Interiors: Golden oldies

Forget the fickle ways of fashion: furnishing your home with the best of the past can be a very good thing, says Esther Walker. Photographs by Beth Evans
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The Independent Online

Ah, the Forties! As long as you'd come through the war in one piece it would have been a nice time to have lived. Things were simple then, and more stylish; people left their front doors open, young men didn't walk around with their trousers around their ankles and Starbucks was still a character in Moby Dick.

It's one thing, of course, to have daydreams about wearing gingham and living on the set of The Darling Buds of May, and another to actually live the life, with no central heating, no modern washing machine and no shower. But for Lee Bullman and Janine Warren, it's an easy sacrifice to make, living a simpler life in their turn-of-the-century flat in London's Walthamstow. A cosy living room greets you as soon as you enter; a record player out in the hallway sings big-band tunes. The cream tiled fireplace houses a glowing electric-log fire and on the mantlepiece beaten-up paperbacks and a ration book fight for space with two black art deco cats. The walls, a faint eau-de-Nil, sport framed collages of cigarette-card beauties such as Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh. A tattered Union Jack adorns a desk in one corner (its twin decorates a chest of drawers in the bedroom). The sunny kitchen's black and white flooring, dinky Formica table and glass-fronted cupboards make you itch to switch the kettle on and start looking for a packet of biscuits.

"The houses in this area were all part of the Warner Estate," explains Janine, a music PR, resplendent in a tea dress, peep-toe high heels and red lipstick. "I lived in a rented house before I bought this flat and I was looking for somewhere that hadn't been messed with too much, because I wanted sash windows and period features. There isn't any central heating here but that's not a problem; I grew up in a house with no central heating. We just put a jumper on or cuddle up. Heating up water for a bath takes about an hour. But it means that you really appreciate it when you get in."

The bathroom and separate pull-flush loo were added to the house in the 1940s and the kitchen still has the original larder that, as it sits against the outside wall, keeps things almost as cool as a fridge. Janine admits that there was no masterplan to create an immaculate reconstruction of a 1940s house. "It never started out as a major project," she says. "Since I was young I've always gravitated towards old crap; old clothes, music and furnishings. The other reason why perhaps it has become like this is because it's so expensive to buy a house. So when we were decorating, it made sense to get things from charity shops."

Lee ( who is currently writing a book) and Janine don't claim to have sourced things fastidiously; their television, for instance, is 1950s, one of the first colour sets made. It takes "a while" to heat up and get going, so it mostly stays off. Janine bravely does the laundry in a 60-year-old washing machine, which has a mangle attachment rather than a spin cycle. "The washing machine is a bit inconvenient," she says. "It takes a couple of hours of cursing and swearing and getting water everywhere to do the laundry. Ideally, we'd do it once a week but we've got so many clothes that sometimes we don't get to it as often as that."

Almost everything in the house comes from charity or antiques shops – mirrors, books, curtains and armchairs. A local Salvation Army shop is a mine of treasures – although pieces from the 1940s are getting scarcer all the time – and Lee and Janine have picked things up on their travels, including a pair of fireplaces, Janine's top find, which she saved from a house that was being modernised. "A lot of people might say, 'I want a red sofa,' and then just go out and buy one, but I think it's more interesting to find things on the off-chance and then fit them in with the rest of the house." There are a couple of nods to the modern world, including two laptops, Janine's Blackberry, a vacuum cleaner and a DVD player. However Lee, who just lost his mobile phone, has no plans to replace it. "There's a landline here and I feel freer without it."

Like any home-owners, Janine and Lee see scope for change. "We're always buying books and adding to the things that we've got," says Janine. "We'd still like to find an old kitchen table; at the moment we've just got a small Formica one. We're also looking for a new 1950s fridge. Ours broke. So if anyone has one... I don't mind if it's a bit scuffed – I like things that look a bit lived-in, just as long as they work!"