Open House 2019

Having made the most of Open House weekend every year for the past five years, I think I’ve now visited pretty much every major participating building and development of interest from a modernist/mid century perspective. As such, this year’s itinerary involved revisiting the subject of my first ever blog entry, two architect-designed modern houses and a social housing estate that I hadn’t yet visited due to it being almost completely hidden from view.

Highpoint

Highpoint was the subject of my first ever blog entry on this site, which, looking at it now, was pretty ropey in terms of the writing, formatting and photos so I thought I’d go back there and produce something better.

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Highpoint II, main entrance

Designed in 1935 by Berthold Lubetkin and Grade I-listed in 1970, Highpoint I was built to accommodate 96 one to three bedroom flats (all generously proportioned) and incorporated many features that were technically advanced for the time – I’m not sure how this is logistically possible but there are no partition walls between neighbours’ flats except in the central spine of the building.

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View of Highpoint I from balcony of apartment in Highpoint II

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Highpoint I exterior shots and entrance to Highpoint II

Highpoint II was completed on the site next door in 1938. This block was aimed at wealthier tenants (not that Highpoint I was particularly low grade) and was constructed using richer materials including glazed tiles, glass blocks on the staircase towers and marble in the hall. The building was built to accommodate twelve large maisonettes, all of them containing four-bedrooms and two bathrooms split over two floors, with the best ones situated in the central part of the block: these ones were built with double-height living rooms and elegant oval-shaped staircases.

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Highpoint II maisonette, dining room

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Highpoint II maisonette, oval staircase and double height window

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Highpoint II maisonette, sitting room

I remember being completely awed by both Highpoint I and II and fantasised about living there when I visited five years ago. I was equally awed this time: that split-level maisonette in Highpoint II that I featured in my first ever blog post was just as gorgeous as I remembered it: as well as having the double-height living room and oval staircase, it had stunning views over Highgate from both floors, four large bedrooms and two original 1930s bathrooms. Most importantly, the lift up from the ground floor lobby opened directly into the hallway of the maisonette – I’m not sure why but I always associate this feature with extreme luxury.

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Highpoint II maisonette, bedroom

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Highpoint II maisonette, entrance hall (with direct lift access), 1930s bathroom and oval staircase

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Highpoint II maisonette, office

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Highpoint II maisonette, master bedroom

The maisonette had the perfect mix of original features (the current owner reportedly bought it from the estate of an elderly lady who left behind a lot of moth-eaten Chanel and hadn’t updated anything since she bought it in the 1930s) and modern styling. Our guide informed us with some regret that the original features in some of the other maisonettes in Highpoint II had been “destroyed by too much money”.

Page High

Page High, a red brick social housing estate consisting of 92 homes, was built in the 1970s above a car park that was in turn above a retail store (Sainsbury’s at the time, now a Matalan outlet).

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Page High estate, exterior

The estate, accessed from street level by a lift, opened out into wide pathway which ran between two rows of low-rise buildings with stepped balconies, mostly consisting of one and two room apartments, and maisonettes. The overall design was somewhat reminiscent of the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate though on a slighter smaller scale and without quite the same sense of drama.

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Page High estate, exterior detail

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Page High estate, exterior

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Page High estate, exterior

Page High, however, appeared to be a very well designed estate. Flats were built with their own front and back balconies, and every ‘ground’ floor flat had a front garden.

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Page High estate, exterior detail

In addition, the fact that Page High was seven storeys up from street level meant that it had great views over Alexandra Palace and was remarkably peaceful in spite of its location just off Wood Green High Road. I also liked how well hidden it was: you would never know a development of that scale was there unless you were specifically looking for it.

Springbank

Springbank was one of a pair of semi-detached houses completed in 2014 by SE5 Architects on a large site in Peckham. The house was split over three floors (one of which was a basement level) and despite the very modern finish (lots of glass, steel and blonde wood), reminded me a lot of the original 1960s Lilian Baylis school that was converted into flats a couple of years ago.

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Springbank, exterior from street

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Springbank, exterior from garden

The ground floor contained the living spaces, including a reception room and a large kitchen/diner, both of which had folding doors opening onto the garden, which wrapped around the house on three sides. The kitchen housed a rather envy-inducing walk-in pantry.

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Springbank, kitchen/diner and pantry detail

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Springbank, garden

In the centre of the house was a winding oak staircase with a glass balustrade and treads of varying lengths connecting the different floors of the house. This led down to the basement level (which contained a utility room and workshop) and up to a glass atrium on the first floor, which flooded the whole house with natural light, even though it was a fairly gloomy day.

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Springbank, staircase

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Springbank, staircase

The first floor contained the bedrooms, including a master bedroom with dressing room (like the pantry, this was also envy inducing) and en-suite bathroom, a second bedroom with en-suite shower room, two further bedrooms and another bathroom.

