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August 17 2012

Homes: bold in the bathroom

Forget the wall-to-wall white tiles. The best bathrooms mix paint, patterns, textures and vintage accessories, says Hannah Booth





July 27 2012

Homes: a tall order

How do you make a narrow house feel bigger? Charlotte Abrahams gets the inside track from the owners and architects of this tall Victorian home





June 29 2012

Interiors: unlikely object of desire – in pictures

It was a derelict Georgian house – and love at first sight for one couple in Wigan. Trish Lorenz reports on its revival





June 22 2012

Interiors: opposites attract

This summer's hottest trends are surprisingly complementary – so mix graphic Scandi prints, neutral lace and bold primary colours for a super-stylish home. By Hannah Booth



June 12 2012

Soviet stylings: vintage interior design - in pictures

As part of the 2012 Design Basel/Miami Fair, Moscow's Heritage Gallery is exhibiting key furniture pieces representing the best of 20th-century Soviet interior design



June 08 2012

Ideas for organising your home

Need to get more organised? Here are some neat ideas on how to get your house in order



May 18 2012

Homes: Jubilee jubilation - interactive

It's the Jubilee, so now's the time to bag a Union Flag cushion – or four



May 09 2012

ArtHaus exhibition: art meets interior design - in pictures

ArtHaus is a new exhibition set in a London apartment, featuring the work of up-and-coming artists to show how art can enhance your home



March 23 2012

Vincent van Gogh's London home up for auction

The Brixton house where the artist lived as a young man is all the better for being in need of modernisation

"I'm getting on well here", Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in January 1874. "I've got a lovely home ..."

On Tuesday that very home – in Brixton, London SW9 – will go under the hammer, having been put on the market for the first time in 65 years. The Guardian went to view the property at 87 Hackford Road on a crisply sunny spring day that would have delighted Van Gogh himself.

In the letter, he advised Theo: "Do go on doing a lot of walking and keep up your love of nature, for that is the right way to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love her ..."

Amazing that Van Gogh probably wrote those words in this suburban house where dry unkempt plants – like something from one of his tangled paintings of the asylum garden that would later become his only patch of nature – contrast with the flaking white paint of the house front, and the ceramic blue of its proud plaque declaring that Vincent van Gogh, painter, lived here 1873–1874.

Inside the Grade II listed building, yellowing sheets from ancient editions of the Salvation Army's newspaper, the War Cry, float on battered floorboards. Cobweb-covered plastic fruits hang in the kitchen. Ceilings on the upper floors hang down, ruptured, revealing slipped roof timbers. But everywhere you look amid the decay, traces of Vincent van Gogh impose themselves

The house, as Savills auctioneers put it in their catalogue, is "in need of modernisation". Yet the fact it has never been converted into a plush modern home means that raw Victorian archaeology survives just beneath the rotting linoleum and decrepit wallpaper.

The shape of the interior from the Victorian days when Van Gogh lived here is clear in its layout of front and back bedrooms, each with its own cast-iron fireplace. Van Gogh must have warmed himself before these fires after his winter walks.

Presumably he also made his way to the outside toilet, which survives in all its glory. There are some (modern) gardening tools propped up next to the vintage porcelain receptacle, ready to make some inroads on the overgrown, matted garden of nettles, shrubs and a few little blue flowers.

Again, the colours of a Van Gogh painting come to mind – and in fact, in one of his letters home from Hackford Road, he describes planting flowers and shrubs in this very garden. Could a couple of these plants be descended from his seedlings?

Van Gogh came to work in London for the art dealer Goupil & Cie in 1873. He was 20, with his mature life as an artist years in the future. The dealers' premises were in Covent Garden, and he walked home from work every evening, for he was a lifelong lover of romantic pedestrianism.

But the idyllic life he seems to have enjoyed for a time in this house was not to last. Its black iron fireplaces and large sash windows witnessed his first great heartbreaking experience of love.

The intense and romantic Dutch lodger was deeply attracted to Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlady. His love spills over into his letters as he transcribes Keats's poem of love and desire, The Eve of St Agnes, and an even more heated Romantic work by Michelet on the Mystery That Is Woman.

But his interest was totally unrequited and became deeply embarrassing. Van Gogh's sister Anna moved in with him, but soon both Van Goghs were forced to leave for new lodgings in Kennington.

It's a shame a film company can't rent the house before it is sold to make a drama here, for the exact layout of the Victorian house in which the 21-year-old Van Gogh suffered the agonies of unrequited love is preserved.

Entering a front bedroom with its austere fireplace and timeworn sunlit floorboards, you can easily picture the redheaded lodger standing in the doorway, asking Miss Eugénie if she has read Keats's poetry, and if she would care for a walk in the afternoon sun. On the stairs, a view through the window of newly budding March trees against a pale blue cloud-ruffled sky is just like a painting – one Van Gogh must have seen every day when he lived here.

Van Gogh always dreamed of a happy home. When he moved into the Yellow House in Arles years later, he would fill it with simple furniture – a wooden chair, a wooden bed – and decorate it with paintings of sunflowers. His lodgings in London, just like the Yellow House where he was to rage at his guest Gauguin, brought him both joy and suffering.

Imagine restoring this house and giving it the yellow walls and wooden furniture that he makes so magical in his paintings in Arles. You could have your very own Vincent's Room. It's expected to fetch more than £400,000 at auction on Tuesday evening. It would be amazing to bid. Instead, on the way out, I pluck a flower in his memory.


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December 23 2011

Homes: bag a bargain in the new year sales

It's nearly Christmas – so time to think about sales shopping, of course... With our guide, you can hit the shops well armed



December 09 2011

The best cities around the world for specialist shops and shopping

From kitsch fashion in Tokyo to furniture in Copenhagen, our experts reveal their top cities for specialist shopping

Rugs, Marrakech

Shopping in Marrakech is practically an Olympic sport – so you should get in training before you venture out. Serious shoppers need information and determination. I love the bejewelled and embroidered babouches (slippers) and bags, the tasselled accessories, Berber jewellery, chiselled tiles, decorated pottery, ground cinnamon … However, when I'm in Marrakech I crave rugs. My favourites are the Berber rag rugs called boucherouite. I've found vintage versions in the Bab El Khemis flea market (the north-east corner of the medina, open daily 9.30am–6pm). During a recent visit I bought a pretty multicoloured checkerboard rug that folded nicely into my luggage. There are some stunning examples of boucherouite in fading solid colours at Art Ouarzazate (15 Rue Rahba Kdima, which is actually Rue Rahb el Biadyne). The shop's specialities include knotted and printed leather rugs and goatskin patchwork rugs. Tuareg rugs from the Sahara, made with tightly woven palm leaves and camel leather that make them impervious to the desert sand, can be found at Mustapha Blaoui (144 Rue Bab Doukkala – there's no sign, so knock on the brass-studded double doors). Shaggy white or cream rugs with black tribal patterns are called beni ouarain, and are ubiquitous. Bargain when you find one you like – it's expected. In the Guéliz section of the new city you'll find Ben Rahal (28 Rue de la Liberté), a shop dedicated to rugs. The small space is filled with carpets, each selected for its exceptional quality. You'll pay a bit more, but it's worth every penny.
Susan Simon is the author of Shopping in Marrakech (Little Bookroom, £9.74, guardianbookshop.co.uk) is out now

Furniture, Copenhagen

Mid-century design is a massive trend, driven by things like Mad Men, and Danish design was at its best then. Such furniture is also timeless and built to last. Copenhagen is very small, but the best furniture shops are scattered around. Østerbro is home to Normann Copenhagen (Østerbrogade 70, normann- copenhagen.com, see page 8), a cool shop for quirky items, plus some modern homeware stores. Bredgade is a street full of high-end vintage shops. Klassik Moderne Møbelkunst (en.klassik.dk) at No 3 is one of the best. The best piece I found in Copenhagen was a beautiful Aero walnut oval sideboard – but sadly it costs £4,700 ...

It's hard to find a bargain anywhere in Scandinavia, but Ilva (Gammel Lundtoftevej 5, ilva.dk) is still a very big deal, and Bo Concept (Gammel Kongevej 29A, boconcept.co.uk) has affordable, nicely designed pieces. Hay (Østergade 61, hay.dk) represents the current design resurgence in Denmark – its beautiful shop is full of designed and found objects.
Finally, Copenhagen has fantastic (if sometimes expensive) restaurants and hotels – Hotel Fox (Jarmers Plads 3, hotelfox.dk, doubles from £80 room-only); and the original design hotel (Hammerichsgade 1, radissonblu.com/royalhotel-copenhagen, doubles from £150 room-only); Nimb (Bernstorffsgade 5, doubles from £280 B&B) – and it's a very friendly place.
Dan Cooper, buyer, home collections and gifts, John Lewis

Books, Cecil Court, London

It's a struggle not to pluck the phrase "remarkable survival" from the catechism of cliche when describing Cecil Court, a Victorian thoroughfare in London that is still as full of bookshops as it was in the 1950s. They're all good, but my favourite is Tindley & Chapman at No 4. Tilling the rich brown earth of 20th century literature, their stock is well chosen and fast changing.
Ed Maggs, rare book dealer, Maggs Bros Ltd (maggs.com)

Bags, Udaipur

Nobody hassles you in Udaipur in south-western Rajasthan. I fell in love with its market and spent a glorious day exploring the alleyways bedecked with stalls on the hill leading to the castle. The multicoloured rugs are superb, as is the marquetry (inlaid patterned) furniture but, being a "fashion girl", I was most excited about finding some really special leather bags. I like simple styles, which India does not always do, so I was very surprised to find wonderful tan satchels. Unlined and made of fairly robust leather, they really hold their shape, but also wear wonderfully well. The cross-body mini is the ideal hands-free travel companion, just big enough to hold all your vital documents, wallet and phone. The "Andreya" is my favourite for everyday, and the mini weekend bag makes you look like a traveller, not a tourist.
Sarah Walter, managing director and founder, style-passport.com

Fashion, Tokyo

Tokyo is like a super-modern alien planet magically entwined in tradition – every facet of the city references the country's ancient and complex culture. Tokyo's excessiveness – from huge video screens pumping J-pop, hordes of mini-skirted schoolgirls and crazy elevator music (even emanating from rubbish trucks), to insane rush-hour crowds and out-of-control fashion – can be overwhelming, but it is a shopaholic's dream. For the girl who loves to get dressed up, Tokyo is the place to hunt and gather. Whether you're into vintage wonders, avant garde statement-makers or ridiculous cuteness, you will find the dress of your dreams in one of Tokyo's eclectic shopping precincts. In Shibuya, Candy (candy-nippon.com) is dedicated to the most fashion-forward Japanese and international brands, and 109 (shibuya109.jp), a six-level extravaganza, is a shopping mecca for all gyaru girls (tanned, blonde Japanese girls). In Harajuku/Aoyama, Faline (bambifaline.com) is all about Harajuku Kawaii style, which roughly translates as shockingly cute and crazy. Cosmic Wonder (cosmicwonder.com) is a fashion/art project, the shop doubling as an exhibition and performance space. In Daikanyama/Nakameguro, Hollywood Ranch Market (hrm.co.jp) focuses on amazing American-style vintage denim and casuals, while Mercibeaucoup (mercibeaucoup.jp) has a kitschy-cool 1950s-inspired interior to match its unrelentingly pop wares.
Indigo Clarke, fashion writer

Art, Amsterdam

Buying art is a way to get a shopping buzz while making a smart investment, and Amsterdam is one of the finest cities to start your collection. It is home to the magnificent Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat 1, rijksmuseum.nl), which sits in the Spiegelkwartier district of art galleries, antique merchants and retro boutiques. The most prominent art fair is Art Amsterdam (20-23 September 2012, artamsterdam.nl), a huge offering of contemporary and modern art. For a more leisurely experience, take a stroll to the Spui Square on a Sunday, where you'll find a collection of established and emerging artists selling their work.

For something a little more highbrow, check out PAN Amsterdam (18-25 November, RAI-Parkhal, Europaplein 22, pan.nl), the leading contemporary fair for art and design. Last but by no means least is the Affordable Art Fair (25-28 October, Cultuurpark Westergasfabriek, Klönne Plein 1, affordableartfair.nl), which generates a whole array of small satellite exhibitions and open studios, with work for all tastes and budgets.
Angela Murray, art and object buyer, Achica (achica.com)

Homewares, New York

Zabar's (zabars.com) is a legendary Upper West Side food retailer known for its imported cheeses, fish, bakery, and coffee and tea counters. But also check out the nearly block-long mezzanine for a world-class selection of homewares, especially the assortment of non-stick and copper cookware. It's one of America's best home emporiums. Macy's (macys.com) is the largest department store in the world and is synonymous with NYC and fashion. The headquarters at Herald Square stocks an impressive range of culinary and tabletop goods in all styles and prices. There are frequent sales and celebrity chefs make routine appearances.

Broadway Panhandler (broadwaypanhandler.com) is a SoHo outpost for top quality, well-designed kitchenware at discounted prices. The family business's staff are well qualified to dish out advice to kitchen pros and novices – many are trained chefs. Gracious Home (gracioushome.com) is also a must-visit for anyone looking to revamp their home. Branches in Chelsea, the Upper East and West Side sell gadgets, furniture, hardware, linen and lighting for the entire house. Fishs Eddy (fishseddy.com) is a Flatiron neighbourhood destination for discounted tableware, including some vintage pieces. Fun, colourful and unique goods, such as an NYC skyline motif glass ($5) and other novelty pieces, make super gifts.
Gerry Frank is the author of Where to Find It, Buy It, Eat It in New York (newyorkcityguidebook.net, $19.95)


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November 21 2011

Philips's Microbial Home takes kitchen design back to the future

Rival company Bulthaup presents a platonic ideal of a kitchen, full of monolithic brushed-steel blocks and no signs of toil or waste. Designers in Eindhoven have other ideas

No room in the home is subject to quite the fetishistic desires and extravagant spending as the kitchen. Here, in the nerve-centre of the domestic environment, our obsessions with food and gadgetry meet head on. Kitchen design is a fiendish business, for the simple reason that it is expected to solve a paradox: somehow, the tangle of wires and water pipes, the arsenal of appliances and mountains of cookware and cornflakes have to be stowed away to create the illusion of wide-open space. Along with this top-hat trickery, we also demand two other qualities. Firstly, the kitchen must be hygienic, preferably as aseptic as an operating theatre. Secondly, it must be rammed with devices that make any kind of manual labour unnecessary. For these three kitchen commandments we have the modernists to thank.

In the modernist conception of the house as "a machine for living", the kitchen was the most machine-like. The Frankfurt kitchen, designed in 1926 by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, was ergonomically tested to avoid unnecessary movements. Mass-produced for social housing, it brought factory-style efficiency into the home; by the middle of the century, the Americans had made labour-saving gadgets such as washing machines, blenders and mixers the stuff of the average household. This, Nixon notoriously argued during the 1959 "kitchen debate" with Khrushchev, proved the superiority of the American way of life to the Soviet.

If Orwell had still been alive in 1959, this might have been the only thing he was ever likely to agree with Nixon about. In 1945 he wrote: "Every time I wash up a batch of crockery I marvel at the unimaginativeness of human beings who can travel under the sea and fly through the clouds, and yet have not known how to eliminate this sordid time-wasting drudgery from their daily lives." The modern kitchen, with its dishwashers and gizmos, was a social revolution, especially for women. The architecture critic Reyner Banham used to wax lyrical about domestic appliances, proclaiming, in an echo of Orwell, that they symbolised "the abolition of household drudgery". In a 1970 issue of New Society magazine he wrote: "When I remember how my rural relations and acquaintances had to cook (in wall ovens that made the kitchen an inferno) or do the laundry (over a steaming copper that rotted the linings of nose and throat) even in the 1940s, I would defend the delivery of a workable gas-cooker or electric washing-machine to Ivy Cottage or Hockley House against the claims of any three masterpieces of modern architecture you like to name."

The modernists, who were obsessed with hygiene, banished bacteria from the kitchen while modern technology did away with the daily grind. Today, as only commodity fetishists can, we have raised those pursuits into a religion. In the Clerkenwell showroom of luxury kitchen brand Bulthaup, I am standing before an altar of brushed stainless steel. Or is it an operating table? This monoblock island is cut with surgical precision and is as seamless as a ball bearing – part machine, part sculpture. The hob is integrated but, since it's an induction cooker and there are no knobs or grills, it sits perfectly flush. It's one continuous, easy-wipe surface.

Minimalism is not merely an aesthetic – it is the visual representation of effortlessness. The drawers have no handles – symbols of manual effort – and they close themselves anyway. The storage units and central islands are designed with shadow gaps around their bases to appear as though they're floating, because even the furniture must be freed from the burden of resisting gravity. Appliances, once proudly displayed, are hidden away like the vulgar hives of activity they are. Risk is also outmoded, with induction cookers you can touch without burning yourself. Effort has not merely been overcome, it has been erased.

Of course, what Bulthaup sells is an abstraction – the platonic ideal of a kitchen. Here, health and efficiency are equated with a kind of spiritual purity. Even in 1970, Banham predicted that this was going to get out of hand. Apple wasn't even a glint in Steve Jobs's eye, but already Banham was wary of Ulm-school minimalism, which presented electronic gadgets as the household idols of a secular society. "The cost of bringing the absolute into the kitchen," he wrote, "is to soil it."

But if Bulthaup is modernism taken to its logical extreme, what if everything modernism taught us about the kitchen is wrong? What if bacteria and manual labour are the future of the kitchen? Philips recently unveiled a concept kitchen as part of its Microbial Home system, in which the central component is a bio-digester kitchen island. The idea is simple: bacteria digests food and toilet waste and turns it into methane gas for cooking and lighting. It's a self-sustaining domestic ecosystem, and it presents an alternative vision to the clinical kitchen, inviting the microbes and the rotting vegetable peel back in.

With its cast-iron structure and copper panelling, the bio-digester looks like a piece of Victoriana; this is essentially a steampunk kitchen. For years now, Dutch design has been pursuing a nostalgic, rural vision, spearheaded by the Design Academy Eindhoven – Eindhoven, by the way, is also where Philips is based. The predominant Eindhoven aesthetic consists of a rural-minimalist palette of copper, wood and porcelain. With handles. Philips's microbial kitchen includes a hand-cranked machine called a "paternoster". It looks like a tombola, but is used for grinding down plastic packaging and mixing it with a mycelium fungus that decomposes it – and even yields edible mushrooms.

There has been a spate of these hand-powered devices lately, as young designers attempt to come to terms with a legacy of wasteful gadgets and an impending energy crisis. Christoph Thetard, a recent product design graduate from the Bauhaus University (the very cradle of modernism), created a contraption that powers a food mixer, a blender and a coffee grinder using a foot pedal. It's the potter's wheel approach to gizmos – Banham must be turning in his grave. Bringing drudgery back into the kitchen? But then Banham didn't live to see the environmental crisis escalate as far as it has, or consumer culture – which he saw as socially liberating – become disposable culture. Designers these days are understandably preoccupied by such things.

If modernism banished nature from the kitchen to replace it with the machine, it did so because it associated nature with disease-causing bacteria and the machine with progress. There's no doubt that in the future we are going to have to get more comfortable with bacteria and with putrefaction's role in our ecosystem. But these alternative visions are oddly nostalgic. Is this progress? Does self-sufficiency really mean reverting to pre-machine-age methods? If so, we're in for a hand-cranked, methane-stench future, and I can't wait to see how Bulthaup sells it to us.


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September 22 2011

M&S goes Dutch with Marcel Wanders collaboration

Quirky designer Marcel Wanders has created a range of homewares for Marks & Spencer, from teapots to candlesticks

Hot on the heels of an ill-advised pairing with actor Ryan Reynolds (in its new ads), Marks & Spencer has teamed up with another star - maverick Dutch designer Marcel Wanders.

It's an interesting move. In the past, Wanders has worked with cutting edge design companies such as Moooi, Cappellini, Droog and Mandarina Duck. His products include knotted chairs and crocheted sofas. M&S is clearly hoping Wanders - along with Terence Conran, another new collaborator – can sprinkle a bit of design stardust over its sometimes uninspiring homewares.

What can we expect from this collaboration? Well, a set of interchangeable cufflinks depicting Henry VIII and his six wives, for a start. Not to mention a red leather glove with a single Jacko-style gold tipped finger.

Less 'out there' are a scrumptious gold and black cake stand (£95), a modern tartan cushion (£35), and a gold candlestick resembling a bit of loo plumbing (£39.50) that might have M&S's core customers raising an eyebrow or two.

Products will be available in store and online from 12 October. Are you tempted?


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January 29 2011

Interiors: The new bling

In a world far removed from cuts or recession, the super rich are spending like never before – investing their millions in mansions and art

'I don't think there is a higher end," says John Lees of his work as architect to the super rich. A distinction must be made, he says, between the merely vulgarly rich (ie, footballers of the Cheshire belt or the mere-millionaires of The Bishops Avenue) and the world of obscene wealth that Lees inhabits. He creates homes for the Russian oligarchs and Chinese business moguls who run the global economy and who continue to inhabit a land untouched by cuts and recession. In fact, their extreme wealth is buoying the fine-art market: Andy Warhol's Coke Bottle sold for a record $35m in New York in November, the same month a Chinese vase sold in London for an unprecedented £48m to a Chinese businessman. Sources in the art and property markets say these billionaires are currently spending "without restraint".

In response, developers in London are creating a new crop of luxury homes, dripping with original Picassos and swimming pools, to cater for this profligate class, including a vast development in Cornwall Terrace being sold for £29m upwards.

Likewise for Lees, business is booming. "Our big-scale jobs are £40m-£125m," he says. "I work for private individuals and I'll be doing their country house, their London house, one in Hong Kong and another in, say, the south of France. We recently did a dacha outside Moscow for £174m, for someone who entertains Putin."

Which makes it all the stranger that Lees is sitting in the scruffy offices of Lees Associates, near Borough Market in south London. The stairs are rough concrete, the shelves dusty, but the computer screens rotate with virtual tours of excessive luxury. "On our current job, the accessories budget is £2m," he says. "That's teaspoons, glasses, plates. Towels and linen is a separate budget. Each bed costs £20,000. We are a very specialised market at the very highest end."

So what does an oligarch require in his home? Not the classic markers, such as banks of TVs ("We put some televisions in, but we hide them"), gold-plated taps or swimming pools shaped like a shell. Wealth at the hard-to-imagine end of the spectrum is "subtle". Creating a truly, deeply wealthy home becomes more about rarity and materials: imported stone, works of art, grand pianos and libraries.

At Cornwall Terrace, Lansdowne's development of eight mansions, two show homes have just reached the market, luring the super rich with original Francis Bacons, Murano glassware and furniture from Portofino. Everything is bespoke: the paints specially mixed; the hardback books handpicked.

Lees is similarly aware of the hunger for provenance. "At that level, your bathrooms will be made of heated, solid stone carved in Brac, an island off the coast of Split in Croatia, which produces a particularly white limestone."

A spokesman for Knight Frank, an agent operating at the top end of the market, says the super rich "have moved their money away from bank deposits and stock markets into alternative investments such as luxury property and art. It is increasingly normal for Christie's to deliver a painting to a potential buyer's house so the owner can see it on the walls."

These gliding swans of houses, occupying only the best London addresses, have layer upon layer of service floors from the basement down. The traditional family kitchen might be above ground, for coffee or a snack, but below ground there are catering kitchens with a dozen chefs ready to entertain a party of 100. Lees says these subterranean floors "contain all sorts of service departments, catering kitchens, gymnasiums, collections of cars. We've made swimming pools where the floors come up to become ballrooms. There's no noise in the pools and no smell of chlorine. We have projected dolphins on to gymnasium walls – hologram images behind glass. We put a bowling alley in one house." Bathrooms have become the most expensive rooms, he says, with their requisite body jet showers, warmed toilet seats and timed bathwater heaters that maintain supply at a specific temperature.

But wealth and power create problems of their own. A house full of staff means no privacy. Owning homes all over the world means a fragmented family life. Lees is asked to, if not solve these problems, then at least mitigate them. "The family kitchen is incredibly important, because they all live dissociated lives. You want to find a home, don't you? The fundamental thing is the family."

Children have suites, dressing rooms and all the latest toys. And Lees adds "secrets" for the children to discover: a doll's house full of make-up or stepping stones in the garden that set off a fountain. "There is a sense of loneliness these children have, and that's a great shame."

Does he ever feel contaminated by these monuments to consumption? Or envious? Isn't it odd to return to life as a working London architect?

"Happiness isn't driven by anything you've got. It's inward. I'm not sure I want all those things myself. It's the sheer hard work in having them. They need these tools in order to play the public persona. I find it's bad enough having just one house."

Super rich must-haves

• Direct access from road to underground parking complex, with lift directly into the residence.

• James Bond-level security including CCTV, infrared scanners, panic room, bomb-proof garage doors, bomb-resistant lift and bulletproof windows.

• A home office complete with a communications system that would please a Royal Navy destroyer.

• A master suite the size of a one-bed flat with his-and-hers ensuites, walk-in dressing rooms, day rooms, exercise area and TV lounge.

• A subterranean basement containing bar, nightclub, hairdressing salon, gymnasium, sauna, spa, swimming pool and private 3D cinema (with seats that move with the movie).

• Staff quarters, separate from the main residence.

• A show kitchen above ground and a basement industrial kitchen that can cater for up to 300.


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October 15 2010

From nécessaire to ooh-la-la

The postwar years saw unprecedented creativity in French design, driven first by the aftermath of bomb damage and then by the consumer boom of the 50s and 60s

In the France of 1945 – a country of ruined cities, bombed-out morale and an economy smashed to smithereens – it was all about the basics: tables to eat off, chairs to sit on and kitchens in which mothers could feed their children. In the crescendo of rebellion before May 1968, experimentation was key, and plastics took the place of wood. And by the early 1970s, permissiveness prevailed: beds were on the floor, sofas became "sprawlers" and chaise longues were orange and made of foam. Louis XVI, one imagines, would not have known where to look.

If it is possible to tell the story of a country through its furniture, then an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris does just that. By charting the different designs that kitted out homes across France throughout this period of sudden and profound change, the exhibition shows how the finest table legs and most exquisite lamps are shaped not only by their craftsmen, but also by the cultural and economic influences of the time. And if the change is so radical that it seems to be a tale of two countries, that is perhaps not surprising. Try to picture Charles de Gaulle reclining in a bubble chair – it's no easy task.

Beginning with the immediate postwar reality, the Mobi Boom exhibition transports the visitor from the centre of Paris to the northern city of Le Havre, a place so bombarded during the war that 5,000 inhabitant were killed and 12,000 homes destroyed. When, after liberation, towns and cities across France found themselves in need of a new housing plan, the old sea port became a prototype for reconstruction. Auguste Perret, the architect and devotee of reinforced concrete, designed modernist blocks of flats that were at that time the model for collective modern living: they made up for a lack of space with light, fitted kitchens and bathrooms, not to mention unembellished oak cupboards, simple storage space and elegant, high-backed chairs. When in 1947 the government announced its aim to create 20,000 such apartments a month, mass-produced furniture seemed the way forward.

"I think the state realised it had to give an impetus," says Dominique Forest, curator of the exhibition. From that moment on, the chairs and tables that designers René Gabriel and Marcel Gascoin were creating in Le Havre would become the staple for 1950s French households, which were embracing the rationalist dream. "They saw it as a golden age," Forest says. "It all came together: it was not only furniture, but also electrical appliances."

As part of the exhibition, Forest installed an original 1947 fitted kitchen from Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse in Marseille, by celebrated designer Charlotte Perriand. With its sliding doors and handy drawers, the kitchen reflects Perriand's assertion that, in an age of limited space, "storage is of the utmost importance". It also tries to maximise a woman's ability to be close to her guests through cut-away panels in the side. "The mistress [of the house] is not separated from her guests," Forest says. "She is not relegated to her kitchen only."

As France got back on its feet during the 1950s, boosted by the Marshall Plan and a gradual recovery of economic strength, changes outside the home had a direct impact on what went on inside it. A new generation of designers started to experiment with new materials and shapes, and industrial production brought furniture to the masses like never before. In 1959, a Formica contest was held in the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs; it yielded a sleek, low-lying, cream entertainment unit that spoke volumes about the new preoccupation of the time: leisure. Designed by Antoine Philippon and Jacqueline Lecoq, it boasts a television on one unit, a bar in a second and a turntable in a third. For those feeling peckish, there's also a dish for peanuts.

Before long, this new mood of discovery would vanquish the functionality of the immediate postwar period. What had been a question of urgency was now one of creativity and hedonism. Compared with other European countries, France was riding high on a boom in babies, living standards and, yes, furniture. The consumerist society had arrived and, with the rumblings of cultural rebellion that would reach a peak in May 1968, the combination was explosive. "There was definitely a spirit of breaking the [social] codes," Forest says, pointing out brightly coloured, make-them-yourself sofa units marketed as "vautroirs" (from the verb "vautrer", meaning to sprawl).

During this period, several furniture advertisements caused "scandals", she adds, because critics deemed them to have subversive undertones (they were probably right). A double-page spread in the groundbreaking Prisunic magazine featured Marc Held's plastic ground-level beds with the word "LOVE" emblazoned behind them. "Another advert for [chair specialists] Airborne showed only bottoms," Forest says. "It caused a scandal at the time, but it was good for showing that what was important was people's bodies, their comfort."

Five years after the protests of 1968, the mobi boom – and, more generally, the sustained prosperity of the trente glorieuses – came to an abrupt halt with the oil shock of 1973. Perhaps the gods of interior design looked down on the fluorescent yellow chairs and rotating orange footstools, and decided that enough was enough. In the mid-70s, battered by economic crisis and sudden consumer belt-tightening, some of the biggest names in French design – including Airborne, Steph Simon and Prisunic – closed their doors for ever. Their legacy, however – mass-production, nationwide distribution, cutting-edge creative thinking – has stood firm to this day (plastic beds excepted).

• Mobi Boom, The Explosion Of Design In France (1945-1975) is showing at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris until 2 January 2011.


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May 14 2010

Interiors: A riot of colour | Brighton | open house

Should colourful art and migraine-inducing wallpaper really be in the same room? Yes, says the owner of this home – with a bit of creative planning and by thinking big

There are turquoise tiles on the kitchen floor, geometric wallpapers and a lemon-yellow stairwell. As a backdrop to her collection of contemporary art, Ann Frith's seaside home beats a whitewashed art gallery hands down. "I'm really affected by colours, and spend a long time making them work together," says Frith, an artist. "Cold blues upset me."

In Frith's living room, a mask from Oaxaca, Mexico, a giant bronze fish by artist Mike Chaikin and a tiger-print rug from Nepal sit alongside an oversized Iroko armchair from House Plan in Brighton, which is covered in retro fabric found in a remnant shop. All are set off by a patterned wallpaper (Tiki, by Elle Decoration, £44.95). "It's reminiscent of 50s prints, and the vertical lines push the ceiling up," Frith says. Her 50s two-storey home in Rottingdean needs a helping hand in this direction, she says. "The trouble with 50s houses is the rooms can be boxy and the ceilings rather low."

Upstairs, a red Orla Kiely wallpaper lines the study (left, top). One of the bedrooms features a hummingbird-print wallpaper by Matthew Williamson for Habitat (far right, top), now discontinued: try eBay, or Cole & Son's Hummingbirds for similar.

Frith's husband, Simon Arnold, a furniture maker, built the kitchen cabinets and painted them matt off-white to complement those flamboyant tiles, which came from Spain. "We found a shop in Seville called Mosaic Del Sur, where you choose your colour and pattern, they make them up and send them to you." The kitchen features a mask from Sri Lanka (far left, bottom) as well as one of Frith's own creations, a vivid yellow papier-mâché, cone-shaped drinks cabinet.

Is it hard to make disparate pieces of art work together coherently? "You can create a sense of harmony by picking out colours in your accessories," Frith says. "The beautiful pink-red in the Chinese painting in the living room is mirrored in the armchair, for example." It helps to think big, too, she says, so the artwork feels more intentional. "Large pieces – masks, big paintings, sculptures – work well in homes."

She finds many pieces on her travels – India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Japan, China and South America have provided no end of treasures – while others come from closer to home, in the secondhand shops of Lewes and Brighton. She tries to buy one artwork a year, and visits degree shows to find new artists. "We've been doing that for years – we buy only pieces we love." Others are the result of swaps with friends, such as that bronze fish. "It's a good way to acquire things you otherwise couldn't afford."

Frith opens her house each year in May for the Brighton Festival, Artists Open Houses." It's really nice to see work in a domestic setting – less cold and, for many people, less intimidating than a gallery."

Brighton Artists Open Housesruns until 23 May.


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April 30 2010

Interiors: From crack house to modern house

The architects who turned a derelict one-time crack den into an award-winning family home

Back in 2005, when the market was booming, architect Patrick Michell and his partner, Claire McKeown, bought a three-bed house in Hackney, east London. The area boasts handsome terraces, but this house, a boarded-up former crack den, was in a sorry state. Fires had ripped through two rooms and there was a shabbily psychedelic paint scheme. Bailiffs had removed any character features that were left.

But to an architect wanting to make a property his own, it was perfect. "If there had been period features, we'd have worked more sensitively with them, but because it had all gone, we were free to give it a modernist slant," says Michell, 32.

He opened up the two front receptions, and transformed and expanded the narrow kitchen space at the back with a glass roof across the side return. The glass is one huge single piece, appearing to balance unaided on a wall of stone. The back wall is largely glass, too, with a ceiling-high, pivoting glass door to the garden and a glass box punched into the wall to create an appealing window seat. In summer, sunlight streams in, while at night trees tower in silhouette above your head. With a concrete floor inside extending out to the patio, the design aims to merge the two spaces. "I've made it fairly obvious what's new and what's original," Michell says, "and it's given the house a new character." Sightlines from the front door and bay are designed to run through to the garden, and the stairs have been opened up with a glass wall. Doesn't all the glass compromise their privacy? "You can't get away from it in London," McKeown says. "You have to accept that you'll have neighbours and sometimes they'll see what you're doing."

The extension was allowed under "permitted development" planning law, and the building work took nine months, during which time they moved into McKeown's rented flat. "I'd muscled in by this stage," says McKeown, 31, who trained as an architect. Between them, they took the tough decisions essential to any project – where to spend money and where to cut back. Michell's initial £125,000 budget finally came in at £190,000 – all part of the learning process, he says. (The house cost £378,000 at auction.) And though they cut back on the kitchen and joinery budgets, they spent money where it counted, on striking elements such as the glass.

They moved in before the work was finished, and tackled the tiling and painting themselves. "We had hot water, but nothing to cook on," Michell says. "It wasn't really the right thing to do." But for McKeown the excitement was worth it. Her tip for surviving? Build a wardrobe. "If I can get up in the morning and get dressed, I can cope with anything."

Almost finished, the house won an award earlier this year for the best London extension of the last five years. There are still jobs to do – shelves to put up, a front garden to complete – but they are happy to find every weekend is no longer dominated by DIY. They spend most of their time in the kitchen, and take particular pride in the window seat. Their only worry is that, having created a bespoke home, there can be no going back. As McKeown says, "We couldn't imagine living somewhere someone else has designed."


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April 19 2010

Your hidden treasures

If a Superman comic can fetch $1.5m - as one did recently at an auction in the US - then how much could the toys, records and furniture in your house be worth? Emine Saner puts a price on some unlikely collectors' items

Comics

During the war, the only American comics that made it to the UK were brought by US sailors docking at Southampton, who would swap them for sweets and cigarettes. Sadly, that means the chances of finding a comic in your attic to rival the 1938 issue of Action Comics No 1 (the first Superman cartoon), which sold recently for a record-breaking $1.5m, is remote. Nonetheless, says comic expert and auctioneer Malcolm Phillips: "Any British comics from the war years are very collectable. There would be a lot of propaganda in them aimed at children, which was very interesting. You'd get a picture of Hitler hanging by a rope, dead."

Phillips is well placed to judge. In 2004, he sold a copy of the first Dandy from 1937 for £20,350. "What was rare about it was it came with its original free gift – a whistle," says Phillips.

A Beano from the early 40s could go for up to £40, and special issues can be double or treble that. In a pile of 50s comics, Malcolm always looks for issue 452 – the comic in which Dennis the Menace makes his first appearance.

It isn't just comics either. Phillips recently auctioned an almost complete year of Melody Makers from 1963, which includes its first Beatles cover."We are inundated with people wanting to sell stuff, but we turn a lot of it away," he says. Most comics from the 70s onwards, in good condition, are still only worth a few pounds.

Toys

"There is a massive market for 20th-century toys," says antiques expert and TV presenter Jonty Hearnden. Indeed, last month a collection of toy cars fetched £100,000 at auction. Anyone who has ever watched an antiques show will know that collectors prize mint condition, but even if you weren't one of those odd children who never took their robots or Batman models out of their original boxes, there is a chance your old toys could still be worth something.

"I was at a car boot sale last year and there were all these old Sindy dolls," says collectables expert Tracey Martin. "They were in terrible condition – their hair had been chopped off, some were missing feet – but I bought them for £1 each because I liked their outfits." Then she put them on eBay and they all went for £70-80 each. "It turned out they were rare, which goes to show that even something in awful condition can be worth a fair bit if it's rare enough."

The Green Lady picture

This otherworldly, or sickly, depending on your taste, face of a young Chinese woman gazed down from the walls of sitting rooms across the world in the 60s and 70s, but it was particularly popular in Britain. "You could buy prints of this picture very cheaply in Boots," says Martin, "and they're still in people's homes today." This print, by painter Vladimir Tretchikoff, one of the most famous ever made, still makes snobbish art critics recoil, but thanks to the ongoing trend for kitsch, says Martin, it now sells for around £100.

Record collections

Whenever anyone finds out what Ian Shirley does – he's the editor of the Rare Record Price Guide – they always want to know how much their own collections are worth. "Obviously, it depends on what they have. They could have 200 records worth £10,000, or 2,000 records worth much less." The best way to find out is to get a copy of the price guide, or do a search on an internet auction site to see how much records have sold for. There are two things that determine value: scarcity, and mint condition (this usually means never played, even better if it has never been taken out of its sleeve). Lots of people will have Beatles or Rolling Stones records, but there aren't that many mint copies, says Shirley. Records that didn't sell well when they came out are worth much more. Vinyl from the 50s and 60s is usually collectable, and at the moment certain genres are doing better than others: 70s prog and folk rock, psychedelic, reggae. Even more recent records have become collectable – a collector will pay around £40 for a copy of Blur's Parklife, for instance.

Wedding presents

In the 50s and 60s, many couples received stainless-steel tableware such as teapots and toast racks as wedding gifts. "Look out for anything from the 50s onwards from Old Hall," says Mark Hill, co-author of Miller's Collectables Price Guide and presenter of BBC's forthcoming Cracking Antiques. "Lots of people were given teapots and other kitchenware in the 60s as wedding presents and they've been forgotten about in cupboards." A collector will pay up to £150 for a teapot from the company's Alveston range.

A popular 70s wedding present was Sheringham candlesticks, produced by Kings Lynn and Wedgwood Glass and designed by Ronald Stennett-Willson. "Again, they fell out of fashion, but now they are starting to emerge from lofts and sideboards," says Hill. They are made from coloured discs of glass, and the more discs the candlestick has, the more valuable it is – one with eight discs can be worth more than £1,000.

Marbles

There are marble collectors who will pay up to several hundred pounds for a shiny sphere and a pretty pattern. What you are looking for here is late 19th- and early 20th-century marbles. "They were handmade in Germany and you can tell what they are by looking for two rough patches at the top and bottom," says Hill. What happens with all collectables is that once the very rare, early examples of an item are bought up, collectors move down the food chain to the not-so-old-and-rare versions. "So later marbles made in America by companies such as Akro Agate and Christensen are collectable too, and rising in value. I went through my collection from childhood and I found I had a few good ones." As ever, the better the condition, the better the value, so look for ones that aren't chipped and scuffed – and common cats' eye marbles aren't particularly collectable.

Vintage clothes

Items from valuable designer names such as Ozzie Clark, Biba and Mary Quant are already well-known, but there are others, says Martin, packed away in trunks or hidden at the back of wardrobes that any vintage collector would snap up. "Look for anything by Bill Gibb, the 70s fashion designer, which can be worth up to £600, or Jean Varon – this label was designed by John Bates, and a good maxidress can be worth anything up to around £400." Even modern clothes can fetch high prices on internet auction sites, particularly designer high-street collaborations, says Martin. "Matthew Williamson's 'peacock dress' for H&M can fetch as much as £250."

Ercol furniture

Chances are, you probably won't have an undiscovered Tufft table in the spare room, but more recent furniture can be valuable too. Hill's top tip is for mid-century Ercol furniture, which is particularly sought after at the moment. "Look out for the nest of three 'pebble' tables, particularly in blond wood," says Hill. They are worth around £150, with some shops charging several hundred. "You'd imagine that sort of furniture sitting unloved in a corner somewhere."


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February 18 2010

Liverpool's forgotten design storey

Step into the forgotten fifth floor of Lewis's department store, a shopping mecca of the 50s whose glamour has been perfectly preserved



February 13 2010

Interiors: Primary colours

As spring approaches, cast off the beige and take on technicolour – like the owner of this 19th-century Paris apartment

Elegant Parisian ­apartments aren't known for their bold use of ­colour. So when Mathilde Baralhé – a lifelong fan of bright shades – moved into her new home, she filled it with primary-coloured furniture. But she kept the walls, floors, mouldings and panelling neutral. "I was tempted to paint the apartment in bright colours," she says, "but I was worried the combination would be too much. It is now the perfect backdrop to the ­furniture." The reds, yellows and blues are ­repeated throughout to give her home a sense of cohesion.

Living room

Baralhé has stuck to her three-way primary colour scheme – from armchairs to coffee cups. The mock snakeskin rug is linoleum that she cut in the shape of a ­traditional bearskin (try Armstrong Flooring). "Most of the furniture is pretty arty, but I didn't want the flat to look like a gallery. So I chose natural colours for the walls, such as greys and linens," she says. "I wanted to make a feature of the mouldings, so I picked those out in a darker shade. I also made sure some furniture was more discreet, such as a white sofa." The coffee table and lounge chair are by Italian designer Pucci de Rossi (made75.com).

Hall

The hallway is dominated by an ­extraordinary zebra "rug" etched into the wood floor. "The floors in the hall were in such poor condition they couldn't be r­efurbished, so I asked the ­artist Marc-Antoine Moroy, who ­specialises in trompe l'oeil, to paint this for me. He used oil paint d­irectly on to the polished floorboards, then varnished it so that it wouldn't deteriorate too quickly." Try Stephen Farnworth for similar finishes in the UK. The red, blue and yellow ­palette continues with a dozen framed prints, with walls and ­panelling in neutral shades.

Dining room

A set of Louis XVI-style chairs have been given a twist with PVC seats and backs, while a wall-mounted bookcase picks out primary shades, tying ­together the apartment's colour scheme. The red and black zebra-print rug is by Tassin.

Bedroom

A red PVC bed takes centre stage in the master bedroom. ­Deborah Bowness's Books ­wallpaper covers wardrobe doors and ­continues the trompe d'oeil theme.


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