In these times of nostalgia for happy Sixties values, music and haircuts, the return of mad furniture was only a matter of time. And now, with more money and confidence around, designers can afford to experiment. It's bold! It's curvy! And if you want something original, it's very expensive.
The pop look means kitsch, it means space age, it means Barbarella, Space Odyssey and James Bond. But it's not merely a time warp. The Nineties designers are taking a key piece from Dr No and throwing it into a minimalised environment. This has made pop resurgence acceptable to erstwhile minimalised bible Elle Decoration, which went popping mad in its last issue, even using undignified words like "groovy!" and "fab!" to describe the lollipop colours which can turn your ordinary house into something, like, hey wow, totally now!
The film world rekindled its love affair with the Sixties some time ago - look at Buck Rogers, Mission Impossible and Batman, all delighting in ludicrously pop sets. There is an inverse correlation, according to Lesley Felprin, deputy editor of the British Film Institute's Sight And Sound magazine: the worse the film, the more cultish the furniture. For example, she says: "The sets were better than ever in the remake of The Saint because it was less cluttered. Barbarella was a ridiculous film, the sets were fantastic. It was redeemed by its look. It's as if they didn't need a good story because they had great furniture. Such films are a Sixties equivalent of so-called white telephone movies in the 1930s, with Jean Harlow draped over a chaise long - hugely influential in aspirational style terms."
Advertising, too, is playing pop. A recent Gillette ad saw a man shaving not in a macho stainless steel mirror but in a Sottsass Sixties wavy plastic mirror with pink lights.
Pop theory maintains that one should spit on the grave of the proper in furniture, art and life. So subject matter is taken from real life and made absurd, or from the absurd and made real - the Joe Di Maggio baseball-glove chair, the fake sci-fi bacofoil, the Connery Bond set.
Nineties designers take the best from the original and drop the rest, so the simple Lips sofa is in, the cluttered Victoriana kitsch of Sgt Pepper is out. "It's pop in a Nineties way," says Alice Cicolini of Tom Dixon's design company, one of the leading Nineties pop furniture-makers in Britain. "We look through industrial catalogues for fun things and materials. It's a backlash against everyone taking design too seriously. Until recently people were far more rigid, now we are happy to experiment. If you want a white shag carpet and white leather sofa, then do it - it's totally impractical and so very now."
The pleasure of pop is basic and childlike, bright coloured and friendly. "I like furniture that talks to me," says Sixties and Seventies furniture dealer Patrick Brillet. "The hi-tech furniture that followed the Sixties was so inhuman. Pop furniture is organic, curvy and warm. I never get bored of my rubber cactus - it just has an aura." Brillet incongruously fills his old English farmhouse with these remarkable objects. He claims they go anywhere and with anything. "The rubber cactus is tactile and practical. You can use it in the bathroom to hang towels or in the hall to hang coats."
And if you can't afford thousands of pounds for a sofa? In principle, Brillet is unenthused about the notion of cheap alternatives. "If you can't afford something good you are better off with nothing. Maybe, I don't know, have your walls blank and draw an outline of yourself on them. Take a grater from the kitchen, take a photo and magnify it so it looks odd. There are some small items you can buy more cheaply, just don't buy a lava lamp and think you are being really cutting-edge."
Pop furniture can only get bigger now that we are prepared to spend more on creating more interesting interiors. "People in Europe traditionally spent far more on interiors," says Brillet. "While the British spent their money on buying the house - so the pop concept was never able to be fully developed at the time. It took a full-blown backlash and 25 years for the time to be right for it to come back. And now, gradually, these design ideas are filtering into the high street. Habitat, IKEA and the Conran shop have a lot of Sixties stuff now, but it can be bland, trying to please too many people. What you need is something that makes you think, that opens your mind out, inspires you creatively."
Ironically, even the Sixties pop furniture was , in effect, high art and not big in the mass market, it was too much of a culture shock to move seamlessly from utilitarian pragmatism of Fifties furniture to furniture that looked like a banana.
Tom Dixon's work is getting back to the basic idea of pop art. Unlike the elitist originals, Dixon wants his work to be throw-away. One recent creation: the Jack, a white, rubber, stackable chair based on the shape of the children's playground toy, is only a little more than pounds 100.
There are eight auctions a year of pop furniture in London alone and museums are buying it up in a frenzy. Gareth Williams, assistant curator at the V&A, explains that the time is right for a revival: "There was a rejection at the time of all things historical, including traditional materials. Furniture was all about lounging and living in a capsule - a pod. Since the key word for the Nineties home is cocooning, the link and appeal is clear."
"There's also an inevitable cyclical thing about the return of pop," says Tommy Roberts, antiques dealer at Tom Tom in Soho. "Fifteen years ago it was the same thing with art deco." Roberts is enjoying the revival, he sells Maurice Calka plastic boomerang desks from 1969 for a tidy pounds 7,500 and big, white, ball TVs are snapped up for pounds 900. It's certainly very funky but it's an expensive way to downgrade your picture quality.
POP FOR LESS
Little gems can be found at trash Sixties and Seventies stalls in markets such as Camden Lock.
Philippe Starck utensils - eg the juicer that looks like an insect
Tom Dixon's Jack
Anything in fibreglass
Repeat no lava lampsReuse content