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Springbank, master bedroom looking into dressing room

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Springbank, first floor landing

I did a bit of research online and the other house in the pair was listed and sold earlier this year for £2.25million.

Kirkwood

Unremarkable from the outside, this 1960s mid-terrace house underwent a dramatic interior renovation and extension in 2017 which turned the poky ground floor level into a spacious open-plan living, kitchen and dining room with broad folding doors that led straight out into the garden.

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Kirkwood, exterior

The owners had done a lovely job with the renovation with a range of interesting textures, fixtures and fittings – I particularly liked the the continuous cork flooring throughout the whole of the ground floor and the central glazed partition.

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Kirkwood, ground floor extension

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Kirkwood, ground floor extension

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Kirkwood, garden

I also took note of everything in the bathroom upstairs from the size of the tiles to the bath side panel (a coloured mdf-like material called Valchromat) to the way they’d hung the mirrors so that I can try to replicate what they’d done when we come to do our bathroom renovations.

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Kirkwood, bathroom and master bedroom

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Kirkwood, bathroom detail (yellow Valchromat bath panel)

Modernist pilgrimage to Rotterdam

We recently decided to spend a long weekend in Rotterdam because: a) you can get there in about three hours from London on the Eurostar; and b) I really wanted to visit Sonnenveld Huis, which explains why the majority of this blog entry is dedicated to it.

Sonnenveld Huis

Sonnenveld Huis, a stunning 1930s residential property, has been open to the public since 2001. Designed by architects Brinkman and Van der Vlugt for Albertus Sonneveld and his family, Sonnenvleld Huis was built between 1929 and 1933 and is reportedly one of the best-preserved private houses in the Dutch Functionalist style in the Netherlands.

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior

Functionalist architects prioritised light, air and space, designing efficient and hygienic buildings using modern techniques and materials such as steel and concrete. Floor plans were designed to make internal spaces open and light, enhanced by balconies and terraces. Sonneveld Huis, which felt staggeringly contemporary for a building from the 1930s, was clearly built with these principles in mind. This feeling of modernity was enhanced by Albertus Sonnenveld’s installation of state of the art mod cons throughout the house including telephones in the bedrooms, wall-mounted climate control units, a massage shower with multiple shower heads and a system of music speakers throughout the house which could be controlled from certain rooms (a 1930s version of Sonos, if you will).

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior – terraces

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior – balconies and external door detail

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior – garden

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Sonneveld Huis, interior door and wall-mounted climate control unit

The house was split over three floors. The ground floor contained the servants’ quarters, garage and a charming bright studio room for the Sonneveld daughters to receive guests.

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Sonnenveld Huis, servants’ quarters

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Sonnenveld Huis, the daughters’ studio room

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Sonnenveld Huis, the daughters’ studio room – built-in seating with speaker embedded into the side

The curved main staircase led up to the first floor, which contained the living areas, starting with the kitchen (which was mainly used by the servants) and serving area from which food was passed into the dining room through a beautiful built-in shelf cum serving hatch.

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Sonnenveld Huis, main central staircase

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Sonnenveld Huis, kitchen

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Sonnenveld Huis, serving hatch in dining room

The dining room flowed though into a very spacious living room which could be divided into two using a sliding partition wall. One end of the room opened out onto a large terrace at one end and the other end housed a library and an additional seating area (the high-backed orange chairs were for the men and the lower-backed orange chairs were for the women and their voluminous hairstyles).

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Sonnenveld Huis, dining room

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Sonnenveld Huis, looking back into dining room from living room and sliding partition wall

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Sonnenveld Huis, living room

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Sonnenveld Huis, living room – library area

The second floor contained the bedrooms: a guest bedroom (in which the colour scheme reminded me a little too much of a sanatorium), a separate walk-in linen room with extensive built-in storage and the daughters’ bedrooms which had a shared jack-and-jill bathroom in between them.

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Sonnenveld Huis, main staircase on first floor and view from second floor landing into guest bedroom and linen room

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Sonnenveld Huis, guest bedroom

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Sonnenveld Huis, first daughter’s bedroom and shared bathroom looking through into second daughter’s bedroom

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Sonnenveld Huis, second daughter’s bedroom

At the end of the hall was an impossibly glamorous master bedroom with a wraparound terrace, a large en-suite bathroom and a separate dressing room. The staircase on the second floor continued up to the roof, which was also used as a terrace.

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom – wraparound terrace

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom furniture and separate dressing room

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom – vanity unit

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom ensuite

This really was a very luxurious and expensive house. Clearly, no expense was spared at time on the design, furnishings and fittings (the carpets alone were ridiculously sumptuous). The unconventional use of colour was also stunning – I’ve never seen anything quite so glamorous as that bronze paint used on that curved wall in the library area and in the master bedroom.

