Blasts from the past

HOUSE STYLE The revival of seaside-landlady chic
In Giorgio Armani's new Acqua di Gio fragrance range, there is an elegant pale green tub of bath salts, looking just as cool and desirable as his dresses. Bath salts, for those under 30, are perfumed granules for the bath, dating back to the era when seaside landladies and maiden aunts were a force to be reckoned with in Britain. Before Armani, bath salts would have been considered about as chic and sexy as... well, cork tiles, raffia or pan scourers.

But the design world is re-discovering its roots, and finding them in the everyday objects that surrounded their childhood homes. Such humble items are now being given a modern twist, and turned into the must-have accessories of the Nineties. Designer Natalie Hambro's table lights, pan scourers, inset with a night-light and finished with red leather ties, are gracing some of the smartest dinner tables in town. They can be partnered with her upholstery scrim napkins, hand-crumpled for a fashionable look. Top interior designer Kelly Hoppen also uses scrim decoratively, albeit beautifully ironed, in strips as wall hangings. (Scrim, for the uninitiated, is the hessian-like fabric which keeps sofas sofa-shaped before being upholstered with the fabric of your choice.)

And raffia, once a socks-and-sandals material, is now so modish you can pay pounds 84 plus VAT per square metre for raffia wallpaper from wallpaper company Donghia. Top florist Jane Packer uses raffia in Fifties citrus colours, such as lime green, lemon and orange. "If you can't find the shades you want in a craft shop, buy natural raffia and dye it yourself," she advises.

Former interior designer Cath Kidston has shot to prominence on the pages of design magazines, almost purely on the strength of this nostalgic return to the past. Quilted bath mats, Fifties rosy wallpaper, Formica tabletops and shiny white paint are key items in Kidston's eponymous shop. "As the millennium approaches, I think people want to be surrounded by comforting, homey objects rather than grandeur," she says.

Denim, too, is being given a designer twist by Ralph Lauren. Moving away from his English country house look, Lauren's home-on-the-range theme is going big with denim-jeaned upholstered chairs, washed denim sheets, and denim cushion covers with jeans buttons.

Cork tiles are taking slightly longer to return to centre stage, but as Fernando Nogueria of Wicanders Flooring points out: "It's a natural material, absorbs noise and pressure and is so insulating that it protects space shuttles from the heat during re-entry." With such qualities, it can only be a matter of time before it ousts sisal from the floors of the fashion-conscious.

And not just for floors - Marcel Proust, a noise-sensitive asthmatic, had a classical blue cork-walled study to protect him from disturbance and allergens, and this has been re-created by Wicanders to show how versatile and creative cork can be.

A line must be drawn somewhere, however, and Cath Kidston would put candlewick bedspreads, which she does sell (albeit with some difficulty), on the cusp of it. "Most people run a mile from a primrose-yellow candlewick bedspread we've got in the shop, but it's part of that whole look that reminds you of an old peoples' home - shiny green paint on the walls, and so on - which is now very hip. So I'm sure its time will come." And who said the British had no style?

Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio from department stores nationwide. Nathalie Hambro, 0171-834 1021; Jane Packer 0171-935 2673; Cath Kidston 0171-221 4000; Donghia 0171-823 3456 for stockists; Sinclair Till 0171-720 0031; for stockists of Wicanders Flooring, call 01403 710001, Ralph Lauren Home available at Harvey Nichols, 0171-235 5000