at home: chain-store chic
Want to furnish your sitting-room or kitchen with the ultimate latest craze? You don't have to pay a fortune. Rosalind Russell offers a guide to stylish, high-street value.

There was a time, not long ago, when the cognoscenti shopped for their tajine in upmarket (and expensive) designer homeware shops, while chainstore customers were still catching up with the chicken brick. Not any longer. The chainstores are treading briskly on the heels of the likes of the Conran Shop, Heals and Divertimenti, not only producing chic contemporary and classic designs, but also doing it a great deal more cheaply.

Unless your guests are the kind who poke around inspecting labels, who's to know whether you paid pounds 120 for your classic chrome desk fan, or pounds 60, which is what it costs from Debenhams' new range. It'll be available from March. Debenhams have transformed their previously mumsy, provincial image and developed a sophisticated and quite racy range of home/ lifestyle accessories. About to appear in the stores are orange and yellow velvet cushions at pounds 20 each and a patterned ethnic footstool at pounds 120, neither of which would look out of place in Liberty's; Damien-Hirst-style pictures of fruit suspended in boxes, at pounds 10 and pounds 15, and fake tortoiseshell vases at pounds 40 each (available in July). A stainless-steel espresso cup and saucer costs pounds l2 (a similar item from Purves and Purves costs pounds l5.50). You can't move in kitchen shops now for butchers' trolleys, which can cost up to pounds 500: Debenhams has a chrome and wood one for pounds 150.

The new flavour-of-the-month colours of lilac and lime green are heavily represented throughout the range for spring and summer. Lime is one of the three colours (along with black and yellow) used on an aluminium chair which looks as good indoors as out. It costs pounds 35.

"Heritage" colours such as Sludgy Old Ditch and Sheep Dip Green may have had their day, after a brief burst of decorating glory. In March Homebase introduces its new paint range, bright enough to dazzle a rabbit, at pounds 11.99. And its Lipstick flasks in scalding yellow, bright blue and toothpaste white - a bit noisy for a Barbour-wearer's picnic basket, perhaps - pounds 7.99. Not a chicken brick in sight here, instead a healthy cooking bamboo steamer basket at pounds 7.99.

Next Interiors is also promoting lilac and lime, both featuring in the new matt vinyl emulsion paint range (there are 10 colours in all) at pounds 13.99 for 2.5 litres. (The theme is carried through to the wallpaper, border and fabric collections where the colours are as lively as any produced by Designers Guild. Next has picked up quickly on the calligraphy design first produced by upmarket interior designers, putting it on curtains (from pounds 59.99), wallpaper borders (pounds 6.99 a roll) and tasselled cushion covers (pounds 17.99 each). Quirkier and more original are the new Free Range fabric, curtains and wallpaper border featuring perky hens, chickens and eggs, showing the sort of panache usually attributed to the upmarket Nursery Window furnishing shop in Knightsbridge. Curtains are pounds 49.99, self-adhesive border pounds 5.99 a roll. Also new to Next is a tented wardrobe (pounds 49.99 for the unfinished pine wardrobe, tent cover pounds 34.99) to suit a limited budget meeting a limited space.

Even Marks & Spencer's normally staid home furnishings directory has been tweaked to include some excellent, classic but not boring designs. Between all the pages of chintzy sofas and flowery curtains lies the new Madison glazed storage unit, as stylish as anything you'll find in Heals. It has opaque glass doors, three shelves and two internal drawers, and is lockable. The price is pounds 950. A neatly designed home office unit must rate as one of the most compact and stylish solutions to working at home currently on the market. At just over 52in high by 42in wide and 23in deep, it all closes up behind doors like a cupboard when not in use. The doors can be wooden, or opaque glass. Inside, there is a computer storage shelf with pull-out shelf for the keyboard, flexible shelving with a storage unit for suspended filing, and a top drawer. It locks with a key. It costs pounds 999 (why can't they call it pounds 1,000 and be done with it?).

Like everyone else, M&S has picked up on the wrought-iron furniture look which interior designers were pushing heavily last year in expensive show homes, where you'd have a maid to brush up the dents the chair legs leave in the carpets. A new range of tables, chairs and shelving includes a console table with toughened glass top at pounds 350. More enduring - and endearing - in design terms is a stainless steel teapot, at pounds 20.

Debenhams (0171-408 4444)

Homebase (0645 801800)

Next home (0345 100500)

Marks & Spencer Home Direct (0345 902902)

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