Beating The Blackout

Finished in a subtle grey geometric wallpaper, my home study is a calm, child-free environment in which I can focus on my various projects. It was created a couple of years ago from an unloved, seldom used dining room, and has proved to be an excellent investment of DIY graft. So proud was I, that a blog was even penned, concluding with a list of essential items that I felt would further enhance my Shangri-La. One featured ‘want’ was an original 1930’s Anglepoise lamp, the gorgeous semi-industrial design icon that revolutionised desk mounted work lighting. Having decided that one would no doubt surface at a flea fair sooner or later, I didn’t give it much more thought until recently.

Earlier in the summer I took a trip to Redditch to take some snaps for my Streamline Worcestershire book (now with its own dedicated website). It’s a fairly sizable, if somewhat unremarkable, settlement in the North of the county with a strong manufacturing history. On the itinerary was a visit to the former Danilo Cinema (now tastefully revamped as a Wetherspoons), and expeditions to a clutch of industrial buildings including a local landmark called Millsborough House.

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The original Millsborough House, built 1912.

The original Millsborough House, built in 1912, was a huge office and factory complex for the well established Redditch firm Herbert Terry & Sons. Initially specialising in the manufacture of needles and fishing tackle, Terry’s quickly diversified into all manner of metal tools, clips and hooks, ultimately becoming best known for their springs. As if all this wasn’t glamorous enough, in 1934 the firm would cement their legacy by entering into a licensing agreement with Bath based designer George Cawardine to manufacture and market his new invention; the Anglepoise Lamp. This revolutionary product, that enabled the user to tailor the position, and angle the beam of light to their needs without moving the base proved to be a huge success. Numerous variations on the theme were developed into a range of lamps of differing sizes and designs for different purposes, while licences were granted to a select few overseas manufacturers.  

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1937 advert

The late 1930’s was an exceptionally successful period for the firm, and in 1937 a vast new extension was added to Millsborough House. Large parts of the original factory were replaced (some had been lost during a fire in 1932) in addition to new buildings on a facing site. Apparently designed collaboratively by F.W.B. Yorke (responsible for many large scale constructions in the area) and his son F.R.S. Yorke (a prominent modernist author and architect, later behind the 1950’s expansion of Gatwick Airport), the extension bears no resemblance to the earlier Edwardian buildings whatsoever.

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The immense, yet surprisingly slender modernist frontage stands on Millsborough Road. Two towers flank the central triple height section, fenestrated with banks of metal framed windows, each capped with a decorative geometric etched lintel. To the south, an adjoining manufacturing wing has a distinctly different appearance thanks to its glazing and pair of asymmetric pitched roofs. The Northern wing is the most rewarding, with three thin vertical insets, each topped with a small hexagonal window. It then drops down as it corners onto Ipsley Street following similar themes before rising back up to eventually meet the remaining original Edwardian building.

At the outbreak of war Terry’s famously marketed the lamp as a means to ‘Beat the Bogey of Blackout Lighting’, enabling the user to clearly see the task in hand without infringing on regulations after dark. As the war progressed production was altered to aid the war effort, this included the development of a smaller battery powered lamp for the RAF. These were used in a number of applications, most famously in bombers, illuminating the navigators charts and maps while on raids.

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1939 advert

Post war production continued, but by the late 1970’s Millsborough House had become outdated and inefficient. The company relocated and areas of the building were demolished and altered to convert it into smaller units. Today it serves multiple businesses in different sectors, and has recently had planning permission granted to convert some of the vacant space into modern warehouse style apartments.

Having concluded it would be in extremely bad form to continue working on a book that featured the Anglepoise factory  without the benefit of my own lamp, I hit eBay. The original production of iconic ‘1227’ lamps ran until 1969 (although it’s back in production again now) encompassing subtle alterations with each generation. Early models are the most sought after, and tend to command high prices. Dating the lamps is relatively easy with various online guides including one on Anglepoises‘ own site. I personally favour the comprehensive guide on 1227, a whole site dedicated to the lamp. Having scoured the listings for a few weeks, I concluded that I was probably going to have to opt for a later generation item rather than hold out for an elusive pre-war model, and ended up buying this sexy number. It’s from the 1948-1960 period, but doesn’t really vary greatly from the original (the larger lamp holder being the most obvious difference). Illuminating it gives my study the instant ‘I’m up to my eyeballs in it and working late to meet a deadline’ look that I was after! An interior design icon that was made locally, who’d have thought.

