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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photos courtesy of brand websites
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
- Belid Felix Rise and Fall Ceiling Light, John Lewis
- Louis Poulsen Panthella lamp, replica bought from now defunct Voga.com but original available from Skandium
- Cushions, H&M Home
- Vince walnut sideboard, Habitat
- Suki round drop-leaf table, Habitat
- Eames DSW dining chairs, replicas bought from now defunct Vitainteriors.com but original available from Skandium
- Flashback coffee table, La Redoute
- Yves black tripod lamp, Habitat
- Peggy sofa, West Elm at John Lewis
- Strandmon footstool, IKEA
- Eames LTR side table, replica bought from now defunct Vitainteriors.com but original available from Skandium
- Ekenaset armchair, IKEA
- Kelim rug, Ferm Living
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.