making sartorial, design or general life decisions, the question I usually ask myself is: what would my dad have done in the sixties?

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The Poolhouse at Cotswold Lodge, Rodborough GL5

The Poolhouse at Cotswold Lodge, Rodborough GL5
Mid century modern poolhouse
Architect: Unknown to me
Year built: Late 1960s

For the second year in a row, I decided I’d quite like to celebrate my birthday by staying at a mid century Airbnb property at an entirely unsuitable location for a holiday in November. This year, it was the turn of a 1960s poolhouse (with no access to the actual pool, which was covered over) in the rather remote Cotswolds village of Rodborough.

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According to the Airbnb listing, the Poolhouse was built in the late 1960s in glass, timber and Cotswold stone (reputed to have originated from Prinknash Abbey) as an add-on to the much older, rather stately-looking main house. While the exterior of the Poolhouse was basically a glorified shed (the pool itself, surrounded by cedar decking, was the star attraction), its interior was a beautifully detailed haven of mid century modern fittings, furniture and very kitschy artwork.

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The best room was a very long, open plan living space comprising a dining area, a seating area (demarcated by an unusually attractive L-shaped sofa – I usually hate them) and open plan kitchen which looked out onto (and if we’d visited in summer, would have opened out onto) the pool through a set of floor to ceiling doors which spanned the left hand wall.

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An internal hallway led through to the bathroom and master bedroom, which was fitted with the most luxurious long-haired shag pile carpet I’ve ever had the pleasure of treading on and some great built in furniture. The internal hallway also contained a staircase which led down to a further bedroom on the lower ground floor (mysteriously this was not intended to be part of the Airbnb listing and clearly hadn’t been entered for a while judging by the scent of mothballs).

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Decor-wise, the poolhouse appeared to have been sympathetically restored in the recent past to make the most of the original features, notably what appeared to be iroko woodwork, but also to install various mod-cons such as a decent modern kitchen and bathroom. In my opinion, the Poolhouse would benefit from some further modernisation: the shower was abysmal (there were around three precious minutes of dribbly hot water before it turned ice cold) and at the risk of sounding ridiculously spoiled, the TV didn’t have an HDMI cable which meant we were stuck watching terrestrial tv for the duration of our stay and the music system was only compatible with Apple products with the old charging head. So, while the Poolhouse wasn’t quite a 1960s simulation, it did feel like we’d been transported back into the recent past.

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The Poolhouse was situated in an excellent location for admiring sweeping views, trudging through muddy fields, ambling through ancient villages made out of Cotswold stone and doing other things people usually do when visiting the Cotswolds. The nearby market town of Stroud had some decent vintage shops: a mid-century themed one called Duffle was decently stocked and very reasonably priced.

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Bertoia chairs 

Having recently upgraded my dining table to a Saarinen tulip table with a marble top, I thought it was time to do the same with my dining chairs (a cheap and cheerful mismatching collection of Eames knock-offs and Habitat), which were starting to look a little shabby in comparison.

One of the things I like about the Saarinen tulip table is that almost any kind of chair goes with it, not just the Saarinen tulip chairs it was intended to be paired with. While I quite like tulip chairs, I thought that a whole set of them would be a bit too space age for my liking.  I decided instead to go for a set of white Bertoia side chairs, which I’ve always wanted despite being fully aware that they are not at all comfortable and resemble patio furniture (they’re actually used as outdoor seating in the courtyard at the V&A museum).

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Tracking down affordable Bertoia side chairs that weren’t blatant knock-offs (I discovered that there are a lot of decidedly unconvincing knock-offs of this particular chair floating about) or extortionately priced (Skandium charges £766 for one chair, unupholstered) took patience. After a couple of months of checking eBay daily, I finally managed to get hold of a slightly shabby, rusty set of four for £270. The chairs were a vintage set, possibly decades old, and weren’t branded with an official manufacturer’s logo. Comparing them against the real thing and numerous unconvincing knock-offs, however, they looked like the genuine article with all of their proportions correct and everything in the right place. In terms of condition, the chairs were a bit rusty and there were bits where the nylon white coating had come loose, exposing the metal frame underneath.

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At this point I really should have consulted an online tutorial on how to restore Bertoia chairs properly (this article, which I read long after the event, recommends specific nylon-specific products and taking the chairs to a specialist company to sandblast off the existing finish and then repaint through a powder-coat process). Instead, I thought I’d just glue any bits of nylon coating that were hanging off back onto the frame, sand down any rough patches, cover any metal hardware with masking tape and then touch up with a primer, white spray paint and a glossy top coat and hope for the best.

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Halfway through this amateurish process, however, I discovered that spraying the nylon coating with spray paint was making the surface of the chairs unpleasantly powdery to the touch (and that no amount of glossy topcoat would rectify this). Rather than stop and source an alternative product more suited for use on nylon surfaces, I chose instead to only spray the really damaged bits of the remaining chairs (as a result, only parts of these chairs are powdery to the touch than the whole thing).

To finish them off, I bought some wool-covered seat pads specifically designed for Bertoia side chairs from this German online retailer (Knoll also produces official versions of these pads but they’re ridiculously expensive), which means that the chairs are now almost comfortable – as opposed to quite painful – to sit on.

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Given the amateurish and slapdash nature of my restoration job, you can see all of the paint runs, uneven patches and bits of metal that I’ve effectively coloured in with spray paint when you look up close and when you touch two of the chairs, it feels like paint is going to rub off onto your hands. That said, I don’t think they look too bad (from a distance) and I do feel a sense of achievement that I would not have felt if I’d bought a full price set from Skandium for several thousand pounds.

