It's so last century

A Seventies-style orange armchair on a swivel base is perfect for watching 'Doctor Who' in 2005, says Joey Canessa
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For many years, the culturally resistant British population has had difficulty with the idea of blending traditional and modern styles. Although the much-used term "eclecticism" seems to hold huge appeal superficially, deep down the British have felt ill at ease with the ethics of mixing and matching.

For many years, the culturally resistant British population has had difficulty with the idea of blending traditional and modern styles. Although the much-used term "eclecticism" seems to hold huge appeal superficially, deep down the British have felt ill at ease with the ethics of mixing and matching.

While Italian modernist architects have happily advocated the extensions of their palazzos with the addition of wings of glass, steel and concrete, many people in Britain have struggled to appreciate this as anything but "avant-garde".

Gradually, though, the shock of the new has begun to subside and we are all beginning to feel more comfortable with the idea of incorporating amorphous, retro forms within our own Victorian or Edwardian interiors.

In the past few years, however, 20th-century vintage furniture has subtly entered our national consciousness, thanks partly to programmes such as The Rotters' Club and Doctor Who, as well as the constant references to the Seventies made in the music and fashion worlds.

For the fortysomething generation, there is also an element of nostalgia involved. Many of us take comfort in the world of brown corduroy, large floral prints and orange melamine, remembering the carefree days of our youth. Although most of us won't go for the wholesale retro look, a carefully chosen vintage piece can enliven any style of interior and will become a valid antique of the future.

To source genuine collectors' products that fit the retro bill is easy; there is a huge number of online stores, many of the best based in Europe.

An effective website is www.odorama5.com, which sells a groovy range of genuine Sixties televisions, interior products and vintage fashion. Vestigio ( www.vestigio.com) stocks a selection of classics by designers such as Mies van de Rohe, Poul Henningsen and Siza Vieira, many of which are familiar museum pieces coming to life for a second time. It will also help you to source a favourite design classic.

The British, Classic Modern site ( www.classic-modern.co.uk), sells a colourful range of vintage fabric samples, melamine egg cups, ceramics and more, from classic 1950s retro through abstract geometric op art and space-age pop art to Panton-era psychedelia. The site is non-operational at the moment, however, while the team is away sourcing retro relics from around Europe.

All of these sites can ship to the UK, although you will need to factor in additional costs. It can also be difficult to appreciate the patina and textural qualities of older pieces without seeing them first-hand, and for those who prefer the hands-on approach, visiting a UK shop may be preferable.

At Twentytwentyone ( www.twentytwentyone.com, 020 7837 1900), based in Islington, the pieces on display are genuine retro fare. All the designs on show were once progressive - either in terms of the materials or processes used in their production; for example, bent ply or injection-moulded plastics.

Benchmarks in the history of design, in their day they spoke a new and exciting language. The shop has original Eames fibreglass chairs in stock for £550; its Hans Wegner oak easy chairs from 1965 would look stunning in any home, but at £2,400 a pair, they are likely to appeal only to serious addicts.

Another London outlet, eatmyhandbagbitch, 37 Drury Lane, WC2 ( www.eatmyhandbagbitch.co.uk, 020 7836 0830), stocks a good range of post-war designs with a strong emphasis on Italian, Scandinavian and British products. Its 1967 Joe Colombo KD27 chrome table lamp would be an instant hit for anyone with a Thunderbirds streak.

One shop with constantly changing stock is Castle Gibson, in Upper Street, London, N1 ( www.castlegibson.co.uk 020 7704 0927), which sells one-off eclectic modern antiques. Some of its pieces have been beautifully restored in its own workshop, including sleek and shiny polished aluminium display cabinets, great in a modern kitchen.

Rightly regarded as another leading specialist in post-war furniture, focusing on Scandinavian and Italian creations, is Themes and Variations, in Westbourne Grove, London W11 ( www.themesandvariations.com, 020 7722 5531). The shop is able to source many design classics to order. A particularly striking piece in its current collection that would set the tone for a funky dining room is the plastic-fronted cabinet made in 1970 by American designer Raymond Loewy, priced at £5,300.

Although the passion of the specialist retailer is a real inspiration, less dedicated collectors may prefer to look around the high street. Ikea has dipped its toe into the water with a few of its newer pieces, such as the Lagfors coffee table, £79, made of bent wood and finished in oak veneer. Another blast from the past is its pod-like Skruvsta armchair, £59, set on a swivel base and covered in a graphic print in orange, black, yellow or red.

Habitat also has a good selection of vintage-inspired products, notably its Treacy chair, costing £999. Covered in orange wool, and made from injection-moulded plastic on a steel frame, it could be set off beautifully by the chrome Bubb light, £25, reminiscent of the Joe Colombo original. It also stocks an Orbit walnut veneer sideboard, £449, and a selection of retro tables, including a Fifties-style Monaco table, £899.

A word of warning, however: now that vintage style has changed from a serious collector's passion into a high-street reality that everyone can embrace, things might change. Once a style has reached the well-known shops, it is only a matter of time before it becomes passé - and the love affair is over.

Comments