Category: Personal

Mid-century dining table

After ten years of daily use, the faux-tulip Docksta table in my living room was starting to resemble a slightly grubby and scuffed piece of garden furniture (Ikea furniture isn’t generally built to last) so I thought it was time to invest in a replacement.

I’d long admired and lusted over that Hans Olsen dining set with the triangular-shaped chairs that slot neatly under the table, especially after having seen a beautiful white topped version in a flat in Stoneleigh Terrace on an Open House tour. However, I recall sitting on one of the chairs at a furniture fair and finding it really uncomfortable, especially across the back. I also thought that the combination of wooden Royal system and wooden dining set in my living room might be a bit much.

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The other option was to upgrade my faux-tulip table to the genuine article in Arabescato marble, another design item that I’ve been lusting after for a long time, which would allow me to keep my hotch potch of dining chairs.

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It so happened that a really nice example of both a white-topped Hans Olsen dining set and a genuine Knoll marble-topped tulip table in exactly the right size appeared on eBay at the same time.

After a bit of pondering, I decided to maintain my current living room aesthetic and went for the tulip table, which as luck would have it, ended up being a bit of a bargain. As you can see, it looks almost exactly the same as the old one, just a bit nicer.

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At the time of writing, the Hans Olsen set is still available to buy on eBay.

Photos of Hans Olsen table above courtesy of retroliving.co.uk

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Mid-century shelving systems

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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Photos courtesy of brand websites

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, Barbican art gallery

I love a good exhibition at the Barbican. The brutalist gallery space with its unusual yet logical layout has played host to a run of excellent, sometimes outlandish shows over the years – the sex one and the Viktor and Rolf one with all of the creepy dollies spring to mind as being particularly memorable.

The current exhibition, a Japanese-themed extravaganza focusing on architecture and Life after 1945, was just as good as its predecessors and is likely to be remembered as the one with the Japanese house in the middle of it.

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Said house was a fully furnished 1:1 scale replica of the Moriyama House by Pritzker-prize winning architect Ryue Nishizawa from 2005. The house consisted of ten white-coloured individual units, strikingly intertwined with the brutalist architecture of the Barbican gallery space. Where the gallery obstructed the architecture of the house, the structure was sliced open to expose the domestic interior in section.

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Most of the house was fully accessible: you could amble in and out of the units and garden and the lighting of the gallery was adjusted every hour to quite convincingly mimic dawn to dusk.

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As well as the house, there were loads of interesting images, smaller scale models and videos of equally striking postwar Japanese architecture and design on display. The exhibition is on until 25 June 2017 and is well worth a visit.

 

Modernist makeover of Clapham flat – the results

More than eight months after posting this blog entry about my plan to give the living room in my friend’s flat a makeover, it’s finally done! I’m pleased with the finished result but then I would be: it looks like a slightly more muted and less cluttered version of my own living room. The only thing missing is some kind of wall-mounted retro shelving unit, which I would totally have snuck in if I could have.

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As I mentioned in my original post, the room is a bit of a restrictive L-shape with a very narrow section due to the way that the flat was converted (this is exactly why I prefer modernist purpose built flats to higgledy piggledy period conversions!).

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This made it a bit of a challenge to accommodate a sofa, dining table and tv in a way that made sense. The way it was arranged before didn’t work, with that massive rectangular dining table and four high backed dining chairs squashed into the narrow section of the room, the tv on a stand in the corner and not one but two humongous cuboid-shaped sofas taking up the rest of the space.

To make it feel less crowded and free up more floor space, I decided to position the sofa and tv facing each other at each end of the room and a drop-leaf circular table in between them, to be pulled out and extended as needed.

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Of the options available, I chose the Suki table from Habitat with the laminate top (it comes in black or white) as it vaguely reminded me of those Aalto 90 Series tables, which I would totally buy for my own living room if it weren’t for the fact they are only made in pale birch which would clash horribly with the rest of my furniture. As for the dining chairs, we probably could have been a bit more adventurous but we ended up going for a set of cheap and cheerful Eames DSW knock-offs.

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The sofa was a bit of a headache. We originally chose a grey version of the Mistral sofa from Heals (the same one as mine – as I said, this definitely was a case of recreating my own living room somewhere else due to my limited interior design ideas) but this wouldn’t fit up the incredibly narrow staircase leading to the flat (another reason that I prefer logically proportioned practical purpose built modernist purpose built flats to period conversions!) and neither did the hardly enormous Kotka from Made.com. We didn’t want to go for anything modular so we ended up getting the rather petite Peggy two-seater from West Elm, which the delivery men were only just about able to squeeze up those dratted stairs. Despite its size, it’s pretty comfortable especially when paired with the Strandmon footstool from Ikea though I concede it’s not quite as comfortable as the humongous blue cuboid that it replaced. The armchair is the ubiquitous but well-designed (and cheap) Ekenaset from Ikea.

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The rest of the furniture and accessories are mostly high street and internet finds: the Dansette-style record player is from Aldi of all places (credit to retrotogo.com for drawing my attention to it) and the Eames LTR side table and Poulsen Panthella lamp are pretty good knock offs from replica online stores that have now shut down due to the annoying but sort of understandable change in legislation.

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Is there anything else I would change? Probably those floating shelves in the corner – I would have replaced them with some string-style shelving but they’re actually sealed onto the wall on one side which would have created a bit of a mess of we’d tried to remove it. The walls could also do with being repainted to get rid of that slightly pinkish hue and I would ideally reposition the pendant lamp so that it hangs in the centre of the room rather than over where the old dining table used to be. These small niggles aside, I think that the newly configured room both looks and functions better than it did before and I’m grateful to my friend for indulging my amateur interior design project, which I’ve really enjoyed working on. I have my sights on the bedroom and hallway of the flat next…

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  1. Belid Felix Rise and Fall Ceiling Light, John Lewis
  2. Louis Poulsen Panthella lamp, replica bought from now defunct Voga.com but original available from Skandium
  3. Cushions, H&M Home
  4. Vince walnut sideboard, Habitat
  5. Suki round drop-leaf table, Habitat
  6. Eames DSW dining chairs, replicas bought from now defunct Vitainteriors.com but original available from Skandium
  7. Flashback coffee table, La Redoute
  8. Yves black tripod lamp, Habitat
  9. Peggy sofa, West Elm at John Lewis
  10. Strandmon footstool, IKEA
  11. Eames LTR side table, replica bought from now defunct Vitainteriors.com but original available from Skandium
  12. Ekenaset armchair, IKEA
  13. Kelim rug, Ferm Living

Eames wire chair and bikini

I’ve wanted a black Eames wire chair ever since I saw this blog post on Door Sixteen so when I saw one (on a rolling base, no less!) at the annual SCP warehouse sale, I snapped it up.

SCP is known for stocking eames chairs manufactured by Modernica rather than the official licensors Vitra and Herman Miller. Although this means that Modernica chairs are not the official licensed versions, the build quality is generally considered to be better (their shell chairs are made of fibreglass rather than mounded plastic – image below courtesy of the Modernica blog) and there is more of a variety of shell and base combinations, including the combination of wire chair shell on a rolling base that I bought.

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I really liked the way my new wire chair looked uncovered but after two days of actually sitting on that unforgiving wiry seat, it became apparent that I’d need some kind of cushion. I considered various options but decided nothing would look as good as an eames-designed bikini seat pad. I found this US website which sells bikini seat pads in a variety of fabrics (I particularly liked this retro Eames pattern) but at USD$150 plus $30 shipping, it would have cost more than the price I paid for chair itself.

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I eventually bought a blue vinyl bikini pad from a very helpful eBay vendor who sells official Vitra bikini pads at a slightly less extortionate price (where he gets them from I do not know). It was a bit of a struggle to get the bikini pad on but I actually really like how it looks and the fact that the chair no longer leaves imprints on my thighs is a bonus.


Poul Cadovius Royal System

Royal System
Wall-hung storage system
Designer: Poul Cadovius
Year designed: 1948

Updated in 2017 with better pictures

One of my most prized possessions is the rather imposing rosewood Royal System shelving unit that spans one of the walls of my living room.

