A garden flat in Camden Town
Robin Ridgewell is twenty-nine, and has been in the furnishing trade about ten years. He would now like to start his own shop–but, he argues, ‘What better alternative could there be than managing what I think is London’s present most enlightened shop–Vasa?’ He will soon leave his garden flat in Camden Town to marry.
‘My only structural alteration was to conceal a hideous fireplace, behind pine boarding, but I am constantly moving the furniture. In the summer, I swop the positions of the sitting room and dining room… It makes a change and it is pleasant to feel you are almost a part of the garden on hazy summer evenings.
‘I believe in having only a basic minimum of furniture–1, a large sofa, 2, light armchairs, which make arrangements fairly flexible (I have two Hans Wegner armchairs); 3, a dining table and chairs (I found a simple round Victorian rosewood table, which makes a perfect match for Finn Juhl’s round-backed chairs), and 4, shelves (these hold books, bric-à-brac and a collection of Georgian glass–constantly in use).
‘Sadly, there is often no modern equivalent for an antique, at a price young people can afford. However, I do think the frequent excuse for buying antique as opposed to modern furniture is a poor one–who can dispute that in twenty years time my Hans Wegner chairs will be collector’s pieces and worth a good deal more than I paid?’
A Harley Street flat
Sven Gahlin is thirty, a Swedish art dealer who has now settled comfortably in a first-floor flat in Harley Street. It is unusually civilised and decorous for a bachelor. In fact it is large enough for two.
‘For the girl who decides to take me on, it will be a case of love me, love my flat. Only the kitchen remains to be decorated; I’m leaving that to her.
‘Beautiful objects are my first priority, from which the decoration takes its lead. The colours of my drawing-room, for instance-olive, orange and white–were taken from my Indian miniatures. I couldn’t afford to be a collector, but at least by dealing I can keep and enjoy some of my finds for a while. Venetian and French architectural drawings and designs for interiors and the theatre are my speciality.
‘I chose the French Provincial cabinet because it is supremely beautiful and shows off my gilded bronze and marble pieces. Other prizes include an oak English mirror and two intricately worked French gros-point carpets (I have a terror of stilettos on their account; and I also restrict my guests to foursomes and sixsomes).
‘I also collect minerals. Some fascinating petrified Amazonian wood which looked like pure agate. My new toy is a mid-sixteenth-century corpse in a coffin–somewhat morbid but finely carved, don’t you think?’
A Kensington High Street apartment
Sally Tuffin is twenty five, and half of Tuffin & Foale. Both she and Marion Foale are ex-Royal College girls whose clothes designs are currently hot favourites.
‘I share a top-floor flat off Kensington High Street with a graphic designer and an architect-both men. Men are so much cleaner than : They use the laundry instead of the
‘I suppose my taste in clothes resembles my taste in decoration–Marion and I have just designed some shifts with targets in the middle rather like my pop art paintings by Brian Rice.
‘I tend to spend money on things outside the flat-other people’s clothes, a car, food-but I don’t like early twenties furniture. I’d rather have furniture even only fifty years old, for the mellowed wood, than modern-except perhaps Eames. But that isn’t modern any more, is it? I have a craze for art nouveau. Hideous figures tortured into candlesticks, and Tiffany lampshades. We’re going to have an art-nouveau telly room, but the William Morris paper hasn’t arrived. A friend of mine has a black room lined with washing-powder packets–weird but it really comes off.
‘Most of my furniture comes the Portobello Road-like the billiard table (we play on Saturday afternoons). The brass bed cost £18 there. Much of my furniture was painted in herringbone stripe by the same pop artist friend.’
A Victorian house in Bayswater
Three girls share an early Victorian house in Chepstow Road, Bayswater; Anna Pugh, twenty-five, a freelance graphic designer, Patricia Curran, twenty-four, who helps Betty Locke run her antique shop, and Alice Baily, twenty-three, who works in Fortnum’s.
‘When we arrived, we had no water, no electricity, no furniture and no money. We simply severed ourselves from society. (Not having baths we were compelled to, anyway.) The walls were simulated pink marble and bumpy into the bargain, so we decided on forest-green paint, and did the floors with white lino paint. ‘We found most of our furniture in sales; the Dutch rush chair came from a Heal’s sale. The button-back tub-chair was Patricia’s own conversion. It used to be an office stool.
‘We became very enthusiastic about stripping. The shutters in Anna’s room are now down to natural pine, and they replace curtains.’ ‘Do you remember that Sunday we decided to strip the top-floor ceiling back to its bare boards? It fell in, and we had to cover the space between the beams with paper-the Sundays, naturally.’
‘It was very satisfying finding new functions for old tat. Anna uses her Victorian kitchen scales for fruit; and pill jars for gob stoppers. Patricia turned the base of a wrought-iron sewing-machine into a table, and a pine dining table relic into a console table.’
An architect’s flat in Kensington
Timothy Rendle is thirty-five, an architect who arranged his office space to work overtime. His second-floor flat in Kensington contains a small kitchen cum-darkroom, bed/music-room and all-white living-room, which is his office during the day.
‘Ideally an office and home should be separate though in the same building, but at the moment, whilst I’m single, I find that I can work from home. The drawing-table I designed can be folded up and put in the darkroom. My desk, shared during the day by a secretary, has a white Formica top for evening meals. I hide files in shelves alongside books and samples of bricks and tiles from previous building projects; the 3-D ceramic tiles were for the roof restaurant of the Hilton.