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Sonnenveld Huis, roof

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Sonnenveld Huis, curved bronze wall in living room

Sonneveld Huis is absolutely worth making the trip to Rotterdam to see in person. The audio tour (informative but also quite irreverent) was excellent and the freedom to peruse almost every inch of the house at will was refreshing – you were even allowed to sit on most of the furniture!

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior from the street

Chabot Huis

Chabot Huis, a stunning modernist villa designed in 1938 by architects Gerrit Willem Bass and Leonoard Stokla, was a few doors down from Sonnenveld Huis. The villa was initially built as a private house for the Kraaijeveld family but has been used since 1993 as a museum dedicated to the painter and sculptor Hendrik Chabot.

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Chabot Huis, exterior

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the interior of Chabot Huis because the galleries were closed for a re-hanging and when I tried to access the parts of the building that did appear to be open, I was unceremoniously thrown out after failing to produce a pre-booked ticket. I did, however, find some photos of the interior online.

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Chabot Huis, exterior

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Chabot Huis, interior shots found online

Cube Houses

The much photographed yellow Cube houses were an intriguing oddity; more interesting than actually impressive.

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Cube houses, exterior 

Built in 1984 by the architect Piet Blom and located on Overblaak Street above the Blaak metro station, the complex of homes, shops and a pedestrian bridge consisted of a hive of 51 cubes, all attached to one another. Blom’s innovative design involved tilting the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees, and fixing it on top of a hexagonal post. Each house had its entrance at the base of this post, which contained a staircase leading up into the cube itself.

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Cube houses, exterior – staircase up to one of the residential properties

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Cube houses, exterior 

An owner of one of the cube houses had opened his home to the public as a “show cube”, which allowed us to see inside an example of one of the houses with most of its original features intact.

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Cube houses, show cube interior – living room

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Cube houses, show cube interior – first floor landing

Inside, the first floor of the house consisted of a living room and open kitchen, the second floor contained the sleeping area and a bathroom and the apex of the cube contained a further living area.

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Cube houses, show cube interior – study

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Cube houses, show cube interior – built-in storage

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Cube houses, show cube interior – bedroom

The house did not seem like a very practical space to live in. The apex room at the top of the cube was stiflingly hot and all of the walls and windows were angled at 55 degrees which meant that about a quarter of the 1000 sq ft floorspace was unusable, giving the house a slightly claustrophobic feel. I must say that the colour scheme and sharp-angled built in furniture (futuristic through an early 80s lens) probably did not help.

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Cube houses, show cube interior – apex room

Shopping

I didn’t have much luck on the shopping front in Rotterdam despite the abundance of appealing independent stores.

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Shopping – Pannekoekstraat

Pannekoekstraat was a lovely street of boutiques and cafes just a short walk away from the super commercial Blaak area.

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Shopping – shops on Pannekoekstraat

Hutspot, which I suppose would be described in pretentious retailspeak as a “lifestyle concept store” offered a combination of tasteful clothes, design objects and local art from a mix of established brands and young designers and artists. The stuff wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t ridiculously expensive either and the store reminded me of a more grown up, more premium version of Urban Outfitters.

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Shopping – outside Hutspot

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Shopping – inside Hutspot

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Shopping – inside Hutspot 

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Shopping – inside Hutspot 

The flea market at Blaak Maarkt in the centre of Rotterdam was a complete let-down. Though I’d read online that it hosts all sorts of vendors selling food, textiles, plants and antiques, it ended up being 80% food and 20% everything else. There were only a handful of antique stands selling the sort of tat that I tend to seek out when visiting flea markets abroad and I struggled to find anything interesting on any of these stands to photograph for this blog entry, let alone to buy and take home.

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Shopping – flea market stalls at Blaak Markt

1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex

Given that the majority of Rotterdam was destroyed in the 1940s, a lot of the residential architecture was the sort of interesting, debatably ugly post-war stuff that I like. I know nothing about this 1970s/1980s-looking apartment and retail complex built around a waterway but the design was interesting enough for us to stop and take notice – look at those pull-down canopies for the slanting balconies!

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1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex, exterior

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1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex, exterior

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1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex, exterior

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives

We recently visited St Ives in Cornwall, home to Tate St Ives (which contained a pleasingly large collection of mid century art by well known figures connected to the area, including Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo and Paule Vézelay) and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.

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Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, exterior

The museum, a fairly unremarkable stone-built house, preserved the iconic 20th-century sculptor’s studio as it was when she lived and worked there from 1949 until her rather grisly death in 1975 when one of her cigarettes started a fire on the premises. The house was turned into a museum by her family in 1976 and has been managed by the Tate since 1980.

