Phoenix, Arizona was a bit of a step down in the glamour stakes after Palm Springs (it only factored into our plans because it was en route back to London) and we’d made the foolish mistake of coinciding our visit with Thanksgiving Day in the US (which explains why most of the photos in this blog entry look like something out a post-apocalyptic film) but it turned out that there was a lot to like about the place from a mid century/modernist perspective.
Armed with our map from modernphoenix.net (a spectacular, if slightly overwhelming resource setting out every modernist building of interest in the city), we wandered around taking in various commercial buildings.
This included Hanny’s (formerly a department store, now a restaurant) from 1947 with its international-style facade, the US Federal Building and Courthouse from 1961, Central Towers (often referred to as the “U-Haul Towers” since U-Haul’s headquarters are located there) from 1959-62, Pyramid on Central (basically a concrete inverted pyramid) from 1979, the Lescher & Mahoney office (a two-storey courtyard office building occupied by an architectural firm) from 1963, the Phoenix Financial Centre together with the “North Rotunda” and the “South Rotunda” (today used as government offices) from 1964-72, Durant’s (a longstanding steak restaurant) from 1950, the Fifth Avenue Medical Building from 1967 and the Dental Arts building (essentially a box on silts, a popular design solution in Phoenix for providing shaded parking while maximising the leasable area of an office building) from 1969.
We came across some futuristic-looking mid-century motels featuring dramatic angles, bold colours and oversized neon signs, the best example of this being the City Centre Motel (now a Travelodge) from 1959. Most of these had been left to ruin and had a distinctly seedy feel upon closer inspection.
In contrast, we also came across a concentration of nice garden apartment buildings from the late 1950s/1960s on Fifth and Sixth Avenues. These garden apartment buildings were characterised by a low-rise profile, the incorporation of a central open space, generous patios and balconies (designed to provide shade for the unit below) and a general blurring of the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. These garden apartment buildings mostly had glamorous park-like names such as Park North, Royal Riviera, Park Fifth Avenue and The Shorewood.
In terms of shopping, we discovered a cluster of around ten decent but not especially bargain-filled mid century/vintage stores along N Seventh Avenue.
Perhaps most significantly of all, Phoenix was home to several Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, two of which we visited – First Christian Church and Taliesin West.
First Christian Church was first designed around 1950 for a local client which went bankrupt. The design was revived by First Christian in 1970, long after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death and was completed in 1973. Meant to “evoke the Holy Trinity and reflect an attitude of prayer”, the chapel’s roof and triangular spire were 77 ft high, supported by 23 slender triangular pillars. The church was accompanied by a separate and free-standing 120 ft bell tower built in 1978 and topped with a 22 ft cross.
Slightly further afield was Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architectural school. This bizarre building warrants its own dedicated blog entry, which will follow.
Aside from nosing around desert modernist houses, we also tried to fit in seeing everything else that Palm Springs had to offer from a mid century/sightseeing perspective (which, as it happens, was quite a lot).
Palm Springs City Hall (1952-1957)
Palm Springs City Hall was a classic Albert Frey mid century design built between 1952 and 1957. Frey incorporated a distinctive portico overhang at the main entrance with a circular cut out (framing three tall palm trees which shoot up out of it) and used aluminium piping cut at right angles to create brise soleil, shielding the front of building from the intense morning and early afternoon sun. The facade and most of building reportedly looks much the same today as it did when it was completed in 1957. The interiors were comparatively dreary.
Sunnylands Estate (1966)
The mid century Sunnylands estate was developed in the early 1960s and was home to influential couple Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Located at Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope Drives, the property has been the vacation site of numerous celebrities and public officials including several US presidents. While the exterior and gardens were indisputably stunning, the interiors were an interesting, debatably attractive blend of mid century modern and premium American chintz. A separate blog entry dedicated to the estate will follow.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1949-1963)
Probably Palm Springs’ most popular tourist attraction, this gondola ride treated us to a double-digit temperature drop, snow-covered mountains, some interesting mid-century architecture (the rotating cars and the angular stations at both ends were constructed between 1949 and 1963 and designed by renowned mid century architects Albert Frey and E. Stewart Williams) and a view of the entirety of the Coachella Valley when we reached the top.
Bank of America (1959)
Located at the south end of Palm Canyon Drive, the Palm Springs branch of Bank of America was designed by Victor Gruen Associates and built in 1959. The architects were reportedly inspired by the shape of le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp but seemingly decided to take the building in a more bold direction with the rounded edges and primary colour palette. I thought it looked like something out of The Flinstones i.e. just on the wrong side of cartoonish.
Tramway Gas Station (1963-1965)
Designed by Albert Frey and Robson C Chambers and built in 1963-65, this former gas station with its distinctive cantilevered wedge-shaped metal canopy was converted into the Palm Springs visitors centre in the 2000s after a long period of disrepair and a unsuccessful stint as an art and sculpture gallery. It is referred to as the Tramway Gas Station due to its location at foot of Tramway Road, the long road leading to the entrance for the Palm Springs aerial tramway.
Saint Theresa Elementary Church (1969)
St. Theresa elementary church was designed in 1969 by William Cody, one of the forerunners of modernist architecture in Palm Springs. The church featured a vast concrete wall, which curved upward like an inverted arch, surrounding the church and blocking wind, street noise and quite a lot of light – the church was cool and dark inside. This was reportedly international so that worshippers could forget the outside world and focus on the spiritual character.
Shell Gas Station (1964)
Until recently a Shell Gas Station, this structure was designed by architect William F. Cody in 1964. This is the last of five architect-designed mid century gas stations in Palm Springs that still operates as a gas station.
Ace Hotel (1965/2009)
Opened in 2009 on the site of a converted Howard Johnson motel built in 1965, the Ace Hotel had a slightly irritating modernist meets Americana ironic/hipsterish vibe. Everything seemed to have been designed for the explicit purpose of looking good on Instagram. The hotel was broken down into different buildings (that made up the original motel), most of them facing a central pool, the location for pool parties and DJ sets frequented by Coachella festival-going types.
The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five (1955)
A collective of 14 rather expensive shops selling clothes and mid-century homewares in a very photogenic 1955 E. Stewart Williams-designed building with a pink facade in Uptown Palm Springs. It was recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site (“We would trek from LA to Palm Springs for a visit to The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five alone!”) which gives a good idea of the kind of place it was.
Antique shopping at South Palm Canyon Drive
I found most of the shopping in Palm Canyon Drive, the main shopping street in Palm Springs, to be expensive and a bit pretentious (in the same vein as The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five – see above) so I was pleased to discover this cluster of antique, vintage, art, and thrift stores set along East Sunny Dunes Road and Industrial Place. My favourite stores were Sunny Dunes Antique Mall and the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, both warehouse-like spaces containing labyrinthine mazes of rooms filled with vintage tat to buy. Prices weren’t exactly flea market level but were reasonable/affordable enough (the average price for a single item was about $25).
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, 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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The much photographed yellow Cube houses were an intriguing oddity; more interesting than actually impressive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t have much luck on the shopping front in Rotterdam despite the abundance of appealing independent stores.
Pannekoekstraat was a lovely street of boutiques and cafes just a short walk away from the super commercial Blaak area.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
As ever, blog entry to be updated once we’ve made some progress beyond this:
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”).
Now that we’ve stripped off several layers of wallpaper and removed the built-in furniture, it’s currently looking a bit less oppressive.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Updated 2 June 2019
I’ve somehow resisted the temptation to fill the master bedroom with clutter, just adding this Flensted mobile (“Turning Leaves”) to the corner of the room as a finishing touch.
I also picked up this rather natty duvet set for £20 from the new Överallt range at Ikea, a series of items covered in a colourful abstract print of people and animals.
The en-suite bathroom remains a crusty pink mess.
Updated 18 February 2019
One of the more difficult rooms to redecorate (thanks to the wall-to-wall built-in wardrobes which needed a lot of attention inside and out) and furnish (due to the fact that there’s only one wall to put furniture against), I’m quite pleased with how the master bedroom has turned out – it’s basically a blend of the three bedrooms pictured below that I stole inspiration from.
The best thing about this room is its outlook onto Great Brownings though I think most of this view will be obscured when the trees start to sprout leaves again.
The door to the en-suite bathroom is closed in these photos because it remains a hot mess.
Although it looks alright, the room doesn’t feel quite finished yet. I’d like to hang more artwork – (potentially something above the Boby trolley on the left of the bed?) and source some kind of rug to go in front of the bed (a bit like this). Further update to come when I’ve filled the room with a bit more clutter.