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Mid-century shelving systems

Updated November 2017

When it comes to interiors, there’s nothing I like more than a good mid century-inspired wall-mounted shelving system.

I’m a bit obsessed – even though I already have that overbearing Poul Cadovius royal system and various other bits and pieces hanging up in the flat, I’m constantly on the lookout for more and have amassed a useless collection of random String brackets and shelves from sample sales over the years as a result (this will all of course go up in the mid century house that I will probably never live in).

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Not content with clogging up my own flat with this rubbish, I have taken to persuading any friend who asks me for interior decorating/furniture advice that their living room/study/bedroom/kitchen would greatly benefit from installing a wall mounted shelving system somewhere. Happily, there’s loads of choice these days – from Vitsoe to Ikea, there’s an option to suit every budget.

Here are some of my picks:

1. DK3 Royal System (from £160 for a rail to £2,200 for a workstation unit)

While I prefer the original, chunkier version of the Cado royal system, the modern slimline version reissued by dk3 is also pretty gorgeous, if eye-waveringly expensive. It comes in oak and walnut but unfortunately not rosewood.

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2. String shelving system (from £40 for a rail to £330 for a drawer unit)

Ok it’s totally ubiquitous and a bit of a Scandi cliche these days but I still think a bit of string shelving elevates any room. Having put some up in my study, I would say it looks great but it’s a little flimsy – I don’t think I would rely on the wall-mounted version to bear the weight of anything heavier than a few ornaments and paperback books.

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3. Vitsoe 606 system (prices unclear on website so I assume very expensive)

These are a tad officey-looking but I’ve seen them in various high-end homes and they always look great. If I ever decide to downsize to a studio flat in the Barbican, I would totally use a Vitsoe system to divide up the room like this guy has.

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4. La Redoute Taktik system (from £10 for the brackets to £500 for a large cupboard unit)

I have no idea what this system looks like in person but based on the photos on the website, it looks really high end and sophisticated-looking for the price. Something about it, perhaps the finish or the fact that the rails are made of metal rather than wood, gives it more of a modern than mid century appearance, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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5. Maisons du Monde Sheffield tv and shelving unit (£804)

This isn’t quite like the others as it isn’t modular/configurable and instead all comes in one piece but I do like the rails and the cabinetry going on at the bottom. It’s been styled horribly (very “show-flat-in-a-new-build-development”) in the in situ photo on the website though I’m sure it’d look alright surrounded by the right stuff.

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6. Ikea Svalnas system (from £20 for a shelf to £60 for a cabinet)

I’m actually surprised it has taken Ikea so long to bring out something like this. For the price, I think it looks amazing. I particularly like the range of accessories (desk, sliding cabinet, drawers), which are definitely String-inspired. I’m not entirely sure about the colour and grain of the wood – it’s a little orange-looking in some pictures – but I will reserve judgment until I see it in person.

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7. LaRedoute Watford system (£329 – 599 per piece)

LaRedoute has now brought out a second mid century-style shelving system alongside the TakTik system it brought out last year. The new Watford system is only made up of three constituent parts: a walnut desk with shelves, a narrow shelving unit and two large shelving units with cupboard storage. These parts can be used individually or combined in modular fashion to build a larger wall unit. It’s much less customisable than the TakTik system (which pretty much allowed you to build a system to meet your own specification) and the Ladderax-style rails don’t connect to adjoining rails or other parts of the system. At £329 – £599 per piece, it’s not cheap either. It does, however, look nice and must be much less of a faff to assemble than the TakTik system and most of the other systems in this blog entry.

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8. Made Jory system (£149 – 499)

Made’s new Jory shelving system is blatantly “inspired by” the modern version of the Cado system: everything from the use of oak and walnut, the width of the rails and those metal bits which attach units and shelves to the rails look suspiciously familiar. Everything is a little less refined and blocky than the Cado system though – more Duplo than Lego, if you will. Price-wise, it’s £149 – £499, depending on how much you buy.

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Photos courtesy of brand websites

64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2

64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2
Grade II listed modernist villa
Architect: Lubetkin & Tecton
Year built: 1934

My third and final Open House visit this year was to a stunning modernist villa all the way out in Romford, Essex. Amongst the first works of architects Lubetkin & Tecton (who went on to design iconic modernist estates such as Highpoint and Priory Green as well as the penguin enclosure in London Zoo), it won first prize in the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition held in July-August 1934, costing only £900 to build.

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64 Heath Drive, which was made out of painted reinforced concrete and had a flat roof, looked a bit incongruous on a street full of mock Tudor, pink cottages and stone water features. It was apparently designed to be one of a row of similar, low cost modernist houses that would give the impression of one long white wall but these houses were never built.

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The house had an interesting L-shaped plan with all of its principal rooms (living room, dining room, bedrooms) and huge steel framed windows cleverly positioned to face into a stunning landscaped garden with a koi carp pond while the kitchen, original maid’s room and garage were positioned to look out onto the street. Upstairs, the master bedroom opened out onto a substantial terrace which was also accessible via a steel bridge and staircase from the garden.

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Decor-wise, the current owner had clearly made a huge effort to restore the house to its former glory over the years (the living room was particularly stunning) and had made alterations that were sympathetic to the original design but admitted that the house was no museum to modernism – it was first and foremost a home that catered to the needs of his family and contained a hotpotch of styles and eras.

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According to Zoopla, the house is worth between £700-850k, which seems entirely reasonable for a house of such architectural significance.

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