Austerity interiors: To serve us all our days

1940s homeware is back in fashion. And it'll last forever, says fanatical collector Johnny Vercoutre
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When I bought this house on Shoreditch High Street, east London, it had been derelict since 1942, so although it's actually a Georgian building I restored it in a 1940s style. It has retained lots of original features, such as wood panelling, but I picked a more 1940s colour scheme and chose wallpapers from shops such as Liberty.

A lot of people focus on the eccentricity or old-fashioned glamour of living in this style, but there is actually a very practical side to it: old things are built to last; unlike modern pieces they were designed to be repaired, not just tossed in the bin, so they are much better from a recycling point of view. If you have to buy a toaster, for example, and you can get your hands on one from the 1950s that's in fairly good condition, you will have a beautiful piece that will easily outlast something you could buy in a shop today. If it has made it this far, the chances are it will keep on going.

My interest in the 1940s began with vintage cars and motorbikes. I have several military vehicles from the period, including an Austin K9 army truck and a limousine once used by Winston Churchill. I started buying up pieces in earnest about 14 years ago when I was working in film production and realised that if you were making a period piece, there was no one person who could supply you with everything you needed. Each item had to be sourced individually at great cost. As my own collection of 1940s and 1950s pieces was already pretty extensive, it made sense for me to expand it in every direction, so I now specialise in art-directing film and TV productions set between 1939 and 1959.

The problem with people in this country nowadays is that they have this mentality that because something is old, it must be rubbish. I get everything from markets, car-boot sales, junk shops and occasionally eBay. I am shocked by what people overlook – I kept walking past a fantastic pair of 1930s men's brogues in Brick Lane market and found it strange that nobody had jumped on them. I had to buy them myself in the end. I don't collect anything from the point of view of its sale value. I just buy things that give me a good feeling – sentiment is a large part of what drives you when you buy old things.

I've recently opened a 1940s-style tea-shop in my front-room at the weekends and people love it. This period has been growing more fashionable for a few years, but some still associate it with their grandparents and think that makes it uncool, when in fact our grandparents are the best thing on the planet and the people from whom we should be learning.

Time for Tea is open for tea, cakes and vintage bric-a-brac every Saturday and Sunday from 10am. For art direction and vintage vehicle and prop hire, Johnny Vercoutre can be contacted via

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