12 November 2018
The master bedroom is at the front of the house with a wall of built-in wardrobes, dusty rose wallpaper and an equally pink en-suite bathroom, which will warrant its own blog entry when we turn our attention to it.
Rather than come up with any original design ideas of our own, we will be aping other rooms we’ve seen in other houses or online again.
The first bedroom that sprang to mind as something we could copy was from a flat in Grenville Court that I narrowly missed out on buying a couple of years ago: it had white walls, textured grey carpet and was simply furnished in a similar style to my existing flat. It was simple, calming and achievable with the resources we have available.
Another potential source of inspiration was the bedroom in one of those Norman Starrett houses featured in Mid Century Magazine. This bedroom was a bit more high-end, furnished entirely with mid century rosewood pieces with a fine, short tufted, almost velvet-like grey carpet. I managed to find a synthetic carpet with a similar look and feel (something called Smart Vienna) but I wasn’t sure how it would look with our non-antique, slightly more modern furniture.
The final bedroom I thought we should copy was from a recently restored flat on the Parkleys estate in Ham. A more playful take on mid-century modern, I liked the use of colour against the grey rubber floor. I also loved the bed so much that I immediately did an online trawl of furniture shops and happily found it on Habitat for about £300 in the sale.
Entry to be updated once master bedroom starts taking shape.
1. Stag mid century chest of drawers recycled from my current flat
2. Fake Tablo three-legged table recycled from my current flat
3. Slightly broken Habitat Flap clock recycled from my current flat
4. Yellow Boby Trolley recycled from my current flat
5. Lucia bedframe from Habitat
6. Textured Kersaint Cobb carpet in Morning Frost – we’re carpeting the whole of the upper floor in this as I couldn’t risk the velvety Smart Vienna looking weird
7. Marimekko bedding recycled from my current flat
8. Fake George Nelson bubble lamp recycled from my current flat
9. Poster Ladder by Marie-Aurore Stiker-Metral recycled from my current flat
The Dulwich artists’ Open House weekend allowed me to enjoy two of my favourite pastimes at once: shopping and nosing around other people’s mid century homes.
With the goal of finding a suitable artwork to hang on one of the bare walls in the hallway of our house, we set off around the map provided by the organisers. I’ll admit that I chose the places that we ended up visiting 40% based on the art (which I won’t even attempt to write about due to a lack of knowledge and appropriate vocabulary on my part – I’ll provide links to the artists’ websites instead) and 60% based on the house in which the art was being exhibited.
First on the agenda was Sarah Hamilton who was displaying her prints, painting and homewares in her Austin Vernon & Partners-designed house in Peckarmans Wood.
Built in 1963 and widely considered to be the finest of all the 1960s Dulwich houses, her house was one of the larger, two storey types with an upside-down layout (entry and living spaces on the ground floor, bedrooms on the lower lground floor with access to the garden), floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden panelling, pitched ceilings and elevated views over the communal grounds and towards the City.
Just further up the road were Victoria Kitchingman who was displaying her portrait-focussed oil and mixed media paintings and paintings, and Jo Lewis who was displaying her water-based paintings, in Woodsyre, another Austin Vernon & Partners-designed terrace of houses.
These houses were deceptively substantial, containing multiple, generously proportioned living areas (both artists had knocked through the original kitchen on the ground floor) and five bedrooms spread across four floors.
Both houses had panoramic views from the top of Sydenham Hill and access to an idyllic communal green at the bottom of the their beautifully manicured gardens.
Next on the list were The Fine Groove and Birgitta Pohl exhibiting intricate wood engravings and functional, decorative stoneware at a split-level maisonette which had the feeling of a house in Breakspeare, a sixties-looking development next to Sydenham Hill station.
Joy Godden and Charlie Loxley were exhibiting jewellery and children’s prints in a house in Lings Coppice, which had been reconfigured on the ground floor to create an open plan space with bi-folding doors opening out onto the garden.
Jim Grundy was exhibiting his rather stunning geometric abstract paintings at his classic sixties three-storey townhouse on Half Moon Lane.