The ground floor housed an information centre while the whole of the upper floor comprised her light-filled living room, which was furnished as she left it (sparsely, with lots of her favourite sculptures on display).

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Barbara Hepworth’s living room

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Sculptures in Barbara Hepworth’s living room

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Barbara Hepworth’s living room

The living room opened out onto the raised yet secluded garden, which was beautifully landscaped, thanks to the efforts of South African-born composer Priaulx Rainier.

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Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Barbara Hepworth’s garden

The garden contained some of the larger of her favourite sculptures, a greenhouse and her workshop, full of her tools and equipment, materials, and part-worked pieces.

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Greenhouse in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Barbara Hepworth’s workshop

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Barbara Hepworth’s workshop

I would definitely recommend visiting the museum to anyone remotely interested in mid century sculpture given that it contains the largest collection of Barbara Hepworth’s works on permanent display in a setting that gives a bit of an insight into how she lived and worked.

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Sculptures in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Sculptures in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Sculpture in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

Great Brownings Living Room

Updated 1 September 2019

Although I experienced extreme buyer’s remorse as soon as I’d paid for it (compounded by the Vitra sample sale’s “no returns” policy), I’ve come to like and enjoy our new all-black Eames lounge chair.

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When it first arrived, I was initially warped by feelings of guilt coupled with the sense that I’d been a bit ripped off. The all-black version of the chair that I’d hastily grabbed in the sample sale reminded me a bit of Chandler and Joey’s BarcaLoungers in Friends and I regretted not holding out for the more classic model with a palisander or rosewood shell that I’d initially wanted (see below). I have since come to my senses and can appreciate the chair for what it is: a compact and very comfortable design classic in a slightly different colour-way.

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I’ve also filled that awkward space in front the wall between the door and the snug with a 1950s Robin Day-style bench that I bought from an Etsy seller. The bench is as uncomfortable as it looks to sit on and I couldn’t face paying £150 for one of the official Mourne cushions from TwentyTwentyOne so I employed one of my cheapskate hacks and covered some bog standard square cushions from John Lewis with a cheap grey tweed fabric that I found in eBay. Like my Artek-inspired stool seat pads in the kitchen, no one is going to be mistaking them for the real thing but I don’t think they look too bad.

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The real thing: slatted bench by Robin Day with Mourne cushion from twentytwentyone 

I also did another cheapskate hack to recreate the Eames small dot print cushion from Vitra (which also cost an obscene £150 each) by buying two Eames print t-shirts from Uniqlo (at £5.90 each) and using the fabric to cover some bog standard 40×40 cushion pads.

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Eames small dot print cushions from Vitra (£150) vs Eames small dot print t-shirt from Uniqlo (£5.90)

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Eames small dot print cushions: the finished hack

Ok, so the cushions feel like t-shirt material to the touch rather than the rougher canvas of the real thing but I think they look pretty good if you squint.

Updated 18 April 2019

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We ended up buying that Tomado unit from Designs of Modernity (which is definitely worth a visit if you’re passing through Crystal Palace – it’s in the basement of Crystal Palace Antiques, a warehouse of tat just off the Crystal Palace Triangle).

According to the owner, this unit is the “super rare” teak version with the “super rare” fourth deeper shelf that was originally designed to hold one of those small B&W 60s TVs but is now probably better suited to art books. To be honest, I wasn’t that fussed about whether or not the unit was rare – I just thought it looked quite nice and was the perfect height and width for that corner of the living room. The price wasn’t bad for something supposedly rare either.

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The next purchase I’d like to make for the living room is a new lounge chair – my partner has requested something comfortable that we can put by the window and pivot to face out into the garden when we want to.

The obvious choice would one of those classic Eames rosewood and leather lounge chairs with the matching ottoman (it’s a timeless style and is the perfect size) but I don’t think we can justify paying the quite frankly obscene £7,380 price tag for a new one.

img_4596img_4597I did look into sourcing a vintage/second hand model but these tend to be priced at between £3,000-6,000 depending on condition (this damn chair really holds its value) and this very informative post on Manhattan Nest about the susceptibility of decades-old Eames loungers to snap in half really put me off the idea. The remaining option is a knock-off and while I didn’t want to have to resort to this (my long-term ambition is replace all of the fake items in the house with genuine items over time), I’ve seen some fairly convincing ones priced between £500-1,000, a much more justifiable (though obviously still expensive) price point.

Updated 4 March 2019

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Now that we’ve finished decorating and putting up/arranging our stuff in the living room, I think it’s looking good from certain angles but slightly lacking from others.

