Design: Old tat or object of desire?

Don't look in the attic for treasure - your humble kitchen may contain its own design classics. By John Windsor

I STOPPED serving my cats meals on a tatty Woolworth's plate when I opened Katherine Higgins's book Are You Rich? and read that it is worth pounds 12. The plate, one of the "Homemaker" set sold exclusively by Woolworth's from 1957 until well into the Sixties, may have been tat in the Seventies and Eighties - but today it has been transformed into a design icon.

Not only that, the range helped to turn into design icons some of the Fifties designs it depicts - Robin Day's reclining chair, for example, and Terence Conran's spindly-legged wicker plant-pot stand.

Higgins is best known as the antiques presenter for Sky News and has presented the BBC's Antiques Show, ITV's Schofield's Quest and the TLC/Sky Collectomania series. Are You Rich? is her first book. At first I sniffed at it. Another of those wishful "Treasures in Your Attic" pot-boilers, I thought, which send us up loft ladders on searches that yield, instead of Victorian rocking-horses worth pounds 1,000, dusty old rolls of flooring felt.

Higgins, however, ignores the attic and takes us through the kitchen, the living-room, the bedroom - where you are quite likely to find collectable design classics dating between the Fifties and the Nineties. These days, she says, some designs become collectable as soon as they leave the shop. The London design collective Jam's foam "Dino" table-cum-chair is still in production at pounds 828 retail and Higgins reckons it will hold its value. As for that Fifties Robin Day lounger, it could be worth pounds 1,500. And she puts a tag of pounds 350 on Conran's Fifties wicker plant-pot holder.

Higgins has benefited from from clued-up viewers reporting hefty prices for modern design at boot sales and auctions. She was born at the right time - the late Sixties. That means that she is less likely than old fogies to dismiss Woolworth's "Homemaker" plates as tat. To her, they are social history.

"After the austerity of the war", she says, "many young couples had little money but wanted to appear fashionable. They could not afford a Robin Day recliner from Heal's, but they could afford Woolworth's `Homemaker' crockery.

"Those were the days, remember, when you invited the boss home to dinner. That cheap, fashionable crockery, bought to impress him, should have as much social significance for collectors as late-18th-century Wedgwood creamware.

"You may claim `Homemaker' plates as tat, but when you get absorbed in the concepts behind the design, you start to admire it. There's nothing in my book that I don't like."

Even chunky brown Sixties Denby Arabesque ware? Surely even jumble sales are turning that away. But have you looked recently? It is suddenly scarcer, and selling for pounds 11 a plate to home-makers/ collectors who want to cultivate a Sixties look.

As collectors go, Higgins is of the advanced, American kind. Americans have started collecting historic electrical goods, such as Fifties Hoover steam irons and Braun kitchen mixers. They are also more alert than we are to the value of vintage electronic goods, such as computers. To them, industrial design means not just the shape of things but advances in technology.

On her study bookshelves Higgins displays a late-Fifties Pifco electric travel iron with the sales brochures that went with it. She would like to own an example of the world's first pocket calculator, the Sinclair Executive of 1972; it is worth pounds 100-pounds 150.

Collecting tip; some of our modern icon-spotting is being done for us by astute curators - note the objects in Higgins's book that have been selected by the Design Council for the Millennium or were displayed at the European Summit Meeting in London in 1997 or last year's Powerhouse :: UK exhibition in London. Meanwhile, I have confiscated my cats' "Homemaker" plate and put it in my antiques showcase. They are now eating off crockery bearing the logo of Commonwealth Railways, with its map of Australia. Until I come across a book on antipodean railway collectables, they are welcome to it.

An exhibition of valuable household items, curated by Katherine Higgins, is at Grays Antique Markets, South Molton Lane, London W1, from 5 May to 30 June (open 10am-6pm Monday-Friday). Enquiries 0171-629 7034. `Are you Rich?' by Katherine Higgins, is published by Chameleon, pounds 14.99

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect