Laid-back and papered: the new suburban chic

Lloyd Loom - that quintessentially Eighties fabric used for straight-backed verandah chairs and laundry baskets - is hitting the comeback trail.
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The Independent Online

Lloyd Loom - not a brand but a fabric with a charmingly alliterative nickname, made of twisted paper and wire - hasn't been taken seriously since, ooh, the Eighties. It's hardly surprising: that decade - think TV series Jewel in the Crown - revered colonial grandeur, but who today feels nostalgia for the Raj - let alone for Lloyd Loom's other natural habitat: Thirties suburbia?

Lloyd Loom - not a brand but a fabric with a charmingly alliterative nickname, made of twisted paper and wire - hasn't been taken seriously since, ooh, the Eighties. It's hardly surprising: that decade - think TV series Jewel in the Crown - revered colonial grandeur, but who today feels nostalgia for the Raj - let alone for Lloyd Loom's other natural habitat: Thirties suburbia?

In view of this, its two British manufacturers, Gloucestershire-based firm W Lusty & Sons and Lloyd Loom of Spalding are radically remarketing the time-honoured fabric. Out with straight- backed verandah chairs and suburban laundry baskets; in with stark, clean 21st-century shapes...

W Lusty & Sons first decided to remodel Lloyd Loom four years ago. A year later, Will Lusty - son of Geoffrey Lusty, who, together, own the company - organised a competition for Royal College of Art students to design furniture using Lloyd Loom. "We needed fresh ideas," recalls Will Lusty, whose grandfather bought the rights to use the fabric from American inventor Marshall Burns Lloyd, in 1918. "We were churning out mainly contract furniture. It was very 'Euromulchy' - mostly stuff for the Dutch and German markets." "We were motivated, too, by competition from other companies," adds Geoffrey Lusty. "Not just from Lloyd Loom of Spalding, but chair companies all round the world. People have nicked our shapes, done them in all sorts of ways - leather, wicker... Of course, the wicker ones are much cheaper."

There was nothing neo-colonial or fustily suburban about the RCA competition results: Gitta Gschwendtner scooped first prize with her coolly metropolitan dining or café chair (a simple lozenge of fabric on a steel frame). Runner-up Maiko Tsutsumi created a table resembling a hollowed-out cocoa pod with a glass top and shelf underneath. Gschwendtner and Tsutsumi's designs are selling well in over 20 countries, including the UK, where you'll find them at John Lewis stores.

Since then the company has approached three other designers - the more established Jane Dillon, Matthew Hilton and Ron Arad. Dillon - famous for her Jobber office chair, a Seventies best-seller - came up with a low-slung chair with a fluid, ergonomic shape. Hilton, head of furniture design at Habitat, has dreamt up a standard which exploits the fabric's translucency. Says Hilton: "I really like it that an old, established English manufacturer wants to do contemporary furniture." And illustrious RCA professor Arad has proposed a sinuous chair overlaid with frayed Lloyd Loom. "It's like a carpet," he says. "The beauty of Lloyd Loom is that it's paper. I wanted to bring it back to paper."

Then there are the efforts of Lloyd Loom of Spalding. "We wanted to recreate the enthusiasm the public had for Lloyd Loom 70 years ago by commissioning designers to re-invent our furniture," says Henry Harris, a designer for the company. So far, it has employed architect Nigel Coates. Using Loomtex (linen and twisted paper), he has dreamed up a superbly sleek chaise-longue and matching coffee table.

Overall, contemporary designers are softening the stiff look of the original Lloyd Loom fabric. Today's re-interpretations are far more laid-back. Ironically, their soft silhouettes mimic traditional - even suburban - soft furnishings. Still, better that than the old unyielding Lloyd Loom fabric.

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