Retrospective


Using her keen eye for vintage and unusual design, Sam, with the help of her husband Richard, has tranformed her family's award-winning sixties-built home into a haven for unique and fascinating finds...

The old cliché is that if you remember the 1960s, you simply weren't there. Well, I was and I do remember the 60s. Perhaps this was because, incarcerated in a boarding school, I wasn't having quite as much fun as I should have liked but my recollection of school holidays is certainly a little hazier so I obviously wasn't wasting my entire life.

There was, in any case, some advantage in being at least semi-conscious through that particular decade. They were truly extraordinary times in so many ways. Everywhere there was the sharp tang of revolution in the air and the certainty that whatever the future might bring, nothing would ever be the same again. It wasn't just a time of new music or fashion, of The Beatles, Quant or Conran, it was a cultural and creative maelstrom that swept through every facet of our lives.

Like all revolutions, it ran its course, and like every revolution, some of its influences endured, others took their rightful place in the nation's cultural archives. However, such was the sheer quality and originality of some of the design the era produced that it is being re-discovered by and is appealing to a whole new generation. Concepts and creations long out of favour have made a serious comeback and furniture, fabrics and now houses of the time are enjoying a new and in many cases well-deserved celebrity.

A family who discovered 1960s design more than a decade ago are Sam and Richard Burton and their daughters Iris and Esther. During their time in Penge, Sam became a dedicated fan and collector of all things 60s but particularly Ercol furniture. By the time the family decided to make the break and head for the country, she had no fewer than four beautiful and elegant Ercol sofas. So now she had the problem not so much of furnishing a house but housing her furniture.

Sam planned to continue to work in London so they were looking for a village within commutable distance. After the usual ritual of kissing a few architectural frogs, they found it - an original 1960s property in an original 1960s development at the foot of the North Downs. And not just any development but one that in October 1964 was thought to deserve a page feature in House & Garden.

"Some of the houses are in cleverly interlocking clusters of four and others in couples. The cluster houses are being sold for £6,850 and the coupled for £7,600."

"In developing the site, the architect, Peter Bond, intended the groups to have something of the character of farm buildings. Externally, the houses look more Scandinavian than English, although brickwork is old yellow London stock bricks instead of the dark red or black ones usually found in Scandinavia. Internally, Mr Bond's aim has been to reproduce that sense of seclusion found in earlier English country cottages and farmhouses. For this reason, he set the bedroom windows high and gave the rooms an emphatically pitched roof, about 13 feet at the internal clerestory side. The ceilings are lined with pine and the cross beams are also exposed timber."

The course of true love, however, never runs smoothly and the couple lost the house when their London property sale fell through but were lucky second time round and the house was theirs - albeit yellow. "It was covered from top to bottom," says Sam. "It had been spruced up but we wished they hadn't bothered."

Luckily, Richard is a master DIYer. "Just imagine something and it's done," says Sam. Together, Sam, Richard and eBay were an irresistible force and their new house soon began to take shape. One of the first jobs was to get rid of the old tiling in the hallway. The couple decided to replace it with warm herringbone parquet so found two large sacks of reclaimed pieces on eBay at £80. Richard renovated the parquet and laid the new floor only to find he had a sack left over. This was duly put back onto eBay and the couple got their £80 back.

Sam's company, Lush & Green, specialises in preloved gifts and vintage homeware and, needless to say, her home abounds both with current stock and pieces which she bought to resell but that somehow never made their way onto the site...

In the kitchen, which was "a horrid cream", Ikea now reigns with contemporary units in an elegant dark grey set against page green and white Fired Earth tiles. Everywhere are items of fascination. In addition to her London job in TV production, Sam also runs Lush & Green, a company that specialises in preloved gifts and vintage homeware and, needless to say, her home abounds both with current stock and pieces which she bought to resell but that somehow never made their way onto the site. "I never buy anything that I don't personally like and so inevitably I just can't bring myself to let the odd thing go."

