is rubbish! The people whose homes are portals to the past
Emma Preston in her 1950s styled home
Photograph: Courtesy of Emma Preston
What is it
like to live in a time machine? Five people explain why they made their home
into the perfect replica of an earlier era
Tue 12 Jan
2021 06.00 GMTLast modified on Tue 12 Jan 2021 12.28 GMT
generations look at the interior design of the early 21st century in
appreciation? Possibly not. We do not appear to have crafted many design
classics, unless slab-like corner sofas in mud-grey velvet are Eames chairs in
the making. Our feature walls are gaudy; our furniture cheaply made. Scarcely
anything seems to be built to last, which is just as well, as the next
Instagram-led interior design trend will be along soon enough.
are those who retreat from modern trends into the interiors of the past, drawn
by the allure of original designs. We speak to five people whose homes are
portals into the past.
Aaron Whiteside, 38, stained glass restorer, Blackpool
has assiduously converted his suburban semi into a prewar home. Photographs:
My mum says
that I was always into the 30s, ever since she can remember. I’d go around to
my aunt and uncle’s house and play old dance band records. At weekends, I’d
rummage in Patrick’s Saleroom, a sort of junk shop that’s still around today.
I’d go there every weekend from the age of seven or eight and buy all sorts of
weird things: gramophones, gas mantles, electric toasters, Bakelite hairdryers.
I have an obsession with 30s vacuums. They’re the best! They really get all the
crap out of the carpet.
I shut the
door and I'm in 1936
the fashion and the style were magical. Even the food was great – everything
was homegrown back then. I would go back in time now if I could, although I’d
take my family with me. It probably wouldn’t live up to my expectations unless
I was rich and able to do fun things such as go to the Savoy theatre and go out
Whiteside’s kitchen in Blackpool
I grew up
over the road from the house I live in. It used to belong to an old lady. She
was well over 100 when I was a child. She was a real character: a former
schoolteacher, very strict. Us kids used to call it the witch’s house, because
if a ball hit her window you’d see an eye poke out from behind her venetian
blinds. She’d come outside with a carving knife and cut the ball open. But she
was a lovely lady, really. It must have been annoying for her, all these kids
knocking balls into her windows.
died, the house lay unused for nine years, until I bought it. I found her old
ration book and letters from her sweetheart, who died in the first world war,
under the floorboards. The letters were quite upsetting to read, knowing how he
Most of my
furniture comes from Patrick’s Saleroom, unless it’s something rare and hard to
find, in which case I use eBay. Everything is vintage, apart from my Alexa –
but that’s hidden in an old speaker. I have a laptop for work and watching
Netflix. But that’s it. I restored a 1951 Bush television, so I can watch old
movies on it. I know it’s not from the 30s, but TVs weren’t popular back then.
lot I don’t like about modern life. I find society quite greedy. Everyone’s a
bit more selfish. If I live by any 30s values in my life, I suppose it’s trying
to have good manners: be polite, and nice to folk, and help them as much as you
When I come
home from work, I like to shut the door and pretend I’m back in 1936. Not to
the extent it’s freaky, though. I do go to work and see my friends and have a
normal life. But my house is my little time capsule. The 30s stay here; when I
leave the house, I’m back in the real world.
I forget I
have a 30s house. If I don’t warn people before they come over for the first
time, they walk in, stop speaking, then ask me if it’s my grandparents’ house.
I had a postman come to the house once and ask me if my mum and dad were in. I
get it. It looks like an old lady’s house.
Julie Kelty, 53, homemaker, South Uist, Outer Hebrides
in her kitchen in South Uist
home in South Uist. Photographs courtesy of Julie Kelty
in my house is 40s-style – or if it isn’t, it’s hidden away. I have three
children, so there’s no way in the world I could get away without having modern
things such as a TV and a washing machine. But the washing machine is covered
with a curtain and the toaster is in a cupboard under the worktop. I have a
real 40s toaster on the counter: I daren’t turn it on, even though it does have
a plug fitted. My kids are always complaining about the toaster. They go: “Mum,
why is the toaster in the cupboard?” I say: “Because that’s the way I like it!”
But they don’t mind, really, because they know it makes me happy.
I love the
simplicity of the era
proud of my living room. It’s so relaxing. I love the rocking chair and the old
clock on the mantelpiece. If you don’t look at the TV, you can imagine you are
in a 40s lounge. I love to sit there and read old magazines from the 40s.
Sometimes, they have people’s addresses on the label. I think about them: what
were they like? What lives did they lead?
I get all
my furniture on the island. There’s a brilliant place called ReStore that
restores old furniture that people have donated: almost everything in my house
is from there. There are two charity shops on the island that are also really
good – I can always pick up beautiful things there and they aren’t expensive.
The charity shops on the mainland know about vintage now; they put up the
I dress in
40s clothes, too. I love the style – it’s very feminine. The ladies always got
dressed up to go out back then. They took care, you know? No leggings and long
T-shirts! I always wear a skirt, no matter what I’m doing. You have to wear
thick tights in winter, though.
I love the
simplicity of the era. It’s not over the top, like it is now. There’s too much
stuff now. It’s all about what car you have, or what clothes you wear. Even
modern cars are stressful. There’s so much that can go wrong with them. Back
then, things were simple and modest. It felt like everyone was in it together.
People were different – they did things for each other. I love that sense of
neighbourliness and community.
If I had
the chance to go back to the 40s, I’d love to go. Not to stay there – I imagine
it was pretty terrifying to live through the war. But maybe after the war, when
it was all over, to visit a world without cars and people everywhere. That’s
one of the reasons my husband and I moved to Uist – to get away from technology
and crowds and to live a simpler life. There are plenty of places on the island
where you can look around and it’s exactly as it would have been in the 40s.
Although, sadly, technology has followed us to the island – we got 4G last
year. I’m constantly looking at my phone now. Adverts pop up and I think: “Ooh,
I’d love to buy that.” I wish I wasn’t looking at my phone all the time.
Preston, 51, clothing brand owner, Bolton
Preston at home in Bolton
home in Bolton. Photographs courtesy of Emma Preston
I’d say my
style is mid-century American ranch style, with a tiki influence. I’ve always
loved vintage style, ever since I was a teenager. In the 80s, I was into the
mod scene. I remember walking into a friend’s house when I was about 19 and
everything was styled like the 50s: there was a cocktail bar and 50s magazines.
I thought it was so stylish. After that, I never looked back: I’ve decorated
all of my houses in a vintage way.
wowed by it – every day
started collecting in the 80s, you could pick up stuff in charity shops and
flea markets for next to nothing. I still have a 50s pale-green and pink
bedroom suite I got at a Manchester flea market in the early 90s. Nowadays, I
get most of my things through specialist dealers, although you can also get
good pieces from eBay and Etsy if you look hard enough. I’d love some
Heywood-Wakefield or Paul Frankl rattan furniture and I’m desperate for an
Alfred Meakin cactus teapot – I have almost the full set, but I’m missing the
I have two
cocktail bars. They are pretty special. One is a mid-century bar with a glitter
vinyl front. My tiki bamboo bar I got from a friend who was selling it. I’ve
owned several bamboo bars over the years. At one point, I had about four bars
in my house at the same time. I had to get rid of them, though – you can’t keep
I do have
modern bits in the house. My kitchen isn’t original. It’s styled on a
Youngstown kitchen from the US; it would be difficult and expensive to ship one
over, so I created the look using chevron cupboard pulls and aluminium trim on
a modern kitchen. I had really positive comments on my Instagram account from
people in the US, which was nice.
thing in my house that I really hate is the TV, because it doesn’t fit with the
decor. We have a modern TV – my husband, Nigel, insisted. It is nice to watch
old movies on a decent screen, though. William Morris said that you should have
nothing in your house that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
Everything in my house is beautiful to me, apart from my telly – which is
wish I lived in the 50s. I love vintage style, not vintage values. When I’m
reading magazines from that period, some of the adverts are so archaic. It’s
all about buying the woman in your life a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. But I
couldn’t live in modern surroundings, either. This trend for grey at the moment
– I can’t bear it. Everything is grey. People are even painting the exterior of
their houses grey! I need colour in my life.
so fortunate to have this beautiful home during Covid. I get so much pleasure
from every item in my home. It’s so lovely to sit at my bar and have a mai tai
while I put some lounge music on. I feel so grateful to live here, look at
everything and feel wowed by it – which I still do, every day.
Grant, 49, IT consultant, Dunblane
at his bar in Dunblane
his bar in Dunblane. Photographs: Nick Grant
have a fantastic childhood. My mum died when I was six, of a brain tumour. TV
was my escape. Every Saturday evening, I lost myself in classic American shows
like The Dukes of Hazzard, The A Team, Knight Rider. Those 80s shows often
visually referenced the 60s and Americana. There’s definitely a bit of
I love that
culture of hot rodding and classic cars
in the 60s started with cars. I’ve always driven classic cars. I have a ’57
Chevy – it’s black with a red roof. I love that culture of hot rodding and
classic cars. It’s linked together, my love of cars and interiors.