Slightly further afield near Denmark Hill was Charlene Mullen displaying her embroidered scenic cushions and ceramics of London at her house in The Hamlet, a rather lovely development of 32 terraced houses arranged in a rectangular formation around a large communal green.
Built in 1967, it was reportedly architect Peter Moiret’s final project before he died so he was intent on designing something special. Split over three floors, the house was generously proportioned with an open-plan, very deluxe-looking kitchen on the ground floor with access to an exotic-looking garden and a split-level reception room on the first floor with a balcony at both ends.
Last on the itinerary were Emily Jo Gibbs and Fabio Almeida in Forest Hill. Emily Jo Gibbs was displaying her beautifully delicate hand-stitched textile portraits and still lifes in the classic three-storey sixties townhouse opposite the Horniman Museum that she grew up in.
Fabio Almeida’s abstract paintings and collages persuaded us to trek up that hill to the Grassmount development.
Like the townhouse in Grassmount that we viewed during our property search, Fabio Almeida’s house was generously proportioned and provided the perfect mid-century flavoured backdrop for his fantastic (and surprisingly accessibly priced) pieces.
Updated 25 March 2019
As much as I’ve always liked these Artek zebra print seat pads, I couldn’t justify buying three of them for the stools in the kitchen at £80 each (more than we paid for the stools themselves).
My cheapskate solution was to construct our own knockoffs using cheap seat pads, fabric from eBay and a local tailor.
Whilst no one is going to be mistaking my efforts for the real thing, I don’t think the overall effect is too bad? The zebra print pattern is obviously a lot smaller than on the genuine article (which wasn’t apparent from the fabric thumbnail when I bought it online) but the tailor has done a pretty neat job and they did work out as being a fraction of the price. Perhaps most importantly, the stools are reasonably comfortable to sit on now.
Updated 10 February 2019
Our finished kitchen is pretty much what we planned save for the colour of the Formica worktop (rather than that mustard colour, we went for an iris blue that we directly copied from those images of that kitchen in the Bromley house – scroll down to see pictures of a near identical kitchen), the cupboard door handles (we decided that the holy wafer ones from Superfront were a bit twee and expensive and so bought some cheap and discreet rectangular plates) and the absence of tiles on the back wall (we decided that tiling plus the upstand would be a bit much but we’re now terrified of anything splashing onto the painted white walls, which makes cooking food on the hob a weirdly tense experience).
The bar stools are some very worn Artek Stool 64s (the 65cm version), which we found on eBay for £200 for the three. There are plenty more where they came from as the seller seems to have loads which he apparently sourced from Apple stores.
After having been asked a few times, I can confirm that the rectangular box on legs is a bin.
I can also report that having used it now for a few weeks, the Kulinarisk steam oven from Ikea was not worth the additional expense. It might just be the fact that it’s a relatively low-end model (some friends of ours have a Gaggenau model which cost more than our entire kitchen) but the steam doesn’t seem to make any discernible difference to the food and we hadn’t quite appreciated that the water would need to be drained after each time the oven is used using a little plastic hose which spurts water all over the floor.
On the whole, however, we’re really happy with how the kitchen has turned out looks-wise and from a practical use perspective. If we were to do it all again, I probably would have tried to avoid fitting the wall cabinets to the back wall (I’m still envious of our neighbour’s with its “no wall cabinets” aesthetic – scroll down to see photos) but that’s about it.
5 November 2018
I thought I’d start by writing about our attempt at designing our new kitchen given that it’s probably going to be the largest and most expensive part of our renovation project.
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, the Great Brownings houses have a separate kitchen and dining room with a very 1960s-style serving hatch (a rare example of a mid-century design feature that hasn’t ever come back into fashion) connecting the two. Our house features this original setup but it looks like the original kitchen was refitted at some point in the 1980s judging by the country cottage-style cabinets and tiles.
Based on what we’ve seen online and our neighbours’ houses, most people who have renovated their house on the estate have chosen to knock down the dividing wall to make an open-plan kitchen/diner, with some kind of breakfast bar in the middle. This made perfect sense to us so we decided to follow suit.
Given our lack of experience of selecting and designing a kitchen (we’ve always lived in places where we’ve had to accept whatever kitchen we’ve been given) and general lack of imagination, we were keen to find another kitchen to copy almost directly.
If we had the funds and creativity, we’d have loved to have gone for something like our neighbour’s bespoke timber kitchen with its mixture of dark wood and reclaimed industrial metal worktops.
