Monday, 3 December 2012

Living the dream

There it is, the dream. A globe with a bar inside. I’ve seen it a lot in films etc, but I think this is the first I’ve seen in real life. Beautiful on the outside, and when it opens, oh hello – fancy a tipple?

It's even nicer with the fancy glasses and decanter inside, although I'd stuff it with lots more booze.

I do not own this (and don't know anything about it) but I have vowed to try to find my own one day. I think every house needs a bar of some kind, both as a focal point for entertainment and to give lovely spirits the home they deserve.

I will eternally regret the time I saw a ship-shaped bar in a junk shop for a few quid, and didn’t go for it. It had little port holes.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Morning in Morningside

I went to Edinburgh earlier this month to visit some friends - the same couple who run the beautifully decorated highland cottage from my first ever blog post. Their flat is in a Victorian tenement building, in the upmarket Morningside area, and I think the buildings are sandstone - or something orangey coloured - which gives the place a nice glow.

The little touches like the runner, the scarf and the flowers liberated from a neighbour's garden are sweet. But what I really like is the combination of white, wood and windows, to make an open, airy, but somehow honest space. Very simple, almost stark, but sitting around that table playing scrabble or eating a hearty bean casserole, it's cosy and warm. And in the fresh autumnal morning sunshine, tea and toast feels very cleansing.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

70s record player

vintage record player
Every home should have a record player. Don’t get me wrong, opening my Spotify account might be the best thing I’ve ever done, as I’m a huge fan of endless, easy, perfect digital music. But sometimes, that’s not what you want.

This is especially true of old music, the kind that was originally played on record players in bedrooms and living rooms. You’re hearing it exactly as the original fans did, and every little pop and crackle, tinny drumbeat or fuzzy vocal just adds to the character of the music. There’s no shuffle button, no playlists or greatest hits, you have to commit to one album, a purposefully assembled set of songs.

my vintage record playerSimilarly, my dad’s told me horror stories of having to save up for weeks and weeks to get the album you were desperate for, or going round to a friend’s house just to hear a song. Then there was the time he saved up for absolutely ages to get the record player, but the speakers were separate and he had to save up all over again, and just listen to his music on headphones. No wonder it feels like music used to mean more.

My record collection is pretty big now; over 100 at last count. As a huge Beatles fan I’m particularly proud of the early mono albums, and we’re going through a bit of a Bob Dylan phase at the moment too. I’ve also got some nice novelty items like coloured vinyl and octagonal sleeves; my dad trawls the charity shops of North Wales for me, so it all depends on his luck.

The player itself is obviously quite big, so coupled with the collection in four old record boxes, it takes up loads of room (despite actually containing less music than my iPod) and we’re on the lookout for a G-plan style unit that will hold it all. The player is a Ferguson, and it looks pretty 70s to me with its wood veneer, mock leather top and special arm that drops a new record onto the turntable after you’ve listened to one side.

I think we most use our old record player when we’re getting ready to go out, when friends are round, and those lovely lazy Sunday afternoons. But my favourite is getting in from a night out at 3am, having one last drink or a cup of tea sat around the hypnotically spinning record, and it feels like those wise voices from the past are being sung right there in the room, just for you. I’m usually drunk and emotional at this point.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Antique grandfather clock

Grandfather clock from Wales
This old grandfather clock is in my parents’ house in North Wales. It’s massive, almost seven foot I think. But originally it was taller, as someone has chopped the top few inches off (you can see it’s not quite straight), probably so it would fit under the low ceilings of a little Welsh house.

H Hughes Pwwlhely brass dialThe brass face says it was made by H. Hughes in Pwllhely (now called Pwllheli), so it’s nice to think it has lived in Wales its whole life… however long that might be. There’s no date on it, but this guide on how to date a grandfather clock suggests that a clock with a brass dial and two hands is probably from 1730-1770. However old it is, it’s amazing how many hours and minutes have ticked by, and continue to tick by today in our hallway.

The poor thing has been even more butchered round the back – a big chunk has been carved out behind the pendulum, possibly because it was rubbing or making noise. It’s funny how little people respected a lovely big clock, which was probably an expensive heirloom; just chop bits off here and there for practical reasons. My Nain also told me a relative had an antique grandfather clock that had a family tree written inside it, going back generations, centuries… I think she said it was chopped for firewood.

This is of course an eight day clock, meaning once you’ve wound it you’ll know the time for a whole week, but I don't know how people coped if they forgot. It has a small painting in the dial, a kind of coastal scene, and there is a separate little clock for the seconds. There’s a window for the date as well but I’m not sure it works. I don’t think it chimes… just a heavy, reassuring tick-tock.

My parents corrected me on a few points!
1. This used to stand in my grandparents' house, they got it in a house clearance
2. It DOES chime every 15 mins but they've turned it off as it's bloody annoying
3. The coastal scene can be turned round to display an alternative painting: a 'scary moon face'

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Dutch pewter coffee pot

This is a big antique Dutch coffee pot made of pewter. I got it in an antique shop in north Holland for 25 Euros. (Top tip, old stuff is SO cheap there, especially if you find a Kringloopwinkel).

The Dutch word appears to be Kraantjeskan, which doesn’t really have a translation – it’s basically a coffee pot that keeps itself warm with the paraffin brazier underneath. But it must also have something to do with that distinctive shape, because I tried googling all kinds of variations of coffee pot without seeing anything like this, and as soon as I tried Kraantjeskan, it was like a whole army of little pot bellied coffee pots.

Oh, and it’s ooooooold. More antique than vintage – similar ones I’ve been looking at are dated 18th century, which makes it one of the oldest things I own. It’s got three bandy legs on little worn-out wooden feet, and a slightly loose tap that pisses everywhere if you don’t screw it shut. I think it’s made of pewter, but the brazier is a different brassy coloured metal and has plastic feet so that’s clearly a new addition.

I love imagining the hundreds or thousands of different coffees that have been poured from this funny old Kraantjeskan, with different people sitting around it having a chat. And how the outfits, topics and languages may have changed, but the fun of drinking coffee together hasn’t.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Antique barometer

I got this lovely little antique barometer from Bygone Times in Eccleston, which is well worth a visit if you’re into old stuff. It’s more of a junk and knick knacks place than real antiques though, and this was only about a fiver, so I seriously doubt it’s very old. I’ve been trying to find out more about it, but that’s pretty difficult with no maker’s name or brand on it. I’ve looked at loads on eBay, and similar ones are described as anything from Edwardian to 60s, so I’m at a loss. It might even be reproduction, but I still love it.

It seems to be mahogany with a painted porcelain face and brass trimmings. But what sets it apart from many others I’ve seen is that the first letter of each word is painted red, and one of the fingers that moves to point at the weather is blue, with a crescent moon at the end. However, I think what I like best about this barometer is that you can see all its insides through that hole in the middle.

My favourite antiques are the ones that ‘work’. That do something. Or at least, did something once. I like the idea of all those teeny little bits being precision-made and assembled and whirring away doing their job for decades/centuries. I like but also hate how obsolete these technologies have become – vintage telephones, clocks, record players, vintage cameras, even barometers, my house is full of beautiful bulky old things that are usually broken, and all their functions are now fulfilled by a smartphone that fits in my pocket. Being able to look through that hole into the cogs and screws within is like seeing into the guts of a dinosaur… it proves it really was alive once upon a time.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

More art nouveau posters

So, I know I’ve already waxed lyrical about art nouveau posters once in my blog about Henri Privat-Livemont. But now I’ve gone and found another poster artist that I think I love just as much.

Alphonse Mucha (or Alfons) was from what was to become the Czech Republic, but – quelle surprise – moved to Paris just in time for the belle époque renaissance in art and design. According to Wikipedia, his first job was a poster for a Sarah Bernhardt play in 1895; apparently the actress loved it so much she signed up Mucha to make all her posters for the next six years. Now that’s celebrity endorsement.

Although I would previously have thought Mucha and Privat-Livemont’s work is rather similar, looking at them side-by-side I can see the differences. Mucha’s women are entwined and encircled by all those curls and spirals – their hair, their dresses, even the leaves in the background, are sinuous and sensual. I think Mucha also uses more fleshy and warm tones, and I bet if gold paint/ink was easy to come by, he would have used plenty of it. I really didn’t think it was possible to find sexier art nouveau posters than those by Henri Privat-Livemont, but I think Alphonse Mucha just about cinches it. My favourite has to the vintage Moet & Chandon advert, which just oozes luxury, opulence and pleasure. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like going out and buying some champagne…

Saturday, 16 June 2012

German style (aka I love Berlin)

Berlin Fernsehturm (TV Tower) Berlin traffic lights manLong time no blogs – I’ve been busy preparing for and recovering from a long weekend in Berlin, my second of the year so far. It has to be one of my absolute favourite cities, not least for its awesome party scene (sitting round a campfire watching the sun rise outside a night club will stay with me for a long time). But also, it’s just got this really unique character, which is both weird and wonderful – the city has seen times of affluence and austerity, repression and liberalism, glory and shame. It has streets that wouldn’t look out of place in New York, next to bits that look like a Soviet industrial estate. The green man who tells you to cross the road is wearing a hat.

Walking the streets, you’re struck by the sense of space; the average street is wide enough for about four lanes of traffic, bikes, parking, trees, and of course lots of people sitting outside cafes and bars. There are a ridiculous number of parks too, from kids play areas squidged between two buildings to sprawling woodlands you can easily get lost in. Then there’s the colour. I sort of assumed it would be a very grey city, but it’s one of the most colourful I’ve been in, where the buildings are all sorts of pastel shades and there is graffiti (of varying artistic quality) on every possible surface.

Then you go inside, and you never quite know what to expect. One nightclub I went to (Kater Holzig) was like a squat mixed with a pirate ship, while the one I went to in February was in a former power station, with scary signs and bits of generator still lying around. There are beautifully eclectic and classically cosy bars and restaurants like this one (Sophie’s Neck, weirdest bar name ever), where elements that would look incredibly tacky in a British pub (golden candle sticks and persian rugs) somehow just look good. And in all these cases, it felt so effortless and natural… just let it develop on its own into whatever people want it to be. Very Berlin.

Monday, 7 May 2012

CC41 utility furniture

It’s funny how the rationing of supplies like wood during WW2 actually resulted in some rather nice furniture. Lasting (according to Wikipedia) from 1942 to 1952, utility furniture was the British government’s way of providing sturdy furnishings without waste. Meaning materialistic people like me couldn’t ruin the war effort!

I can only imagine how hard it was for homemakers though, knowing no amount of money or hard work would earn you the furniture you wanted. Of course, it wasn’t the worst that could happen – plenty of people had their much loved possessions bombed to smithereens.
Anyway. Utility furniture is particularly interesting because it was designed by a government-appointed committee, with the approved plans sent off to manufacturers all over the UK so they could have a crack at it. It’s therefore pretty hard to describe or choose one picture to sum up utility furniture, and I’m sure I won’t like every piece I see.

However, what I’d call ‘typical utility furniture’ has a minimal modesty to it that’s really appealing. Obviously things like Bauhaus and modernism had paved the way already, but perhaps it wouldn’t have caught on without that element of necessity. When rationing ended, the clean lines, no frills and practical sturdiness would last for decades – as I can see in my vintage furniture from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

It’s easy to imagine that rationing, the Blitz and austerity furniture made people really appreciate their character-laden heirlooms and hand-me-downs. So, as well as introducing the public to the concept of modern furniture, CC41 utility furniture could also be responsible for the attachment and respect we now feel for ‘antiques’. I think I’ll be on the look out for a nice chair.

Monday, 23 April 2012

'New' vintage bureau

Went to Old Mill Antiques in Failsworth last weekend, and managed to pick this up. Watching my friend haggle with the man and then getting it home in a little hatchback isn’t something I’ll forget in a hurry! It’s an old bureau or writing desk made from errrr maybe oak? Loose grained and varnished mid-chestnutty colour, so no idea to be honest. My dad always says to look for the dovetail joints which mean quality, and well, it doesn’t have any, and the back is chipboard, but all that just went out the window because I proper fell in love with it. No idea what era it is – the warm tone and glass in the front makes me think 70s, but there’s a little badge on the back that says “Odhams SOLID London” in a sort of 50s font. Who knows!

As I’ve found many times with vintage furniture, unfortunately the key to the top section has long disappeared. But you can sort of prise it open if you get your fingernails in the side, and reveal all the little hidey holes; even though the drawers were clearly added at a later date and have a weird burnt look to them, I still think it’s sort of magical. Will soon be stocking this up with a range of pens and papers and pizza menus and elastic bands just like the one my parents had.

It’s not amazing quality, it’s a bit mismatched and broken, and it hasn’t got a clear ‘look’ that puts it firmly in a decade or style. But for £35 I think it’s perfect, and you can't deny, it's certainly SOLID.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Vintage telephone

Look what my grandma gave me! A sage green telephone with a rotating dial and curly wurly cord, which she had on her hall table for a few decades. There’s even a ‘privacy button’ for when one of the neighbours was using the telephone line at the same time. I’ve got good memories of this phone, I used to stay with my grandma in Liverpool for a week every summer, and use this to phone home… was always amazed how long it took to spin the dial right round and wait for it to chug back into place before dialling the next number. Seriously, you’d be screwed if you wanted to dial 999, it would take about an hour.

Unfortunately the bit at the end of the cord that would have gone in the wall is now looking a bit scary. Dad reckons he can convert it to a new fitting, although with all the hassle of our recent house move I don’t want to add to his list. One day, we’ll do it… then I can spend ages dialling numbers, lounge around twiddling the cord, hear people as though they're really far away, and pick up the receiver and say “Hello, Hand residence” in an old-fashioned voice.

What’s hilarious (in my mind, anyway) is that her giving me this lovely vintage telephone coincided with my initiation into the smartphone club. My 7x12cm slab of plastic and glass does everything this did, plus a camera, music, bookshelf, and pretty much everything a computer does. It’s amazing. However, I would feel a bit of a prick saying “Hello, Hand residence” when I get a call.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Handy’s NEW home... vintage

Apologies for the complete lack of posts for the last month, horrendous of me. But it was for a good reason – I was busy moving house! As any fellow homemaker will agree, this is stressful and delightful in equal measures; not being able to find furniture I liked at the right budget, the hob having a massive crack in it that wasn't there when we viewed the place, the sofas not fitting in the lift, making three phone calls in one lunch break, and no hot water for two weeks were some of the low points.

But now it’s all over, and I’m here in my lovely, cosy, wonderful new home. That's the Loggia on the right, which I was hoping to turn into a 70s boho style sun room/library. No time to sort out that room yet though - I’ve been busy building Ikea furniture (three trips in a month, epic) and finding a place for everything. Best of all, my dad’s been providing us with some unbelievable pieces of vintage furniture, from the charity, junk and antique shops of North Wales. If you’re used to looking at vintage furniture in Manchester or probably most other big cities, the price tags over the border look teeny, it’s just a ball ache getting them back here – luckily dad rented a van!

Needless to say, I will be examining/showing off all my new possessions in due course, but let’s start with this awesome coffee table, if you can see it in this horrifically blurred picture – real teak, proper 70s (I think), lovely elegant pointy legs and curved corners. Vintage, but practical and simple, sort of Euro, and very cheap. I couldn’t love it more.

You can also see our nice bit of industrial history, the iron beams and pillars that run right through the flat. I've yet to find some way of making them look good, but maybe they're cool as they are? Gives the place a hard edge, a nice contrast with the soon-to-be ridiculous tweeness. Any ideas or opinions, share them below!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Dutch style living room

The mint green sofas… the silver coffee pot and worn out sideboard… and oh god those tulips. This photo makes me very happy and peaceful. It was taken in a friend’s grandmother’s house in a quiet Dutch village, and it really was as tranquil and airy as it looks. The cat is a particularly vintage animal, I think. They have more of a sense of occasion and dignity than dogs. Also whenever I try to take pictures of a dog it ends up being a photo of a hairy blurred nose. Obviously the wood and leather is a practical option for cat owners, but a sense of softness is created by those huge billowing curtains and plenty of flowers.

Also just out of shot to the right was a whole wall of G-plan. I love G-plan, probably because I like things to be organised and I’m a big believer in ‘everything in its place’. It’s also distinctively European, and teak is a lovely warm wood. Interesting how all the chairs face inwards around a coffee table, rather than being centred around the TV, which is tucked away in the G-Plan unit. Makes the room really welcoming.

One day, I will have the time and money to buy fresh flowers.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Belle Epoque posters

These elegant posters are by Henri Privat-Livemont, perhaps best known for that semi-nude Absinthe Robette poster. Working at the turn of the century, he lived during the decadent Belle Epoque period and was (or is, retrospectively) a lesser-known figure in the Art Nouveau genre.

The elaborate floral patterns remind me of the William Morris style, but with a slightly more geometric, architectural slant. I’m also of the opinion that the font/typeface and the colour scheme are both pure Paris, even if Privat-Livemont was actually a Belgian. Reminds me of Hector Guimard’s famous Metro signs, which I would totally steal if I had the chance.

However, I think one of the biggest reasons I’m so keen on these posters – rather than actual paintings, if HPL did any – is that they’re adverts. I work in modern-day marketing, and now it seems surreal and ridiculous to have such an incredibly beautiful (and delusional) image to advertise some biscuits. The ASA would never allow it. The products are forgotten, and the poster itself is fundamentally disposable, so there’s something quite fragile about these century-old ads. Will people in 2112 be admiring old T-mobile or Nescafe billboards? ‘Ziff. These posters are from the point where art and commercialism, elegance and convenience, had just collided – it’s an intriguing contrast, and one that sadly didn’t last for long.

Anyway. I’d have prints of these in my home, especially if I had any exposed brick or tile to use as a backdrop. Probably the biscuits one. I like biscuits.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Minimal lounging

Leather tub armchairs, anglepoise, and newspapers in the Saturday morning sunshine. Looks like some kind of nest of boho socialism in the middle of a 1970s summer of love. Was in fact taken in Anglesey in November 2010. Either way, I’m sure black and white photography makes it look more halcyon than it really was.

The white walls and tiled floor add to the sense of minimalism, while that strange crate-like coffee table (I don’t remember it at all, probably covered in papers) seems kind of ad hoc and studenty. I was looking at this picture because I’ll be moving house soon – yay – and the new place has a sort of enclosed space between the bedroom and the big south-facing windows. So with a lick of white paint, some tub-shaped armchairs (Ikea must make some!), and maybe a haphazard collection of books, papers and random interesting things for guests to read, I’ll hopefully have my own little socialist conservatory.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Afternoon tea

Teashops are very girly places, and are often so cute they’re in danger of becoming sickly. Now I’ll admit this tablecloth was a bit chintzy for my tastes (an uncomfortable looking male tea drinker compared it to an explosion in a Cath Kidston shop). I preferred the vintage white lacy one underneath, but I suppose it was less practical what with all the liquids and jams.

Mind you, I do love a bit of flowery vintage gold-edged china, especially when it’s all gloriously mismatched like this. Those proper 42-piece tea sets are lovely, but then you’d have everything you need. You wouldn’t be able to just pick up random bits from junk or charity shops, to create a sort of vaguely similar set, but where each piece has its own character and story.

I was also digging the tea paraphernalia like the silver strainer and sugar tongs. Just so you can take a good five minutes to prepare a cup of Earl Grey and hear the clink of metal on porcelain and think, “Yes, this is a lovely civilised Sunday activity for young ladies. I must do this more often. And do less of the beer and cigarettes thing.”

This was at Sugar Junction on Tib Street, by the way. It was wonderful.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Not all vintage things are nice...

I was at my Nain (Welsh grandma)'s house at the weekend and we needed a bottle opener - this is what she got out of the drawer. Apparently my mum and uncle brought it back from their school trip to Liechtenstein about 40 years ago. In case you can't see, it's the hoof and lower leg of some kind of deer, goat or (as my auntie believed when she was little) fox... yeah, I know.

I suppose it's a nice thought, and if it's been in the family that long it's something of an heirloom. And it's certainly 'vintage' in a kind of kitsch, gothic way. But... urgh.

Monday, 20 February 2012

William Morris Pomegranate wallpaper

William Morris Pomegranate wallpaper
Does it still count as vintage or retro if it's actually Victorian? Well, I think the whole Arts and Crafts movement style was a precursor to some of the later styles that I love, all about warmth and functionality, somehow natural and stylised at the same time. I'm not usually a fan of elaborate, busy designs, but this is different somehow – very organic and flowing, and using muted colours that would flatter vintage furnishings.

William Morris designs are influenced by medieval art, which I think is obvious when you look at them. The Pomegranate wallpaper could be a woodcut from an early Bible or something. The emphasis on tapestry and stained glass is also quite medieval, and it's easy to see similarities in the ways all three mediums were used – maybe that explains why the wallpapers look so rich and decadent.

Willow Boughs wallpaper
These pictures are all from a wallpaper sampler that was donated to the Brooklyn Museum, who kindly uploaded all the designs to Wikimedia Commons so we can all enjoy them/lust after them. I think Pomegranate (a.k.a Fruit) is my favourite, although you'd have to use it sparingly. The Willow Boughs wallpaper is also incredible, but doesn't have those lovely hints of orange and yellow.

Fortunately, it seems Morris & Co – the interiors firm the great man set up in 1861 – and its designs were bought out by another company, which still sells rolls of Pomegranate wallpaper. Something else to add to my list of things to save up for.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Cottage living room ideas

This little cottage in the Scottish wilderness is one of my favourite places in the world, not least because of the retro décor and furniture. Of course, it helps that there’s no electricity; it inspires a certain je ne sais quoi to know the paraffin lamps, log fire, wood-burning stove and candles are actually a necessity and not just for decoration. Your whole lifestyle goes back in time 50 years when you stay here.

What’s more, everything has to be transported there by boat across the loch. So it’s no wonder it’s all so ‘untouched’. There’s wood panelling on the living room walls (now painted sage green), that amazing fabric, ancient bellows and pokers, and decades of books, jigsaws and board games on a shelf above the picture rail.
When the wind howls outside and you know there is no civilisation for miles around, it’s so important to be in a comfy little den of cosiness. So, although I won’t be moving to the wild any time soon, the things I’d most like to replicate from this cottage are:
  1. An open log fire with plenty of accessories
  2. A well-stocked board game collection
  3. Vintage knick knacks that are actually used every day.