Immaculate collections: Inside designer Simon Carter's home
With a magpie's eye for mirrors, jars and glassware, menswear designer Simon Carter is no minimalist. He explains why 'clutterism' rules
Wednesday 23 April 2008
I have a perverse interest in getting builders in to demolish parts of the house. I was always into Lego and Airfix as a child, and maybe there's an element of that in it: pleasure in a fascinating process. I had a lot done when I bought the place. The neighbour said that the extension looked bland, so we even put an ironic pediment on it. It's called "the Pediment of Pretension".
But I also like order, mostly because not being able to find something drives me to distraction, but also because I've been working with small accessories for so long that you get to appreciate very small margins for error. The labelled kitchen cabinets are a case in point. They look good, but they were bought on the cheap from a builders' merchant. What lifts them are the handles. I couldn't find exactly what I wanted, so I had the factory in China that makes our cufflinks knock them up for me. Well, it's all about bashing metal.
It feels like everything has been done with the house now, so I'm thinking of moving again. That, and because I've been in Thornton Heath for 20 years. People end up in Thornton Heath, you don't choose it, even though it sounds so promising – that idea of families picnicking, children flying kites on the heath, when actually it has its quota of drive-by shootings. I came here because I needed the space when the business was starting up. Now we have a warehouse down the road, so I've stayed here so I can walk to work.
When I bought the house it was very run-down, a classic little-old-lady home. Nothing had been done to it since the Forties. But that blank canvas suited me fine. The previous owner asked if she could leave stuff here and I told her that was fine. Imagine a couple who moved here in 1937 and moved out in 1997 and never threw anything away. I filled three skips. But she left good stuff, too: a bed, a TV that works, an armchair we had re-covered, a tin splashback we use as flooring around the fireplace and other stuff I just have on display: old tennis racquets and cricket bats, as well as 17 first-edition Agatha Christies.
I was into motorbikes at the time and the cellar was full of mechanical bits and pieces, like a Norton workshop, and I thought that was a good sign. It's what made me decide to take the house on the spot. Later, I found a little model of a motorcyclist at the bottom of a wardrobe and it's become the house's lucky talisman.
But I have a pretty eclectic taste, anyway. The corbels in the kitchen were rescued from a church that was being pulled down, and the parquet flooring in the conservatory and the stained-glass doors were from a friend's house, though I also pulled one from someone's front garden up the road. And there's a lot of art around, but with no particular remit, everything from Vietnamese propaganda to old maps and the original deeds to the house.
Then there are the collections. There are the croquet cups, and then there is all the Cornishware, which I stopped collecting because the market shot up and it all just got too expensive, though it's cheap again now. It's very practical. I use it all the time. Then there are all the convex mirrors up the stairs, which really come into their own when you have a spread of them.
And then there is the Whitefriars glass, which looks great in certain light. There's an extraordinary Englishness to it; in fact, it's typically British in being a company that for centuries ruled the world, didn't invest and then went bust.
I do like to have a lot of old things in the house, things which have a soul to them. I suppose I'm a fan of what I call 'clutterism'. It's a leaning towards things that are crafts-based when so much is mass-produced now. It gives a connection that more consumers are looking for. I have an old pendulum clock that was very basic in its day and keeps perfect time today.
I like old furniture, too, which either works in a room or it doesn't. There's no real theme to anything. Old furniture is just so much cheaper, too. We've used the same approach in our new shops: we were going to get in expensive purpose-built units and thought instead we'd just get in a load of old mismatched tables, and they look much more characterful for it.
My New World cooker has gone everywhere with me – it's in its fourth house now. Friends snigger at me when they see it, but I have the last laugh when some bit of fancy electronics in their oven packs up. That said, when the new is required, I go for the new; I wouldn't have a 1950s boiler, for instance – it's not some Amish home. It's good to have your own things, though, things that have meaning and personality, around you.
A home for me has to be comfortable, but also familiar and informal. A hotel can be comfortable, but it's not home. That's why I could never do minimalism. I'm a clutterist.
Simon Carter is the founder and managing director of the menswear accessories and clothing brand that bears his name. The company has just opened its first stores in London and Manchester. Carter lives in a Victorian house in Thornton Heath, south London.
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