Inside ...: Designs of the times

Sanitised Seventies styles are the height of Nineties cool. But for the truly bold, there is nothing like the real thing, says Cayte Williams
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sixties and Seventies designer furniture has come of age, with both Christie's and Sotheby's planning big autumn auctions in plastic classics. But for those who feel that space-age minimalism is a little too impersonal, there is an alternative. Seventies kitsch is an option for those who like their patterns clashing, their knick-knacks eclectic and their dinner guests with a sense of irony.

One such person is Nick Ferrand, a property search consultant from west London, whose living-room looks like a student bed-sit circa 1973. A zebra- skin rug, lime-green chairs and a fibre-optic table jostle for attention in a room which ten years ago would have been seen as the epitome of bad taste. Now, of course, it's the height of cool, as trash Seventies just gets hipper. Original artwork from Seventies psychedelic albums have become collectors items, Seventies soft porn has influenced everything from club fliers to fashion shoots, and with re-runs of Seventies cop shows on Sky One and Bravo, it's hardly surprising that the hip are deciding to live in what looks like Huggy Bear's bedroom.

Ferrand should know about current trends. His company, Domus Nova, finds properties for such luminaries as Paul Smith, Karen Mulder and Jarvis Cocker and he's married to Margherita Gardella, senior fashion editor at Harpers & Queen. "If I hadn't been a fashion photographer before I set up this company, I would have been an architect," he explains. "My father's got a building company and I grew up as a rubble baby. I think I'll be in property all my life."

Most good Seventies kitsch is still festering in junk shops as the big design stores stick to the safe and tasteful, but that's changing fast. "I bought this at a car-boot sale in Miami," says Ferrand, pointing out a groovy chrome and glass table that looks like it comes straight from a Charlie's Angels set. "I was driving to the airport when I spotted it on the roadside. I jumped the fence, paid $20 for it, and secured it to the top of my car. I thought, if they don't accept it at the airport, at least I tried. When I picked it up at Heathrow, I got some weird looks, but it was worth the effort."

So, what's the fascination with Seventies kitsch? "It was a wonderful decade," says Ferrand. "The Sixties was an explosion, the Seventies had the chaos with a little bit more intelligence about it."

He has an eye for space and colour and can spot a bargain at 50 paces. A camel-coloured sofa sits comfortably among the Seventies paraphernalia. "I got this when I popped into a boot sale," he recalls. "It was pounds 25, but I knocked it down to pounds 20. I put it on top of the car and got pulled over by the police because I had secured it with a piece of string." Ferrand also jammed on the brakes for the Zebra skin. "I caught that with my beady eye driving past a junk shop," he remembers. "It was just rolled up and thrown on the street, so I screeched to a halt and ran over and offered him pounds 35," he says.

You don't need a car to hunt out all the bargains. Portobello Market offers cheapish Seventies furniture, and Twentieth Century Design has a shop in the Stables at Camden Market. Ferrand's latest purchase, four chrome and chenille chairs, came from Portobello. "A friend of mine phoned me last Sunday and said, 'You've got to get these chairs, come down now,'" he explains. "So, I jumped in the car and bought them. They cost pounds 50 all in."

Behind them nestles a lime-green easy chair from Knoll circa 1973, next to a light made from dangling shell circles that look like Bet Lynch earrings. "The chrome and leather sofa near the large windows came from Loot," says Ferrand, "and we recovered it in Seventies curtain fabric." In the corner is an original colour TV, which has an interesting past. "The chap I bought it from said he was debating between this and a Mini. This was something like pounds 800, and the Mini was pounds 860 in the early Seventies, so it was a tough choice."

Other Seventies props in the room include an Alan Jones original catalogue, the fibre-optic table, with the fibres sandwiched between a metal base and glass top, a Warhol Marilyn print and a circle painting by Kortling from 1971. In the kitchen, there is a tenth anniversary, limited-edition, Pirelli calendar from 1971, and his and hers Playboy egg cups in black and white. In the hallway is the piece de resistance, an Italian aluminium, chrome and Perspex, "honeycomb" light from an unknown Italian designer that looks as though it is straight out of The Towering Inferno lobby.

"Things are getting harder to find," Ferrand explains. "If you want a bargain you have to get up jolly early, around 4am depending where you're going. Car-boot sales are full of rubbish. You've got to know what your looking for. Similarly, in trade publications, you've got to be prepared to make lots of phone calls. It takes time and effort."

Apart from the markets and boot sales, on 29 October, Sotheby's will have a sale of modern design, where whacky Italian designer Sottsass items will be available, like the "Sinus" lamps for around pounds 300 and "Harlow" chairs for about pounds 600 each.

For those with less dosh, Seventies kitsch is creeping into design shop Retro Home in London's Notting Hill. "For example, we've got a really dreadful early Seventies lamp with plastic "water droplets" for around pounds 90," says Bryan Hemming at Retro Home. "It's great, because customers don't care who designed this stuff, mainly because nobody would own up to it anyway." Other Seventies kitsch items include a coffee-coloured lampshade decorated with a taut string design for pounds 35 and that great Seventies Boots classic, The Green Lady, sells for pounds 40 to pounds 45 depending on its condition.

The 20th-century design shop Places and Spaces in Clapham, has caught onto Seventies kitsch. "We've got fibre-optic lamps for around pounds 150," says co-owner Paul Caroll, with genuine enthusiasm. "Also, there's a great orange and yellow plastic lemonade set with six glasses for pounds 45 and a white plastic "handbag" light by Harvey Guzzini, circa 1974, for pounds 75. We don't have any soft furnishings because the foam they used in the Seventies is illegal now because of EC fire regulations."

Ferrand has a healthy collection of Seventies LPs, which would not be complete without an original formica-back record player. So, put on your Santana album, sit back and enjoy.

Places and Spaces, 30 Old Town, London SW4, 0171 498 0998; Retro Home, 20 Pembridge Road, London W11, 0171 221 2055; Sotheby's, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 493 8080; Nick Ferrand's company, Domus Nova, can be contacted on 0171 251 4466.

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