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Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Airports

hollywoodEver feel like you want to escape from the modern world with its never ending stream of deeply worrying problems? Fancy a bit of head in the sand action for an hour or so? Well should you ever find yourself in the settlement of Beaconsfield, as I did recently, you can do just that by purchasing a ticket to Bekonscot model village. Originally created in the 1920s by Roland Callingham in his back garden as a labour of love, this fictional land has become one of the country’s most popular model villages.site

The ‘village’ (which is actually made up of 6) is a beautifully landscaped 1.5 acre plot set out with rolling hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and beaches. Railway lines a-plenty wind
theirtrains way around the site with miniature trains howling out of tunnels and pounding across bridges just as they would have done in the golden age of steam. To quote their website, ‘There are more than 200 buildings, 3,000 inhabitants, 1,000 animals, hundreds of vehicles and many models move right before your eyes’.

The architecture, as you might expect, includes houses, churches, castles, farms, schools, hoovershops , a windmill and colleges. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.. we also have London
Zoo (with iconic penguin pool), a cement works, a circus, Royal Ascot, Brighton pier, a cattle market, a coal mine and an oil refinery all stuck in a 1930s timewarp. As if all this wasn’t enough, I was hopping around like an excited child by the unexpected appearances of some interwar modernist buildings:hanton2 Hanton airport (modelled on Shoreham maybe?), a little art deco bungalow, and as part of a brand new unfinished section, The Hoover factory in London.

In essence, I loved it! When can I go back?!

PS – it’s worth adding that it’s also got a fantastic play park.. should your children be less than excited by model Hoover buildings!

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The Reshuffle Part 3: Go Progress Chrome

Earlier in the year I published a few posts concerning a significant reshuffle of our home layout; ultimately leading to us creating a kitchen/diner at the opposite end of our garden flat (the existing kitchen then being converted to a bedroom/nursery for our new edition ‘Beatrice’). The summer months yielded hardly any progress thanks to unreliable tradesmen. By September, in a fit of frustration we changed contractors and have watched things progress at rapid speed since then.

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October – only first fix pipework in

The flat sits within a large 1860s property, but with the new project we have completely disregarded all rules of period correctness and have heavily indulged our interwar design fantasies.

The room is a very generous space, but is not without its problems. The walls were a mixture of bare brick and crumbling plaster, with numerous steel pipe brackets seemly growing like grass out of the walls. The original Victorian terracotta tile floor (which runs throughout most of the flat) was very dirty and poorly repaired with concrete in places. The high ceilings gave little heat or acoustic insulation from the heavy footed residents upstairs, and there was little to no natural light.

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November – battening and joists going in.

To counteract these we fitted a false ceiling crammed with rockwool, batton and boarded all the walls, knocked out a bricked up window and fitted a double glazed sash, and gave the floor some much needed TLC repairing the damaged sections with coloured cement and buffing the whole thing. All wiring and pipework has neatly been hidden behind the new walls and ceiling.

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Late November – freshly plastered with ‘Sunstorm’ air vent

After much searching and deliberation I had to abandon my hunt for lights that mimic those in the Cafe Zedel (see my previous blog) and do the obvious thing, ship a bunch of matching reproduction light fittings from Australia!  I would have loved to use original period fittings, but finding items that matched in our chosen chrome scheme was near impossible. So in one of chr20astoria203lt20detroit20sml20copythe most extravagant & indulgent purchases I’ve ever made I found myself placing an order for some beautiful wares at Restoration Online. A three branch chandelier, large pendant and two wall lights from the Astoria range found themselves heading in my direction, arriving with a nasty customs bill to keep them company. They’ll be mounted on ‘Miami’ roses from Classic Ceiling and should look fantastic.

The kitchen units are on order fromh601128sstz_l_2 DIYkitchens and should arrive early in the new year. We’ve gone for a fairly predictable (but thoroughly appropriate) curved white high gloss ‘Livorna’ range with rusty black quartz worktop and bow handles.

Between now and then I’ve got to paint the room. After dismissing large mock up copyblocks of green in our original plan as being too imposing we’ve opted for a more radical scheme. Thick bands of white, grey and ‘twisted turquoise’ with a 30mm black line will run from the worktop around the whole space. The turquoise will stay 300mm from the black line, but climb up and over doorways and other features. It’ll test my frogtape abilities to the max, but should hopefully be worth the trouble and strife in the long run.

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Knocked up over my cornflakes. “What are you drawing daddy?”

