Middle-classes chuck out the chintz and spend on `feelgood factor' instead

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S GROWING middle class no longer wants to mimic the upper class and is finding new status symbols to display its wealth, according to a new research.

Instead of traditional luxuries such as gold bath taps, chintz sofas and thick-pile carpets, the modern middle classes would rather have cast iron baths, mix-and-match furniture and wooden floors.

Experts believe that the perception of luxury has changed in the Nineties. People are more interested in having experiences, such as going on exotic or adventure holidays, and paying for good service, than buying expensive ornaments to decorate their homes.

The research conducted by Fitch, a London design consultancy, is part of a study looking at changing consumer attitudes, which shows that the middle class no longer believe that spending a lot of money will increase their enjoyment of life.

Tim Greenhalgh, Fitch's creative director, said that Britain is seeing the emergence of an "experience" economy. "People are more interested in having real-life experiences and judge "value" as good service rather than the simple, old-fashioned material status objects," he said.

"They are assessing what is good value for money and that includes service. They want the act of buying itself to be a satisfying experience. And they want things that make them feel good. Once it was about status: a hotel with a coffee maker and trouser press meant you had arrived, now people are more interested in having a welcoming atmosphere and nice thick blankets."

In the Eighties, the middle-class "nouveaux riches" were knocked for aspiring to upper-class luxuries and filling their homes with chandeliers, family portraits and Capodimonte figurines. However the growth of the middle classes, highlighted by Tony Blair earlier this year when he talked about his desire for "a new, larger, more meritocratic middle class ... a middle class that will include millions of people who traditionally may see themselves as working class," has meant that it is now difficult to define the middle class with a particular set of aspirations or values.

The latest government figures show that 50 per cent of the country now perceive themselves as middle class compared with only 35 per cent in 1979. Bob Worcester, the head of the opininon research group MORI, has said that this is the biggest shift in social class in a thousand years.

Social mobility has meant that middle-class people are now as likely to have been educated in comprehensive schools as in private ones. A survey of the 1,000 wealthiest people in Britain showed that the vast majority of them are no longer educated at Eton. Just 10 years ago, 25 per cent of the wealthiest people went to school at Eton compared with 7 per cent last year.

"People are moving up the social scale," said Martin Hayward, director of consultancy at the Henley Centre. "The average household in this country is three times better off, in real terms, than it was in 1958, and 70 per cent better off than in 1978," he said.

"The middle classes are choosing experiences over wealth because most of us are fairly in control of our lives, can afford to eat out when we want, have televisions, washing machines and have all these `nouveaux riche' items already," he said.

Fitch believe that the findings of their research have serious implications for the upper end of the market. Firms which are threatened by the change are those that appeal to traditional luxury such as Harrods and Rolls- Royce, they said.