Sixties: chic or kitsch?
The sixties is having a moment. The trick is choosing key furnishings you can live with and knowing when to stop
Not every garment suits every person. Some of us look great in retro gear, and some of us just don't. Straight up-and-down tunic dresses from the 1960s? Amazing if you've got a body like Twiggy. If you're curvy, not so much…
Now, the look of the decade that brought us the Beatles, Mary Quant and Andy Warhol, is trending again as an interiors style.
But like dressing 60s, you have to tread carefully - try shoehorning too many mid-century items into an unsuitable building and your interiors could end up looking more confused than stylish.
"People love 1960s furniture but it doesn't always suit their homes," says the interior designer Egon Walesch.
"In London, where I live now, there are a lot of Victorian houses. You can get away with a few mid-century pieces in a period home, but you have to know when to stop."
A room with original Victorian features, like moulded plasterwork and an ornate cast iron fireplace, isn't the best place for an entire 60s-inspired room scheme. But when Walesch, who hails from Athlone, inherited his family holiday home on the shores of a Co Westmeath lake, he had no such qualms. Because the cabin had been built in the 1960s, it was ideally suited to 1960s style. Bingo!
First, the cabin needed some renovation. Low ceilings, small rooms, and inadequate windows are the flip side of 1960s décor. Walesch took them out and created an open-plan living space with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the lake. The furniture is a mixture of original vintage, retro, and frankly modern. "I never like a style to be done to slavishly," he says. "I prefer to mix it up."
Walesch is a big fan of orange and went for a trio of PH 4/3 pendant lamps over the dining table.
The lamps were designed by Poul Henningsen for Louis Poulsen and first produced in 1966. These are vintage originals, sourced in Denmark, but you can buy a modern version of the same design for €495 from The Finnish Design Shop.
"They don't make them in orange anymore," says Walesch sadly. Imagine his joy, then, when he discovered the PS 2014 bureau in Ikea.
"It came in two colours and one of them was bright orange!" It's a great little piece of affordable design but, unfortunately, no longer available. All this brightness requires a muted backdrop and the walls of the cabin are painted in 'Strong White' from Farrow & Ball, with 'Comfort White' on the ceilings.
In the living room, a nest of Pebble tables, designed for Ercol in the late 1950s, is another vintage find, lovingly restored (this design too is still in production and available from Arnotts for €729). The sofas, though, are modern and come from Heals, as does the ottoman, which Walesch has reupholstered in a 196os-inspired fabric from Melin Tregwynt, a weaving mill in Wales.
Patterned textiles are one of the greatest joys of 1960s décor and, while it can be difficult to source vintage fabrics in sufficiently good nick to stand the wear and tear of modern life, some companies are still making the original designs. If you can afford a heritage product, Melin Tregwynt has been in the same family since 1912 and some of its weaves are closely based on 1960s patterns.
'Madison Gold', for example, is a subtle pattern of squares in green, gold and olive. It was designed in the 1990s, closely based on a maxi skirt worn by a family member, Eluned Griffiths, in the 1960s. Not all fashion fabrics from this era would be easy to live with in the home, but this one would fit in anywhere. It's not cheap though; expect to pay around €250 for a throw and €55 for a cushion (you can also order it as a fabric). A few such pieces, placed on a sofa upholstered in plain hardwearing contemporary fabric, would add a subtle hint of the 1960s without making your living room look like a retro sitcom.
"You need to know when to stop," Walesch says. "You're living in a real room - not a carefully decorated photoshoot!"
And too much 1960s authenticity and your home will look like a set piece. That's according to According to Geoff Kirk of Kirkmodern, vendor of vintage furniture.
"People do it, but their homes become like museums," he says. An alternative approach is to decorate in a contemporary style, using a few key vintage pieces as a talking point. He remembers a recent client who had furnished her entire apartment in grey and black. Most of her furniture was high-end contemporary design from Ligne Roset.
"She chose just one vintage piece - a Swedish chair upholstered in bright orange." It must have shone out like a goldfish in the ultra-modern charcoal coloured room.
That was an extreme example, but brightly coloured feature chairs are Kirkmodern's biggest seller. Prices range from €700 to €4,000 (for that you'd get an original vintage chair; recovered, repolished and restored, the old innards replaced with new foam, fabric, and webbing).
"They can make a great counterpoint to an Ikea sofa, and would be easier to live with than an entire vintage three-piece suit in bright orange. That said," Kirk admits, "you do get people wanting that exactly."
"Avoid making everything too matchy-matchy," Kirk advises. "People come in to me looking for chairs to match their curtains. I think that's the wrong approach. In the day they would have mixed and matched different fabrics and colours. The 1960s was all about difference."
His other most popular 1960s items are sideboards but, here too, people can fall foul of the urge to match materials. "People come in to me thinking that everything has to be teak or everything has to be rosewood. They're worried that the two different types of wood won't go together." It's a legitimate concern. Nobody wants to invest in a piece of furniture only to find that it doesn't work with their existing pieces, but Kirk argues that, when it comes to natural wood, trying to match like with like just doesn't work. "If you have one rosewood piece and go looking for another, you might find one, but it's never going to match the one that you already have. It might be from a different country, it's probably from a different manufacturer, and it's definitely from a different tree!" The good news is that natural wood finishes tend to sit comfortably together, even if they are not the same.
Egon Walesch's house was photographed by Alison Hammond for Ideal Home.
See egondesign.co.uk, alisonhammondphotography.com, kirkmodern.com, melintregwynt.co.uk, heals.com, finnishdesignshop.com, and arnotts.ie.