"I never buy anything that I don't personally like and so inevitably I just can't bring myself to let the odd thing go," says Sam

In the kitchen there's an eclectic mix of items including a collection of Lou Rota plates featuring bugs, bees and birds that Sam found in Anthropologie and a very pleasing set of French tin containers. In the corner, with a fine metal mesh front, is an old and tiny fridge.

Off the kitchen is the dining room although it has been through a number of incarnations since the family moved in. One part of the room hosts a superb beech Ercol extendable dining table and the other, past an Ercol room divider is a seating area with an Ercol sofa and armchair. Neither have cushions on their backs because Sam likes to see the delicate spindles behind. "Which, of course, means we always have an inexhaustible supply of scatter cushions," says Sam.

On the far wall are chunky Richard shelves made from reclaimed scaffolding boards and, chunky though they are, one can almost hear them groaning from the weight of Richard's horticultural library. On another wall are more delicate shelves displaying Sam's collection of teacup trios.

The L-shaped drawing room with its pine ceiling is a real Ercol-fest - sofas, chairs, sideboard, pebble tables - and although there is a considerable amount of furniture here, so delicate and elegant is it that the room does not for a moment feel crowded. There are also other excellent pieces of 1960s design - stunning Ladderax shelving the couple found in North Wales, a glorious orange table lamp, black standard lamp, Leica and 8mm cameras, a Kartell storage unit, a wonderful collapsible cigarette dispenser and one of the best optic fibre lamps I've seen.

In the hallway, Sam has a problem. She has papered the walls in a Harlequin paper and was pleased with the result. Alas, out of the blue disaster struck. Actually, it struck out of Eastenders. Sam spotted the same paper adorning the walls of the ladies' loo in the Queen Vic and suddenly the situation turned into a replay of Oscar Wilde's last hours. As he lay dying in a cheap hotel room, Wilde looked at the wallpaper, winced and muttered "one of us will have to go."

Halfway up the stairs hangs a truly vast canvas of silver birches from Skandium and a Banksy limited edition and at the top two works by one of Sam's favourite artists, Sophie Smallhorn.

The master bedroom was once virtually all pine, three walls and soaring pitched ceiling. "It was original and true to the period but, quite honestly, it looked like a sauna," says Sam. Her solution was to paper one wall in a William Morris print but leave the ceiling. On one side of the room, there are two matching Ercol chests of drawers one upon the other with a matching pair opposite. All were bought individually over a period as Sam tracked them down. In the corner stands a complementary Ercol dressing table above which have been set delicate narrow shelves made from old wooden metre rulers.

Iris' room, probably more than any other in the house, bears eloquent witness to Richard's woodworking skills. Here he has used the height provided by the pitched ceiling to build a stunning gallery where Iris sleeps. Even her climb-up-to bed is inspired - Richard has built a storage/shelving unit which doubles both as a home for her treasures as well as a staircase to the bed above...

Esther's room sports the same dramatic pitched pine ceiling as her parents' but the walls are a striking red Cole & Son paisley paper. Her wardrobe started life a plain pine but is now a bright pea green. Iris' room, probably more than any other in the house, bears eloquent witness to Richard's woodworking skills. Here he has used the height provided by the pitched ceiling to build a stunning gallery where Iris sleeps with a mini dressing-room-cum-walk-in-wardrobe beneath. Even her climb-up-to bed is inspired - Richard has built a storage/shelving unit which doubles both as a home for her treasures as well as a staircase to the bed above.

In the bathroom too he has been at work creating wrap around tongue and groove now painted a French grey to complement the slate flooring and mosaic tiles of the shower. Both the basin and free-standing bath are from eBay. Outside there is more of his work - a superb contemporary summerhouse.

For a child - or at least teenager - of the 60s, it was a pleasure to see so many beautiful pieces so evocative of the era in such a perfect setting. It was a pleasure, too, to be reminded of so much that, for some strange reason, I seemed to have forgotten...

Address Book:

  • words John Graham-Hart
  • pictures David Merewether
  • styling Lucy Fleming