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The wall unit, I must say, has never looked better than it does in this house (it was probably a bit too big and overwhelming for the smaller living room in my previous flat) and I’m similarly pleased with how the rest of the “formal lounge” looks, though we could probably do with another lounge chair – something vintage (a Hans Wegner if I can find one at a decent price somewhere?) would be nice.

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Turning round the camera to face the other wall, however, reveals the fact that we don’t have quite enough stuff yet to fill the room.

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It looks a bit empty and the furniture which is there (that three-legged Tablo table and those fake Artek stools, for example) are a little too contemporary and don’t quite work with everything else – I’ve been sniffing around a teak Tomado unit from Designs of Modernity for the wall next to the window to put there instead. It’d be nice to put up the rest of our pictures on the bare walls as well.

I’m not quite done with the tv area either. I’d like to replace the sofa, which looks alright but is a terribly designed, uncomfortable piece of furniture (don’t ever buy a sofa from West Elm) and I can’t help but think that the sideboard and walls could do with a bit more decorative tat on them.

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I plan to update this blog entry once we’ve made a few (hopefully) final improvements to the room.

15 November 2018

The living rooms in the Great Brownings houses are comprised of a rectangle with a sliding patio door and floor-to-ceiling window on one wall and a square tacked onto the side, making a large L-shape.

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Even though the square tacked onto the side increases the size of the room, it makes for a slightly awkward room to furnish and “zone”. We have seen some of our neighbours using the square as a study off the sitting room whilst others have tried to incorporate it into the main living area.

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We have decided to use the square on the side as a tv area, with the tv positioned in a way that means you won’t be able to see it when you enter the room. The main living room will be a seating area (or “formal lounge” to use more poncey terminology). I fully expect that we will spend 90% slumped in front of the tv in the tv area and only 10% sitting and receiving guests in our “formal lounge”.

In terms of inspiration and other rooms to copy, I’ve always liked this living room in a Barbican flat that was on sale via The Modern House a while ago and sought to copy it when furnishing my current place (it does look a bit like a higher end version of my current living room).

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I also look to that flat that I narrowly missed out on buying (and that I’m not at all bitter about) as inspiration as it had a nicely furnished and styled, neutral Scandi-style living room.

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As ever, blog entry to be updated once we’ve made some progress beyond this:

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“Formal lounge”

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1. Black and white rug from Copenhagen recycled from my current flat

2. Fake George Nelson saucer bubble lamp for centre pendant light – I think the 60cm version is the right size for the room

3. Marimekko floor cushion from Marimekko factory store recycled from my current flat

4. Fake Arne Jacobsen floor lamp from my current flat

5. Vintage rosewood Poul Cadovius Royal system recycled from my current flat

6. Heals Eclipse tables – currently on loan from my sister

7. Tom Dixon Jack light – recently bought from the Heals equivalent of Ikea’s bargain corner. It’s comically massive but I’ve wanted one ever since I saw one in that photo from the Barbican flat (see above)

8. Heals Mistral sofa recycled from my current flat

9. Fake Eames organic chair recycled from my current flat

10. Vintage mid century magazine rack

11. Donna Wilson knitted pouffe recycled from my current flat

12. Merbau three-strip engineered flooring (as before)

TV area:

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1. IKEA Mosslanda picture ledge behind sofa

2. Danish rosewood coffee table recycled from my current flat

3. Fake Panthella lamp recycled from my partner’s current flat

4. Habitat Vince walnut sideboard recycled from my partner’s current flat

5. West Elm Peggy two-seat sofa (aka the most complained about sofa of all time due to buttons popping out and sofa cushions sliding off the base) – having lived with this sofa for two years, it isn’t quite as bad as the complaints online would lead you to believe but the quality and durability hasn’t been great for the price.

6. Ferm living rug from the Skandium sale recycled from my partner’s current flat

7. Fake George Nelson saucer bubble lamp for centre pendant light – I think the 45 version is the right size for the tv area

8. Merbau three-strip engineered flooring (as before)

Turn End house and garden

We spent the recent August bank holiday Monday visiting Turn End house and garden, the architect Peter Adlington’s family home in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire.

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Turn End house, view from back garden

Peter Adlington designed and built a small development of three houses (The Turn, Middle Turn, Turn End) in the 1960s. They received a Royal Institute of British Architects Award for Architecture in 1970 followed by a Grade II* listing in 2006 and have been described as some of the most beautiful houses built in England since the war.

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Middle Turn exterior

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Path leading into Turn End house; Fibreglass shell chairs in front courtyard

While Turn End is still occupied by the Adlington family (and open to nosy members of the public to visit twice a year), The Turn is currently let out and The Middle Turn is privately owned and occupied.