Scotland, you need a bit of colour, especially at this time of the year. I
looked at Chevrolet paint charts from the 60s. The dining room is painted in a
turquoise colour that came from those charts. The dining chairs are Panton and
the side tables are Bauhaus.
want to live in the 60s. I’ve always believed that things tend to get better,
although the last few years have stretched that for me. I guess I’m a
traditional person in that I like to work hard and live quietly. But, beyond
that, I don’t really relate to 60s values. My wife and I, we’re equals.
I like to
combine modern conveniences with 60s styling. I’ve incorporated automation into
the house, so all our lighting themes come on automatically at different times
of the day. We have sound systems in every room. I love gadgets. But I make
sure they’re all invisible. I don’t want them to change the look of the house,
just make it easier to live in.
things with a history. We put in double doors that I got from a salvage yard
between the dining room and the kitchen. They were from a cruise liner built in
1959. They add layers of history to the house. When you touch them, it feels
like there’s a story behind them. Being able to keep things going and give them
a new life, instead of throwing them in landfill, feels right to me.
Estelle Bilson, 42, stylist, Manchester
Bilson at home in Manchester
home in Manchester. Photographs courtesy of Estelle Bilson
My dad was
an antiques dealer and cabinet maker, so I grew up with mahogany furniture –
lots of Edwardian pieces and William Morris. I used to go to auctions with my
dad from the age of three or four. I’ve always hunted for stuff – when I was a
student, I’d go around picking furniture out of skips. I’m such a Womble! Back
then, people would toss out G Plan – no one wanted it.
I refuse to
pay £300 for something I can find for £20
says to me: why the 70s? And I say: why not? It’s the colour, the shapes, the
style. There’s some nostalgia there, too, because I’m just about old enough to
remember the 70s. My grandparents kept all their 70s furniture well into the
80s. Back then, people bought quality and kept it for a long time, whereas now
it feels as if everyone decorates their home at lightning speed to keep up with
the latest Instagram trend. People treat their houses like fast fashion,
whereas, 30 or 40 years ago, people had a style and stuck with it for 50 years.
I have a
Decca TV from the 70s that I found on Facebook Marketplace, three miles down
the road. It’s ridiculous. The same model is on display in the Science Museum.
It does turn on, but unfortunately the analogue signal was switched off in
2012, so I’m sending it to someone who specialises in making old appliances
work on new systems. He’s going to make it compatible with Netflix and digital
tight. Everything is from Facebook Marketplace, car boot sales or eBay. I could
go to specialist dealers, but I refuse to pay £300 for something I can find for
£20 if I magpie about and keep looking. Sometimes, I’ll spend years looking for
a specific piece. If I told you my search terms, I’d have to kill you. What I
will say is that, if you want bargains, search broad. Type “coffee table” or
“lamp”. It will take hours, but you’ll find gold for cheap.
modern mattresses – I draw the line on that. And we have a modern TV. Oh, and a
Dyson. Old vacuum cleaners are awful. My prized possession is a Marcel Breuer
long chair. My dad had one when I was a kid, but he had to sell it in the 80s
because he was short on money. Mine came up on eBay and the starting bid was £500.
I had only £500 in my bank account, so I sat there shaking, waiting for the
auction to run down. Then, with three seconds to go, I bid and won it. I felt
sick. I cried and then called my dad.
I wear 70s
clothes, but not all the time. I’m a mum and I can’t swan around in a Jean
Varon maxidress if there’s a four-year-old trying to smear yoghurt on me. Do I
have vintage values? Absolutely not. I don’t sit about waiting for my partner
to come home. I think a lot of things about the 70s were really bad. Thatcherism
was shit, especially if you lived up north. If you watch Love Thy Neighbour,
it’s so racist. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t go back to the 70s.
Actually – that’s a lie. I’d go back, stockpile a load of furniture and bring
it back. But that’s about it.
What I like
the most about the 70s is the mindset. The roots of sustainable living started
in the 70s. The quality of build and design is that much better. Nothing looks
like it will fall apart in the next 10 minutes. There’s years of use left in this
furniture. I’m so glad to be able to save it from landfill.
article’s main image was changed on 12 January 2021 for editorial reasons.