‘I knocked together the chipboard boxes, which hold more samples and rolled drawings, and use them as seats, with cushions added. I like the texture of cane-so I have a wicker chair, designed by Ken Taylor, and rush matting. Apart from some Eames chairs, a bed, some more shelves and a music stand, that’s the total sum of my furniture-otherwise I’d feel claustrophobic.
‘I prefer a room to have just one point of light-so I invented a lighting track which can be adjusted for height and position. It gives an interesting scaled dimness, into which people and objects fade.’
A Georgian flat in Blackheath
Norman Eales is twenty-eight, a Vogue photographer who lives in that idyllic Georgian crescent, the Paragon in Blackheath. ‘In acres of private ground,’ he mused.
‘I first decorated my flat when I had very little money at all. Now that I have some, and have lived here for six months, my ideas have utterly changed. I am utterly tired of white walls and paintwork (they have become the safest step to chic decorating); but I have remained constant to my loathing of curtains.
‘My new scheme will have light sand-coloured walls, and perhaps turquoise painted woodwork. I should really like a plain white marble floor, although marble is difficult to get and to lay, and pretty ll-suited to our climate. At the moment I have a grey charcoal haircord carpet throughout-very practical. I hardly ever have to clean it, except occasionally with the Ewbank.
‘I think paintings are the most important things in a room. My two pictures in the sitting-room are by John Brown, one a seascape of the English Channel and the other a landscape of Dartmoor. I bought them even before the furniture.
‘In my opinion, no significant furniture designs have emerged since 1929, so I am waiting for a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair. I like most of the furniture designed about that time; and really the only antique I should like to own would be one of those tapestry rugs.’
A Victorian flat in Pimlico
Virginia Willis is twenty-three, works in the library of the House of Commons, and shares a spacious Victorian flat, overlooking the trees of a Pimlico square, with two other girls, both journalists.
‘We inherited sickly British Railways green throughout, which we hastily painted white. The landlords agreed to pay for lasting improvements, so we directed them to a sanding firm, who noisily but agreeably transformed most of our floors into a lightly-waxed honey colour. The rest we covered with hardboard and lino tiles-we found lino glue in our hair for weeks.
‘The rooms are vast. Most furniture, except the largest, tends to get lost. In the main rooms we ran curtains across the whole of the window walls-a luxury, but they do emphasize space.
‘Every kind of sofa seems to be expensive, but we rescued a 10-foot long pine church pew from a deconsecrated Methodist chapel. It’s dubiously comfortable, but softened by cushions. We turned all our beds into day-beds, by covering rectangular foam cushions to match the bedspreads and slinging them from bamboo poles held in place by the old curtain-pole holders. (We borrowed a drill for six blissful weeks, and made holes almost everywhere.)
‘I once spent a year in Sweden, where I learnt to appreciate lightcoloured woods and strong colours. I collected some glass there, and would dearly like to own some prize Scandinavian furniture. I miss those simple shapes. But who, apart from Conran, makes well-designed modern furniture I can afford?’
An art dealer’s shared Mayfair flat
Jean-Yves Mock is thirty-six, a French art dealer working for the Hanover Gallery, St George Street. He lives near, sharing a long narrow flat in Park Street with Richard Roud, of the British Film Institute and the Guardian. Mock makes everything he cannot buy, so he has more to spend on paintings, drawings and sculptures.
‘It’s like this,’ he explained. ‘Either you spend £15 on a piece furniture or £500 – there is nothing in between. Pine furniture is undoubtedly the cheapest; the shapes are lovely and so is the finish and colour. I found much of my pine in Avis Mostyn in the King’s Road, Dodo in Westborne Grove, and in the Portobello Road.
‘I made the rest of my furniture simply because I could not find what I wanted in the shops. All our rooms, you see, are long and narrow – a marvellous shape, if treated properly. So I keep furniture narrow and low to emphasize their height. I designed my narrow shelf desk and the bookshelves (wide enough for art books) under the windows, measured up the pieces of wood required, and took my order to Selfridges. They will cut planks to size, then you simply nail them together. It’s a service worth knowing about.
‘Good lighting is difficult to find, but by using spotlights at floor level to light pictures and sculptures, the rooms seem to reach upwards and feel lighter and larger. These shafts of light dramatize my collection, especially Sven Lutkin’s ‘Britannia’ (a brightly coloured, painted wooden sculpture) and Louise Nevelson’s ‘Sky Column Number One’ (a black wooden column).
Joe Tilson’s pine obelisk is extraordinary anyway, and ‘Falling Man’ by Ernest Trova. I brought it back from a recent visit to the States (a mirror with a revolving man attached to it, the Falling Man, all neatly packed in a Perspex suitcase). Once you like geometric artist like Vasarely-I have several of his drawings-you remain fairly constant to the geometric theme. It is a way of thinking. In the bedroom, I have two hard edge geometrical paintings I like especially, one by a French man, Herbin, and another by Mortensen.
‘Luckily I inherited some champagne-coloured carpets, which meant that apart from the colour in my pictures, a Hungarian Kelim about £18 from Liberty’s and a Bessarabian prayer rug, the flat is completely white.
‘My real bargain buys were the pine dining chairs (£14 the set) probably gilded once and hired out to large functions. My bargain make was the sofa. It’s just a bed, backed and sided with wood panels, and padded with foam, covered with fabric. The fabric is a striped flannel, 50 inches wide, 8s 6d a yard, from Gordon Jacob in South Molton Street, who sell off end-of-stock materials. I would like some modern Danish chairs by Kjarholn from Woodlands – they are the best designed chairs I have ever seen.’