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Turn End house exterior details

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Turn End house, view from back garden 

Turn End, as far as I could tell, was a mostly single storey dwelling arranged around a central courtyard. The main entrance opened almost straight into the kitchen and dining area from which the living area branched off at one end of the house and a large home office at the other. Each of these three areas opened out onto the aforementioned courtyard.

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View from entrance of Turn End house, looking through into central kitchen and courtyard (professionally taken photo from Turn End website)

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Central courtyard, Turn End house

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Kitchen, Turn End house

A very mid century wood panelled bathroom and three bedrooms were located behind the kitchen, accessed by a short flight of stairs. There also appeared to be a mezzanine level of sorts above both the living and home office areas, accessible via a wooden ladder.

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Bedroom, Turn End house

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Bedroom, Turn End house

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Bedroom/Study, Turn End House

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Bathroom, Turn End house

Turn End, like all of my favourite modernist houses, had a distinctly European flavour. Certain elements, such as the wooden beams and mezzanine levels reminded me of Villa Aalto in Helsinki whilst the use of exposed stone, breeze blocks and terracotta floor and roof tiles were more Mediterranean in style. With temperatures reaching 33 degrees on the day that we visited, it felt like we were in Southern Spain at times.

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Living area, Turn End house

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Living area, Turn End house

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Mezzanine area above home office area

This was particularly the case when walking around the garden, which at just under an acre, was rather large relative to the house. Designed by Peter Adlington as a natural extension to the house, the space contained courtyards with pools, a small woodland around old apple trees and a curved glade leading to a series of garden rooms. I would love for our rather sad-looking garden to look more like this.

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Garden, Turn End house

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Garden, Turn End house

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Garden, Turn End house

Turn End is usually open for visitors twice a year but we were told that all three houses might be open next year as a special anniversary treat. If that’s the case, I’ll definitely be coming back.

Great Brownings house tour

Now that we’ve finished doing up the bits of the house that we planned to do this year, I thought I would do a quick round-up of the individual Great Brownings room entries that I’ve been updating along the way – please click on the photos to be taken to the relevant entries:

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Living room

Kitchen

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Hallway

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Bathrooms

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Master bedroom

Second bedroom

Guest bedroom/study

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Study

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Garden

Span Blackheath 20th Century Society Tour

I recently attended another 20th Century Society architectural tour, this time an almost ludicrously comprehensive perambulation of Span developments in Blackheath. The four-and-a-half hour tour took in the full range of Span housing types, of which there was a unexpectedly wide variety.

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The Priory (1956)

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The Priory (1956)

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Spangate (1964)

The Priory (1956), The Hall (1957), Spangate (1964) and Hallgate (1958) were examples of classic Eric Lyons-designed low-rise 1950s and 1960s apartment blocks, containing apartments filled with light (thanks to extensive glazing to the front and rear of each apartment) and looking/opening out onto perfectly maintained landscaped gardens.

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The Hall (1957)

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The Hall (1957)

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The Hall (1957), detail

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Hallgate (1958)

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Hallgate (1958), detail

I’ve previously been to view an apartment in Hallgate and while I admired the setting and the development (particularly the glazed open porches and that unusual sculpture), I wasn’t overly taken with the flat itself due to the slightly tired decor inside. 

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The Priory (1956), interior of first floor apartment

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The Priory (1956), interior of first floor apartment

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The Priory (1956), interior of first floor apartment

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The Priory (1956), interior of first floor apartment

The two sympathetically modernised apartments that we given access to as part of this tour (one in The Priory and the other in The Hall) were far better examples, showcasing the features of these bright spaces to their full potential.

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The Hall (1957), interior of ground floor apartment

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The Hall (1957), interior of ground floor apartment

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The Hall (1957), interior of ground floor apartment

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The Hall (1957), interior of ground floor apartment

We were also shown around some classic 1950s and 1960s Eric Lyons developments made up of two-storey terraced houses, including The Lane (1964),  The Keep (1957), Hall II (1958), Corner Green (1959) and The Plantation (1962). Like the apartments in his apartment blocks, Lyons’ houses were designed to maximise the qualities of light and space and to enhance the relationship between the buildings and the surrounding landscape. Care was taken to design and build houses around existing mature trees, supplemented with new planting and the creation of communal areas that encouraged residents to mix.

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Hall II (1958)

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Hall II (1958)

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Hall II (1958)

Some of the developments stood out as being particularly successful (for me, The Plantation and Corner Green, the latter of which was reportedly Eric Lyons’ favourite), due to their design and colour schemes coupled with the positioning of the houses around a large central open grassy space set back from the road.

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The Plantation (1962)

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The Plantation (1962)

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Corner Green (1959)

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Corner Green (1959)

Other developments, whilst equally well designed, felt slightly compromised by the size, shape and/or condition of the sites upon which they were built (the houses on The Lane, for instance, were built around a snaking tarmac drive whilst the grass and vegetation in The Keep looked like it could do with being watered in places).