 

The Reshuffle Part 2: Lighting The Tunnel

So the mammoth reorganistion of our home is starting to gather some steam now as we slowly enter the exciting kitchen design phase. The generously proportioned room is nearly empty and ready for work to commence, which means we really need to finalise the layout and start investigating some of the finer details such as lighting.

Our future kitchen diner
Our future kitchen diner

The room itself is a long dark space, hidden mainly underground with a french doors at one end and one (yet to be reinstated) single pain window. As such, artificial lighting is gonna play an important part in rendering the room a pleasant place to inhabit. Despite the fact it’s a Victorian building, we’ve decided to follow our hearts and create a clean, crisp modernist kitchen with a strong 1930s influence. So where does one start with lighting?

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of a weekend away in the big smoke while the little one enjoyed some quality time with granny. Amongst the action packed itinerary was a meal in the jaw dropping surroundings of Brasserie Zedel, a French Restaurant in Piccadilly. Anyone with even a casual interest in Art Deco needs to put this on their bucket list. Wander through the quaint street level cafe to the stairs at the rear and you’re already picking out exciting details. Wallpaper, mirrors, posters all hint at whats to come. As you descend into the lower hall it becomes clear that this really is a subterranean inter-war wonderland.

‘Bar Americian’ is a sumptuous dimly lit lounge with an aviation theme. Thick ribbons of dark wood veneers are spliced with brass geometric banding that span the whole room. Illuminated column mounted glass discs and innovative bar lighting bathe the room in a warm glow that creates such an intoxicating environment its hard to tear yourself away.  But leave we had to, as our table in the adjacent Brasserie was ready..

The restaurant is located in marble clad hall that’s a total contrast to the dreamy atmosphere of the bar. Originally part of the Regent Palace Hotel, it was opened in 1915 exhibiting the ‘opulence and scale of a transatlantic liner’. The ghost of this Edwardian extravagance is still clearly visible today , but in the early 1930s Oliver Percy Bernard was commissioned to redesign the interior of the hotel with a more contemporary feel. The brasserie retains many of these upgrades, giving a perfect blend eras. As I sat at our table drinking in both my surroundings and a splendid glass of Corbières, my eyes kept returning to one thing; the stunning ceiling lights. Huge slabs of opaque glass strapped together in a brass cage, all suspended on four rigid legs. Perfect for a kitchen renovation thought I!

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Cursory searches for something in a similar vein didn’t prove all that fruitful. odeonThere doesn’t seem to be many ‘off the peg’ large Art Deco ceiling lights available in England.. wonder why?! One rather fetching option I unearthed named the Odeon Plafonnier looked ideal until I inquired about the price (I won’t say how much, but lets just say I burst out laughing on receiving the quote!). Some Chinese manufacturers list fittings that might be ok, but are likely to be of dubious odeon copyquality. The best option so far is this one from the States.. problem is their mains power runs at 110V, less than half of that in the UK. I need to investigate further, but light fittings are fairly easy to rewire, and priced at about 5% of the Odeon it looks like a strong possibility.

Out with the new, in with old.

Having spent the last 4 or so years filling our humble home with items from (or inspired by) the designs of the inter-war years, we’ve got a fairly sizable assortment of bits and bobs. Each new purchase brings another room one step closer to the film set perfection I’m aiming for. But like the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, with each step forward, the final goal seems to move further away.. which is probably why I enjoy it so much. It’s a life’s ambition!

The latest thing on my want list was a suitably period light fitting for our lounge. Until now I had shied away from collecting anything that could be called a fixture or fitting as I’ve never been that comfortable with the idea of installing 1930s modernism in our 1860s flat.. but I couldn’t live with that ‘traditional’ B&Q chandelier in our lounge any more.. so the quest for a new light fitting was on.

A large quantity of the stuff I buy is from ebay; OK it’s not the most romantic way of shopping. No trawling through the basements of dusty antique shops or haggling with wheeler dealers at the local flea fair, but with an 18 month old in tow most of the time its an easy way of satisfying my decoholic obsession. On this occasion I found what I was looking for fairly quickly. Multiple lights on a brass frame with some simple yet bold glass shades. To be honest I’m not 100% sure this is from the 30s, more likely early 50s (the little red ball finial looks particularly mid-century to me), but never the less, it’s a smashing addition and me and the Mrs are dead pleased with it.

Before & After - A justified upgrade!
Before & After – A justified upgrade!