We really liked the fact there were no cabinets across the back wall with all of the storage confined to the floor-to-ceiling tall units along the right-hand wall (the “no wall cabinets” look seems to be a thing these days – they never seem to feature in any kitchens in magazines or Instagram) but given we’d had the boiler fitted on the back wall and couldn’t envisage not having some kind of extractor fan, it didn’t feel like an option open to us.
The layout of this kitchen from a mid-century house in Bromley with wall cabinets across the back wall, plywood cabinets and Formica worktops seemed like more of an achievable/practical goal for us:
As such, we pretty much copied it in its entirety when sketching out our plan, only adding a breakfast bar section as per our neighbour’s.
Rather than commissioning somewhere like Uncommon Projects to build a whole bespoke plywood kitchen from scratch for us, our original plan was to buy the carcasses and appliances from IKEA and the door fronts, side panels and worktops from a company called Plykea, which specialises in helping people who want to look like they’ve invested in a bespoke plywood kitchen when they haven’t.
However, we discovered that we couldn’t justify the cost of doing this (it turns out that faking a bespoke plywood kitchen is still a pretty expensive undertaking) so we decided to only order the Formica worktops and side panels from Plykea and bog standard white door fronts from IKEA (possibly livened up with some “Holy Wafer” door handles from Superfront, which cost about the same price as the actual door per unit) with a view to replacing them next year with something a bit more special.
Having used the IKEA kitchen planning tool (which we found to be very detailed but completely unintuitive, akin to a fiddly version of the house building tool on The Sims) to map out and order the kitchen components, we sent the plan and instructions to Plykea for them to build the worktops and side panels.
We’ve still not quite decided what colour would look right for the Formica worktops – I was initially dead set on mindlessly recreating the Bromley kitchen (which would have meant having a sky blue worktop) but we figured that might not look quite right if we end up replacing the white door fronts with timber ones next year. In light of this, we’re gravitating towards something in the mustard/taupe region.
For the floors, we’re planning to just lay the same kind of engineered Merbau wood flooring that we’re using throughout the ground floor rooms and for the walls, white paint and some square white tiles for the back wall (mindlessly aping the Bromley kitchen).
Furnishings and lighting for the dining area (including my slightly too low Saarinen marble tulip table) will be recycled from our existing homes.
Entry to be updated once the kitchen starts taking shape!
1. Formica worktop from Plykea, possibly in this colour or maybe something a bit more muted?
2. Holy wafer cupboard handles from Superfront though having put this mood board together, I think the silver might look a little twee – perhaps the practically invisible white version would look better?
3. Square white tile with dark grouting for the back wall – I’m tired of subway tile having lived with it for five years but I still like a bit of dark grout.
4. Vimmern tap from Ikea – not exactly the best looking tap of all time but I’ve always wanted one with an extendable hose.
5. Poul Hennignsen pendant lamp to hang over the dining table – recycled from my current flat
6. Bertoia wire dining chairs – recycled from my current flat. Having lived with them for about a year, I have conceded that they’re really not that comfortable but I won’t ever get rid of them or repurpose them as garden furniture because of the amount of work I put into them.
7. Engineered Merbau flooring from The Natural Wood Co. The original plan was to have real parquet blocks throughout apart from the kitchen area, where I really wanted cork. This plan was abandoned when we discovered how difficult and expensive it is to lay a parquet floor (about three times the price of the actual parquet blocks) and how nervous builders seemed to be about cork. I’ve come round to the idea of having an uninterrupted expanse of resilient, treated wooden flooring throughout the ground floor of the house.
8. Kulinarisk steam microwave and oven – I have no idea whether the steam oven functionality will actually make our food moist on the inside and crispy on the outside but we were obviously sufficiently convinced by the marketing materials to find out.
9. Saarinen marble tulip table – recycled from my current flat
10. Alvar Aalto rocket stools – there are currently a load of these on ebay for only £60 each, which given our increasingly bloated budget, is reason enough to go for them.
11. Eldslaga 5-ring hob – these were all over the press last year because they needed to be recalled due to emitting unacceptable amounts of carbon monoxide. I’m hoping the reissued version is a bit safer.
12. String shelving – recycled from the bedroom in my current flat.