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The Lane (1964)

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The Keep (1957)

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The Keep (1957)

There were some interesting outliers along the way. The Foxes Dale Houses (1957) were a trio of larger townhouses, unusually set over three storeys with a striking spiral staircase at their centre.

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Foxes Dale House (1957), exterior and back (photo from House & Garden)

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Foxes Dale House (1957), interior views (photos from House & Garden)

These houses had both paved gardens to the front and rear and a balcony screened by glass and roofed by a pergola on the first floor. House & Garden were enlisted at the time to decorate these houses in seemingly flamboyant mid century style, judging by these images from the publication at the time.  

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Foxes Dale House (1957), interior views (photos from House & Garden)

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Foxes Dale House (1957), interior views (photos from House & Garden)

Designed with a more affluent customer in mind (House & Garden referred to an imaginary retired Royal Navy commander working at Greenwich, aged about 40, married, with a son of ten), the developers apparently had a tough time shifting these houses as they were too expensive for the area at the time, which seemed to put the developers off from building any further premium housing of this type in the area.

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Foxes Dale House (1957), exterior and interior views (photos from House & Garden)

Southrow (1963) also had a slightly different look and feel.

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Southrow (1963)

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Southrow (1963)

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Southrow (1963), view from roof terrace

This development, comprised of 10 two-storey maisonettes and 23 apartments set around a large rectangular quad with one side of the development and the communal roof terrace looking out onto the heath, was also seemingly built with a more affluent customer in mind.

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Southrow (1963), communal areas

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Southrow (1963), roof terrace

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Southrow (1963), communal areas

The houses, one of which we were given access into, originally contained a pointlessly large upstairs landing area, which the owner of this house had sensibly converted into a third bedroom and the flats, one of which we also saw inside, were extremely generously sized and quadruple aspect, with striking views from every window.

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Southrow (1963), interior of Type Q maisonette

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Southrow (1963), interior of Type Q maisonette

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Southrow (1963), interior of second floor apartment

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Southrow (1963), interior of second floor apartment

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Southrow (1963), interior of second floor apartment

The 13 sand coloured terraced houses on Hall IV (1967) were another outlier. These houses had a decidedly brutalist aesthetic not seen in any other of Eric Lyons’ estates in Blackheath.

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Hall IV ((1967)

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Hall IV ((1967)

The tour also took us to some post-Eric Lyons Span oddities from the late 1970s and 1980s, including Streetfield Mews (1984), Corner Keep (1979) and Birchmere (1982).

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Corner Keep (1979)

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Streetfield Mews (1984)

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Birchmere (1982)

While the use of materials and certain design choices (a weird faux Medieval typeface on the signs, red-brown Brookside-style brick, circular windows) on these estates were typical of the era, other features (seclusion from the road, immaculate landscaping and extensive glazing) were classic Span.

Note: I am certainly no Span expert so may have mis-identified any number of estates pictured above – let me know if you spot any and I will amend accordingly! 

Great Brownings guest bedroom/study

Updated 4 August 2019

The final room in our house to receive a before/after update, the guest room/study has received a thoroughly neutral makeover.

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I was under express instructions from my partner (who uses this room as his study) not to fill it with “tat” but I have semi-succeeded in sneaking in a few bits and pieces to add a bit of visual interest.

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The white bed frame from Argos fits the space under the window perfectly but the quality is terrible and came in about 500 sharp-edged pieces that needed to be painstakingly assembled over the space of about 4 hours. We wouldn’t recommend buying it.

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On the other hand, whilst it did take an unreasonable amount of time to arrive, the similarly budget-friendly desk from Made.com looks alright and seems to be of reasonable enough quality.

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30 December 2018

The fourth bedroom was decorated so distinctively by the previous owner that the estate agent declined to include a photo of it in the listing (we referred to it until recently as “The Red Room”).

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Now that we’ve stripped off several layers of wallpaper and removed the built-in furniture, it’s currently looking a bit less oppressive.

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We decided that this one would make a good additional guest bedroom (it’s just wide enough to fit in a single bed under the window) and study.

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1. Josiah pendant from SCP sample sale – one of those items that I bought ages ago which I’m determined to use somewhere/anywhere in the house

2. Lloyd cabin single bed frame from Argos – this fit the bill for a number of reasons (no bulkiness at either end, drawers underneath, inoffensive looking, cheap)

3. Yet more String shelving recycled from my current flat

4. Northern Sunday bedside light recycled from my current flat

5. Depot desk from Made – I chose this one because it was under £200 and looked a bit like that Pierre Guarriche desk that I saw in Brussels a couple of weeks ago

6. Fake Eames DSW chair recycled from my current flat

 

Vitra sample sale 2019

Updated 19 July 2019

Not nearly as fraught as the mess described in that article in The Guardian but a lot more expensive, last Saturday’s Vitra sample sale was a mostly civilised experience.

