Having written a couple of features about garden furniture and furnishing your conservatory over the past few months, plus having been on the hunt for a good budget garden furniture set myself, I reckon I am well placed to give … Continue reading
There’s a rash of furniture around that plays around with the contrast between plain, pale timber and slashes of bright colour. It seems that you need to get the balance right (lots timber, and a little colour) and also get the colour itself right, which needs to be blisteringly bright to catch your eye. For designer brands look to Colombian Reinhard Dienes, whose Le Belge shelving fits together with bright green butterfly screws, or Brit Charlie Crowther-Smith, whose Dowel desk features a coral-coloured brace linking its rear legs (both designs are unified by their simple construction). And on the high street, Terence Conran’s Webster dining table for M&S hits the spot. It’s a bit of frivolity in a serious world.
Le Belge shelving, Reinhard Dienes
Detail of Le Belge shelving, Reinhard Dienes
- Dowel desk, by Charlie Crowther Smith
Webster dining table, Terence Conran for Marks & Spencer
Laura Ashley is not a brand well-known for contemporary design – quite the opposite in fact – but I’ve been a quiet admirer of the brand’s (rather well hidden) more modern pieces for a while now. Speed-browsing the latest catalogue at a friend’s new home, I was stopped mid-flick on several occasions, especially by the lighting, but also by other products such as the neutral Logan wallpaper (a fabulous £26 per roll), with its graphic mid-century nod. And of course no one would suspect that your amazing gold-lined ceramic pendant light (a homage to Pols Potten’s extremely wonderful Buffer light, I suspect) or angular steel floor lamp was from Laura Ashley, because they’d never think to look there.
Colinton upholstered chair
Logan natural wallpaper
White ceramic pendant light
Bradie cream task floor light
Here’s a scheme inspired by a great picture from one of my new favourite things, How to be a Retronaut, a cavalcade of visual fabulousness dragged from the archives (I can’t really explain it better than that, have a look though, it’s brilliant if you love social history and totally addictive). Its ‘…in colour’ series is the first thing I click on, and features rare early colour photography of everything from New York in the 1940s to Egypt in the 1920s. Nothing transports you directly into the past than old colour photography and some of the colours and textures are so unexpected; I think my brain thought that everything was actually black and white in history. I can glean more design inspiration here than in any glossy magazine, and this pic of Russian girls, taken from a set shot in 1909-15 seems right for autumnal plummy colours. I love their sombre expressions and stiff deportment (I guess you had to hold pretty still then) especially compared to their exuberant clothes. I was going to cast my shopping net a bit wider here but Zara Home was my first port of call and it pretty much nailed it, so hurray for that.
Clockwise from top left: Flecos blanket, Melia bread plates, Filigree cushion, Cameo tableware, Wayne stool, Rombo jug, Gardenia tray, Velvet cushion, all Zara Home
Shops, of course, want you to but things, but they’ve got to tread carefully when it comes to looking all sensitive about our new age of austerity. So they’re tapping in to our desire to go back to basics, and reconnect with things that are natural, handmade, and, so the argument goes, somehow more authentic and resonant. John Lewis has named this trend ‘Puritan’ and it’s about right – a bit austere, simple shapes, free of too much decorative fuss, lots of natural materials (stone, wood, linen, rope), in muted colours such as taupe and washed-out blue. Brands such as Toast have been doing this kind of thing for ages (and Conran for much longer, since all that stripped-pine-French-farmhouse-rustic-chic came in in the ’60s), but now there’s slouchy linen bedlinen, drippily glazed earthenware and rough-hewn wood all over. It’s all very soothing and gentle. Of course, you could go the other way in times of austerity and embrace the trend for eyeball-screaming neon, as I will be. It’s up to you. I can’t deny that these things are very easy on the eye though, and thanks to the subtle colours, really easy to mix together as well:
Clockwise from top left: Zena rattan shade, £24,98, B&Q; Lazy Linen bedlinen, £205 for a set (2xpillowcases, duvet cover, sheet), The Sleep Room; Eve cup and Saucer, £22.50, Toast; Puritan stoneware jug, £30, John Lewis; horn salad servers, £38, Summerill & Bishop; Baltic cushion, £20, Casa Couture by House of Fraser (coming soon!); Leroy stool, £49.99, Zara Home; Carved dish, £29, and salt bowl/spoon, £15, Plümo
My dad thinks that there is no piece of furniture that can’t be enlivened by a bit of woven cane. Consequently over the years his amateur furniture-making includes TV cabinets, radiator covers and bed headboards all covered with a nice spot of the stuff. Until recently I couldn’t look at it without it reminding me of a dreamy early-70s Laura Ashley catalogue or soft-focus Cadbury Flake ad, but that’s all changed – I love what designers are doing with it now. Patricia Urquiola’s Klara chair for Moroso kicked it all off for me last year, and now French designers Samuel Accoceberry and Jean-Louis Iratzoki have launched a range of seating for Pyrénéa called Xistera featuring exaggerated high backs in woven cane. German firm Thonet has been doing bentwood and cane furniture more than a hundred years, of course, but in both cases here it’s the mix of hard and soft, transparent and solid, that makes things interesting and seems to bring it up to date, adding that all-important layer of texture that no home should be without.
Klara chair, Moroso
Xistera chair for Pyrénéa, via Contemporist
Thonet 209 chair, designed in 1900 and still in production
1960s Brazilian cane-sided sofa, via 1stdibs
Sheet steel Cane table by Lee Walsh
I want to front this up by saying that you can’t buy these unless you live in the US or Canada or have one of those clever shipping accounts. But here are some nice graphic posters by Blue Art Studio which celebrate 20th-century design classics in groovy illustration form. I like the Dieter Rams (Braun supremo) one with all its turntables, dials and switches, and the homage to Eero Saarinen’s the-future-has-arrived TWA building at JFK airport. The eye exam one with all the chairs is for uber design nerds only.