Peter York: The all-new austerity chic
The way we live now
Saturday 03 January 2009
During the economic Phoney War, comfortable people have fantasised about what it might be like to Dig for Victory and live the Waste-Not-Want-Not life. You could live off your land, recycle things amusingly, use less fuel and more blankets. You could eat stew. Older and upper people fell into this line of thinking instinctively, it made them think of Anne De Courcy's funny book Debs at War, about gallant gels doing their bit. They've missed the infinite moral superiority conferred by a leaking roof over 30 bedrooms. It's secretly fun, and it all works better if you've got lots of things already, and some land to live off, and it puts the newly horribly rich in their place – they've been keen to do that for years.
And their rich houses too. The epic vulgarity, phenomenal spends, the small-airport extravagance in use of space, the in-your-face-and-everywhere-else technology, the 64,000-dollar bits of weak whimsy, the boys'-toy conspicuous spends on contemporary art; all these are Postponed Till Further Notice. Let's be specific: the abattoir/laboratory look of over-lit white, steel and glass, the Frankfurt Dentist Deco idyll of pale khaki with black accents and mirrored furniture. The rich and smart have been influential in changing what other people aim for in their own broom cupboards. So all these 21st-century looks have migrated from exotic Knightsbridge to desperate Fulham and around the country. People on smaller budgets have been referencing glassy perfection, expensive materials, absolute scheming and uniform newness.
It all looks completely wrong now. And there will be, of course, a new style to symbolise this massive change of mood. What are its key elements? It's colourful for a start. The urge of the past 15 years has been to eliminate bright colour as naive and low-rent. But in dark times, bright colours are cheerful and cheap.
Think about your brown (ie. antique) furniture. Good brown furniture has been relegated and desperately out-of-fashion for the last decade, the more so because of its deadly associations with High Eighties pretensions like Conspicuous Fogey and Shabby Chic. But forget all that and reassess the nice plainness of these things and their engaging materials and consider how they could live happily alongside an Amanda Levete orange plastic wotsit or a Gered Mankowitz photograph.
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