Property: Thinking of going Gothic? It's never been more popular

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Indy Lifestyle Online
When Gothic turns up as a style statement in Marks & Spencer, you realise a niche market has swiftly expanded to meet the masses. Rosalind Russell checks out this latest style fad.

Formerly the preserve of keen renovators of decrepit old houses, intent on keeping true to the period, Gothic bits and pieces tended to be original, salvaged from Victorian churches and pubs.

Now you can buy a new "Gothic" bed from the M&S home catalogue with ecclesiastically arched head and base boards - just the job if you're kitting out a smart church conversion. Made of heavy-gauge steel with pewter-effect finish, the single bedstead costs pounds 635, up to pounds 899 for a six-footer (mattress extra).

While lying in it, you could contemplate a Gothic-style five-armed ceiling light (pounds 130) or a hand-painted, bronze-effect, two-armed wall light with fleur de lis motif at pounds 60 (both from M&S).

On the table might rest a Gothic style crown fruit bowl with sconces for seven candles, pounds 30 from Bombay Duck. And on the floor, a tall black Gothic candle-holder, pounds 25 from Debenhams. Appropriately, Past Times is offering a Gothic tracery wrought-iron flower-pot planter at pounds 39.50 and a hand-carved Gothic mirror with quatrefoil motifs, at pounds 24.99.

For some, of course, there's nothing like the real thing. There is a home owner in north London whose garden path is composed entirely of old gravestones, and in her hall stands an impressive brass eagle lectern.

"We didn't sell the gravestones to her," says Mark Groes, of Pew Corner, the Surrey architectural salvage firm, "but I'd certainly buy some if I were offered them."

Groes launched his business after going out to buy a pew one day and ending up buying a churchful. The demolition contractor was going to burn the lot.

"We sell hundreds every year, buying directly from churches to avoid any problems with theft. But it's a myth that the success of architectural salvage firms is in direct proportion of the decline in religion. The vast majority of churches we see are not redundant, they are refurbishing. They need flexibility, and pews are not flexible."

Pew Corner's six-acre site at Artington Manor Farm also stocks hand-carved eagles (very big with Victorians), pulpits, screens and lecterns. Pews start at around pounds 180, and go up to more than pounds 1,000 for an intricately hand carved example. Part of the business is cutting and altering the items to fit. A nice bit of Gothic organ panelling makes a lovely bedhead, says Groes. And reclaimed wood is turned into tables and chairs.

"I regard our business as trying to find homes for things that would otherwise be trashed. Incredibly, even today, we hear of things that are burned or scrapped from churches, even though we offer high prices. Over the years we've been open, I think we must have handed over pounds 750,000 to churches for salvaged goods."

So great is the demand for Gothic glories that the long-established Lassco (London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company) is expanding from St Michael's, its old church HQ near St Paul's in the City. The church premises will become the company's showroom, so customers can get an eyeful of fine painted panels without having to climb over a pile of dusty Belfast sinks first. The "trade" warehouse, housing radiators, bathrooms and kitchens, will take over its warehouse in Britannia Walk, London N1, and all the flooring will move to new premises across the river in Bermondsey.

"Think of moving house, and then think of this," says Lassco's Hilary Chelminsky. "But at least people will be able to see our 16 panelled room sets. We take ecclesiastical pieces when we can. We had a lovely chancel screen from St Peter's in Eaton Square, which was burned down by an arsonist. A lot goes abroad, to America and Japan. And we do get some fantastic glass."

Suppliers' contact numbers: Marks and Spencer Home direct 0345 902 902 Bombay Duck (0181-964 8881); Debenhams (0171-408 4444); Past Times (01993 770440); Pew Corner (01483 533337); Lassco )(171-739 0448).

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