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The Royal System was conceived in 1948 by Poul Cadovius, a Danish designer. One of the first wall-hung storage systems, it’s comprised of a series of vertically hung wooden rails onto which shelves and drawer, cupboard and work station units can be attached using a screw-free system of interlocking brackets, precisely-angled pegs and slots. The extent to which this system of rails and pegs is relied upon to bear the weight of the solid wood units, the shelves and all of items on the units and shelves (big hardback books, knickknacks, a TV) still confuses and worries me a bit. I still half expect to come home from work to find the whole thing on the floor.

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The Royal System has been a constant and reassuring presence in my life. My dad bought the unit from Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road in the 1970s and it has followed him (and later on, our family) from home to home until he kindly bequeathed it to me when I bought my first place.

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Whilst it looks pretty modish in these 1970s photos (when it was fully assembled, complemented by furniture of a similar style and sparsely populated with my dad’s (now) stylishly retro possessions), my 1990s childhood memories are of it partially assembled (we used the drawer and storage units as random bits of occasional furniture in various rooms of the house) and otherwise crammed full with rows and rows of TDK video cassette boxes containing recordings of my mum’s Chinese soap operas. I remember thinking it looked a bit unsightly and dated and wondered why my parents couldn’t replace it with a nice bit of flat-packed Ikea. It has only been in recent years that I’ve come to appreciate what a great piece of mid-century design it is and I feel very lucky to have it hanging in my living room.

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The Royal System has been reissued recently in more modern finishes (oak and walnut rather than the original rosewood and teak options) and with a slimmer, slightly more refined profile. I am probably biased but I prefer the chunky original (and best), which you can occasionally find knocking about on eBay.

19 Limekiln Lane, Bridlington YO15

19 Limekiln Lane, Bridlington
1950s modernist house
Architect: Tim French
Year built: 1954

I stumbled across this Airbnb listing a couple of months ago and decided there and then that I’d quite like to celebrate turning 30 by staying at an amazing-looking modernist house by the seaside, choosing to ignore the fact that the house was about 7 hours away up north in Bridlington, East Yorkshire and my birthday is in freezing November.

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Whilst the journey from London did prove to be a bit harrowing and Bridlington did turn out to be a ghost town in winter (it is, after all, a sleepy coastal town whose prime trade is tourism during the summer months), the experience of staying at 19 Limekiln Lane felt like being given an Open House-style architectural tour of my dream 1950s home and then actually being allowed to live in it for a couple of days (i.e. amazing and well worth the effort).

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The original owner who commissioned the house apparently made no restrictions as to the design, stipulating only that it should be modern and that it should exploit the coastal views. The house, which was completed in 1954, certainly succeeded on these two fronts: its striking mid century modern design featured a double-height floor to ceiling glass panel on its front facade, which provided for dramatic views of the coastline and let a lot of natural light into the the house. Other classic mid-century modern design features included a butterfly roof, a lot of natural wood on the walls and ceilings, a striking open staircase and some great built-in furniture (the downstairs dining table speared by the steel column running from the top of the house to the bottom was a particularly appealing design feature).

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Upon entering the house, you were greeted by that staircase in the double-height hallway which flowed through into an open plan dining area (containing the aforementioned dining table) and appropriately refitted kitchen. A door off the hallway led to two of the bedrooms and the bathroom featuring a vivid green three piece suite, which whilst attractive, reminded me of that terrifying bathroom scene in The Shining.

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Upstairs, there was a large living area with a wood burning stove, a sunroom/studio space and a third bedroom along with a rooftop balcony, all with views across the bay to Flamborough Head and out onto the charming, mature garden which contained outbuildings and a little greenhouse.

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The furnishings were mainly original vintage pieces, complemented by modern touches (a throw, armchair or artwork here and there) which meant that the house stayed on the right side of retro pastiche. Considering the fact it was freezing outside and the house was mainly single-glazed, it was pleasingly toasty with the heating on – mercifully, the original hot air heating system (bafflingly popular at time that the house was built) had been replaced with modern gas central heating.