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Having arrived at the Oxo Tower at 5.30am (!), I found myself fifth in the queue (the person at the front had been waiting since 4am), which steadily grew around the block as 9am approached. There was a bit of a scuffle behind me when someone thought it was acceptable behaviour to wander away from said queue for about an hour and a half and then reclaim his spot fifteen minutes before the sale opened but the wait was mostly tolerable thanks to my camp chair and reading materials.

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Shortly before it opened, we were provided with a rough plan of the venue’s layout (accessories on the ground floor, living/office on the first and dining on the second), which allowed for an element of strategy.

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When the doors finally opened, I immediately dashed up to the first floor to locate the lounge chair and desk that I’d planned to buy. There was no sign of the desk but there was, happily, a row of lounge chairs from which I could take my pick due to the fact that I was near the front of the queue. I briefly considered a version in green leather with a handsome palisander shell but it was in the new, larger dimensions, which I’m not a huge fan of (I think it makes the chair look cumbersome and a bit like one of those weirdly proportioned replicas) so I went for a sleek, all-black model (leather and wood panels) in the original, smaller dimensions.

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Green leather in new, larger dimensions vs black leather in original, smaller dimensions

The competitive atmosphere, encouraged by the sales staff (if I didn’t buy it, someone else would!) coupled with my moderate sleep deprivation meant that I didn’t pay much attention to the price on the sticker (it was discounted so that’d do!) and just headed for the tills. Only when I got home did I realise that I could have ordered the same chair in the Heal’s sale from the comfort of my own home for not a huge amount more. At the time of writing, I’m still waiting for my lounge chair to be delivered so I’m hoping that the slight feeling of buyer’s remorse will dissipate as soon as it arrives.

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Looking around at the rest of the stock after I’d bought the lounge chair, it was all still pretty expensive. Desk chairs were about £300-500, dining chairs £150-300 and a lot of stuff (including that ESU bookcase unit and, to my shame, the lounge chair) still in the thousands. The only items going for under £100 were the accessories and those were snapped up pretty quickly.

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My  main tips for anyone attending any future Vitra sample sales are to arrive early (but 5.30am is probably unnecessary unless you’re looking to buy a not particularly discounted lounge chair) and take the sticker off any item that you’re interested in buying but carefully consider whether you could get the item more cheaply elsewhere with a proper warranty before paying – you can always put the sticker back (as I probably should have done).

10 July 2019

I’ve never attended a proper Vitra sample sale with everything at 60% off or more* but this Guardian coverage of a similar event in 2005 makes it sound like an absolute mess of an experience.

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I’m really hoping that it won’t be quite as fraught or competitive this time as I frankly don’t have the time or the energy to compete with people with the commitment to camp outside the venue days in advance. I think one of the reasons for the ridiculousness last time was the way in which the organisers advertised a couple of “special buy” deals designed to whip up hysteria (e.g. an Eames lounger for £50) weeks in advance. Fortunately, they haven’t done that this time so it’ll hopefully be a bit more civilised.

 

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All the same, I’m planning to get there early armed with a camp chair and a book. My probably unrealistic wish list consists of: an Eames lounger (which I’ve had my eye on for a while), an EDU desk (to replace the very 00s frosted glass one in my study) and some kind of pendant light – I will update this entry to let you know how I get on…

For those who want to take part in the bun fight, it’s scheduled to take place at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH on 13th July 2019 and runs from 9am to 5pm.

*That lame, expensive one in 2015 which just consisted of about 100 green Vegetal chairs doesn’t count.

Goodbye to Skandium (for now)

I don’t know what on earth happened from a business perspective to reduce Skandium, once one of the best known retailers of Scandinavian design and furniture with four outlets across London (two big, beautiful stores on Marylebone High Street and in South Kensington and concessions in Selfridges and the Fritz Hansen shop in Fitzrovia), to a messy pile of stuff at their closing down sale last weekend.

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While I was pleased to hoover up some bargains at the sale (it was odd to see certain design classics I thought I’d never see in the bargain bin at 40% off though sadly, the giant Kay Bojesen monkey was not for sale), I was really quite sad to see one of my favourite stores close and for all the stylish, knowledgable staff to lose their jobs.

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In slightly more positive news, it appears that Skandium will be back at some point: the administrators have found a buyer that intends to focus on rebuilding the brand as an online business with a view to eventually reopening the stores. In the meantime, I’ll have to source my design tat elsewhere.