Altared states in the living-room

Take a tribal mask, a bolt of ethnic fabric and some incense and what have you got? Your very own shrine. James Style looks at a design trend for the Nineties

Harry Bellord is not just a self-made man, he's a self-made industry. He's 22 years old andearns pounds 500 a day. A stockbroker, perhaps, or a bond dealer? Far from it. Harry is a self-taught interior designer with a penchant for the ethnic and spiritual. If high-spending city slickers symbolised the Eighties, Harry is a perfect symbol for the fragmented and troubled Nineties. Using ethnic art to fill the spiritual vacuum, Harry offers escape from the urban wilderness to the comfort of your own home: Harry is the UK's first "shriner".

We are in the sitting-room of a large Georgian house in Brixton, south London. Huge candles burn in the fireplace, incense hangs heavy in the air. The ceiling has been draped with parachute silk and the walls are festooned with tribal masks and Tibetan temple hangings. This is one of the rooms that Harry has "shrined". His real skill is in draping fabrics, but he bought the candles and the incense, too. He also advised on all the decorative objects, mostly religious or spiritual artefacts, from all over the globe. "It's a job I invented," he explains. "I suppose I'm a modern-day high priest. I take an ordinary sitting-room and turn it into a spiritual retreat."

Call it neo-colonial plundering, call it cultural collecting, turning your home into a Third World shrine is one of the interior design trends which will define the Nineties.

"The polished aluminium and matt black of the Eighties is past," says Judith Wilson, decorating editor of Homes & Gardens. "It's the natural, more earthy look that people want now. Plain walls in burnt orange and natural fabrics are in. Hand-made furniture from, say, India, suits the look perfectly."

Fondness for things ethnic grew out of the backlash against late-Eighties materialism and today's environmentally anxious climate. The demand for this kind of design is pulling through the supply. Liberty, the London department store, identified the potential of this market when it started selling Indonesian handicrafts in 1980, but it is only in the past four years that the market in imported ethnic artefacts for the home has really taken off.

It is this trend that Harry, an entrepreneur of all things ethnic, is out to capitalise on.

Harry tapped into the ethnic design market by chance. It was December last year, while he was on a world tour with the group Killing Joke, as personal minder to the band. "When you tour America, each dressing room looks the same. So I bought loads of fabrics in New York - African, Islamic and Indonesian batiks - and draped them from the walls of every dressing room we visited. I lit candles and kept the incense burners full. I created a place the band could relax in, away from the materialism of America."

News of Harry's skill spread like wildfire through the music business and before long he was "shrining" the homes and studios of the stars. Mostly he worked for fun and perhaps a few quid. Then Belinda Carlisle's manager made him realise his true earning potential. "What do you get for this, pounds 500 a day?" "Umm, yeah," said Harry.

The going rate for a more conventional interior design service for a sitting-room, including fabrics and furniture, is anything from pounds 3,000 to pounds 10,000, according to Katherine Taylor of Private Lives Interiors. But for pounds 2,000, Harry will not only transform your living-room into a Bedouin tent, your fireplace into an Indian altar, and buy all the goods you need - from candleholders to Hindu Ganesh incense burners and the now highly collectable Tibetan thangkas (tapestry paintings of the Buddha), - he will also bequeath you a calm-inducing environment.

"It helps me relax but at the same time remain focused," says Martin Glover, whose front-room Harry has just shrined. "I'm a musician; it's great for thinking creatively."

Harry's costs reflect the boom in natural home products and native art. From Habitat to British Home Stores, Christie's to Sotheby's, Price's candle factory in south London to David Wainwright's Asian furniture emporium in Portobello Road, west London, the ethnic home products business is booming. It is not just a newfound interest in things spiritual that is fuelling the market. Home owners are also aware of the investment potential of "ethnorama". Katherine Taylor says: "People would much rather invest in a latticed wardrobe they can take away with them when they move than expensive Osborne & Little floral wallpaper."

Sebastiano Barbagallo of the Portobello-based Ormonde gallery, which specialises in Far Eastern handicrafts and furniture, is in no doubt about what is fuelling the boom. "It's the thirtysomethings. They've all grown up on international air travel and The World About Us. My customers are more likely to have visited Bali than Benidorm."

Shrining is not as PC a form of consumerism as Harry would like to believe, however. There are dark rumours that the temples and palaces of Rajasthan have been stripped of all of their ancient wood carvings. Meanwhile, Harry continues to be feted by interior designers, rock 'n' roll managers and more humble souls alike. He knows why his shrining skills are in such demand. "Modern life is all rush, rush, rush, concrete, pollution and noise. People want a place to chill out, a place to reflect in."

Ethnic blending ...

Wilde Ones, 283 Kings Road, London SW3 (0171-351 7851). Indian art, crystals and New Age paraphernalia.

David and Charles Wainwright, 28 Rosslyn Hill, London NW3 (0171-431 5900). Antique Indian furniture.

Ormonde Gallery, 156 Portobello Road, London W11 (0171-792 2418). Tribal art and Indian furniture.

Wong Singh Jones, 253 Portobello Road, London W11 (0171-792 2001). Ethnic kitsch: voodoo dolls and seven-day candles are specialities.

Price's Candles, 110 York Road, London SW11 3RU (0171-228 2001). Candles and outdoor torches.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor