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Left © Heal’s; Below M&S window display, Oxford, 1951, photograph courtesy of the M&S Company Archive down the desired item at their nearest outlet – often a department store.
“Department stores such as John Lewis were the real high street heroes,” Jay Kaye says. “The vast majority of mid-century collectables would have been sold through stores such as this: pieces by Robert Welch, Stelton, Cathrineholm and Rya for instance. These remain best sellers on my website – top quality items that have timeless designs.”
“If your local branch didn’t have the item you wanted you could order it in. Or you could take a trip to London, armed with a copy of Women & Home magazine, and find everything you wanted in the bigger stores.”
Woolworths A cheaper alternative to the department stores of the day, Woolworths was perhaps the unsung hero of midcentury design.
Much of the 1950s atomic wire metal work, such as coat hooks, fruit bowls and magazine racks, could be bought from the store, and designs by Clarice Cliff were retailed through Woolworths from the 1930s up until the ’50s. But it was the ceramics of the mid-’50s and ’60s that remain of most interest to mid-century collectors.
Monochrome ‘Homemaker’ dining sets by Tom Arnold and Enid Seeney allowed lower income customers to buy into the aesthetic of designer home-
making without paying designer prices. The Ridgeway ceramics boasted stylised images of some of the most iconic furniture of the time, including Robin Day’s reclining armchair and the ‘boomerang’, or ‘kidney’, table.
“The images of contemporary domestic furniture as decoration on such humble household products proved particularly popular and acted as a style guide to what one ought to have in their modern interiors”, writes Susan McCormack in British Design at Home.
Although Woolworths has closed its doors and Habitat is no longer a force on the high street, the designs they championed in the vibrant post-war decades live on through the high street chains that now look to the past for inspiration. But how has homeware design from this period remained contemporary after more than half a century?
“Mid-century designs never seem to date because the great designers of the day designed for the future”, explains ceramics and glass enthusiast Elizabeth Howard of Morhow Antiques and Collectables. And the high street continues to bring that sense of a new dawn to a mass market happy to buy into a sense of social optimism. M
Jo-ann Fortune is a journalist and vintage expert based in Brighton. She runs www.vintagebrighton.com, a site devoted to celebrating the thriving vintage scene on the South Coast.
Autumn/Winter 2011 Midcentury London
M I D C E N T U R Y H I T S L O R D ’ S F O R S I X !
Tom Rigden and Tabitha Teuma
We were bowled over by the setting for Modern Show’s first outing north of the river: Lord’s, the home of cricket, in its majestic setting in St John’s Wood. The Nursery Pavilion, with its floor-to-ceiling glass side overlooking the pitch, makes an ideal second home for the show.
A range of the UK’s top mid-century dealers were out in force with their finest pieces for sale; for one day only, the timber on display was not English willow but Danish-crafted teak and rosewood. Many had saved items for months in preparation and the considered displays, with every object allocated sufficient display space, was without a doubt more exhibition than market place.
Although there was no contemporary section as such, a selection of upcyclers had brought some truly unique pieces for sale. And new to this show was the range of innovative garden furniture for sale, with the designers on hand to talk through the concepts. And what better backdrop than the immaculately mown lawn of the full-size cricket pitch? In fact our editor was
Midcentury found curled up in Moore Design’s ‘Nest’ during a rather extended afternoon tea break!
Of course, this was also the launch event for Midcentury magazine and we had a few of our own mid-century gems on display. These included a Borg Mogensen desk and sideboard from Designs of Modernity, an Eames Rocker from Firefly House and a Brian Willsher sculpture, lent to us by collector Gary Howard of DAD Design. Plus an AR002 sofa by Assembly Room, which proved a welcome spot for those needing to rest their pins, and of course our favourite ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ wallpaper by Mini Moderns. It was fantastic to meet some of our readers and gratifying to see so many with their noses buried in our midcentury pages over their coffee.
With around 1500 visitors, the event had a notable buzz about it and, judging by the amount of furniture we saw people leaving with, we’d expect this venue to become a fixture on the Modern Shows calendar.
In the pages that follow, we bring you just a flavour of the pieces we saw…