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I was surprised at how quickly I became accustomed to my beautifully designed and decorated surroundings and was sorry when the time came for me to hand back the keys. I learned from a bit of online research that the house was worth around £235k when the current owner bought the house ten years ago and the estimated current value is around £290k, which I found difficult to believe considering just how little that figure would buy you anywhere near London (I’ve just looked – it will buy you a one bedroom flat in Sutton, Zone 6). Whilst I’m not sure a move to Bridlington is on the cards for me anytime soon, I really enjoyed my stay and couldn’t think of a better or more fitting place to spend my 30th.

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Modernist makeover of Clapham flat

A friend recently asked me to help him give his London flat a bit of a makeover. Given that I’ve run out of things to do to my own flat, I didn’t need much persuading.

The flat is a split-level Victorian conversion. It’s a fairly neutral space: there’s not much in the way of Victorian period features (a negative to most people but a positive to me) and the ceilings and windows are of regular height given that the flat occupies the top floor and attic of the building. Some of the rooms are irregularly shaped (more on that later) but it’s a good size overall and has the potential to look good.

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We’ve decided to start with the living room: due to the placement of the stairs leading up to the loft conversion, a chunk has been cut out of the corner of room, resulting in a slightly restrictive L-shape. The way the room is currently furnished isn’t making the most of the space: each item of furniture is too big for the room and there is just too much of it.

For the room’s new look, I looked to the interior design section of the Skandium website, which contains a number of period houses furnished with mid century pieces, for inspiration (let’s face it, the style was always going to be mid century modern) and decided that these rather ambitious photos were going to be my goal:

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Sadly, we don’t quite have a Skandium budget at our disposal so I’ve sourced the furniture from various low to mid-range stores with the odd bit of Heal’s:

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  1. Hektar ceiling lamp, IKEA
  2. DSW Eames-style chair, Vita Interiors
  3. Suki round drop-leaf table, Habitat
  4. Yves black tripod lamp, Habitat
  5. Eclipse coffee tables, Heal’s
  6. Mistral sofa, Heal’s
  7. Vince walnut sideboard, Habitat
  8. Raskmölle flatwoven rug, IKEA

“After” photos to follow…

The Firs – one year on

My flat looks pretty much the same as it did at the end of 2014 when I last blogged about it but the combination of some sunshine and the need to test out my new camera ahead of some upcoming travels prompted me to take some new photos of the (very minor) changes and additions that I’ve made along the way.

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The only changes that I’ve made to the living room are some new plants and an ever-growing collection of pointless wooden animals. I’ve been meaning to replace the rather tired looking faux-Tulip dining table and rag-tag assortment of knock-off chairs with a more sophisticated looking dining set (ideally something like the Hans Olsen piece that I once saw at the Kingston Antiques Centre) but I thought I’d wait until I’d moved before deciding. The move, however, does not look like it’s happening any time soon so I might just bite the bullet.

I was inspired to make the makeshift terrarium by this article on the Ikea website, which made it sound like: (a) I would be able to buy all of the components from a branch of Ikea; and (b) it would take less than an hour. I can confirm that Ikea misled me on both counts.

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Looking back at the photos of my office from 2014, I think it’s looking a lot better and less spartan these days. The Varier rocking chair is a definite upgrade from that 90s birch Ikea job that I previously used and I’m quite pleased with the other additions, especially the Componibili unit, Uten Silo and that bizarre Flensted mobile of a pregnant chicken.

Thanks to my valiant efforts at various sample sales, I have collected enough random bits of String shelving by now to construct a system to replace that cheap Ekby Ikea unit but the sheer effort that this is likely to involve has been putting me off. I’ve also grown quite fond of the Ekby shelves: they’re quite strong and sufficiently shallow so as to be unobtrusive in what is quite a small room. I’ve grown similarly fond of the 90s John Lewis glass desk: it was always my intention to replace it but I actually think that it almost looks quite good?!

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I have made a few green additions to the kitchen and balcony off the kitchen but my sub-par gardening skills means that I haven’t even been able to coax the potted ivy to climb the trellis that I fixed onto the balcony wall.

On the whole, my current flat is not my dream home by any stretch of the imagination (the compulsory carpeting, lack of original features and the distinctly non-central location all irk me to varying degrees) but if the move never happens, I can’t say I’ll be too devastated.