Call this elegant decor? Great Aunt Rose might agree… | Interiors
In the 1950s, a best-selling treadmill – at 2,000 miles – was produced by Kidderminster and was called ‘Skaters’ Trail’. It consisted of curvy lines in bright red and gray accompanied by a sprinkling of stars, replacing the brown linoleum and flooring austerities of wartime Britain and rationing.
Open any interior design magazine today, say Liveetc or Home and Gardens – or browse Lulu’s ‘golden-wallpaper-at-£840-a-roll’ Lytle website – and the patterned rug is most certainly back, apparently the choice of anyone under 50 who likes to be fashionable. If, of course, they can afford a roof over their heads first.
Those who learned to crawl on Skaters’ Trail are now well over 60, McCarthy Stone’s target age. Last year, the housing company for retirees provided “later life” for more than 20,000 people in 475 housing estates. If McCarthy Stone’s decor resembles that of an expensive “later” establishment opened near my house, it will be painfully modern, a cruise ship riot of scratches, stains, glass, foliage, of luster and burnished gold. The ghost of Liberace on the piano is expected.
The McCarthy Stone website states, “We want to offer a more positive view of what it means to be old. That makes his study of the design tastes of people over 65, published last week, sound very rum indeed. The study peddles outdated stereotypes before overturning them with new research. According to these stereotypes, patterned carpets, floral wallpapers, avocado bathroom sets, garden gnomes, lace tablecloths, sheers, grandfather clocks and porcelain figurines are judged ” obsolete” by two-thirds of retirees. Of course they are – and, no doubt, they were for many of their parents too.
Those who travel through the uncharted territory of the future living today have been raised in the realm of Habitat, launched in 1964, and Ikea, which arrived in Warrington in the late 1980s; stripped, flat, bare floor, primary colors and white, white, white. Also in the 1960s, women began to take paid employment, so the less to dust, polish, vacuum, and devote to your waking hours, the better.
More recently, many members of this same generation have experienced the overwhelming task of dismantling the homes of a deceased mother, father or aunt. Yes, there is the occasional grandfather clock, garden gnome and porcelain figurine – but these too have often been inherited from a previous generation.
My late parents were, not uncommonly, teenagers serving in the armed forces during World War II and, like many of their generation, saw their family homes destroyed by bombs. Throwing away the possessions cherished by relatives, regardless of the period, was considered sacrilege. Their offspring are often, reluctantly, more brutal.
Furniture and sentimental objects end up for the most part, alas, in charity shops or condemned to tips for health and safety reasons. After dismantling one or more homes (no avocado bathrooms and few “soft toilet seat covers” but a whole lot of tinkering), the mantra for many of my friends is, less is more. Not least because we don’t want to leave a legacy of “things”, whether ancient or ultra-futuristic, so our own children have to endure the pain of throwing away the reminders of a lifetime.
In 2021, McCarthy Stone reported that 27% of over-65s in the UK say they have experienced ageism. Growing up in a time when, at 20, anyone over 40 was considered an acquaintance of Noah and the Ark, this seems like progress. Not enough, but still progressing.
Another help would be to avoid silly stereotypes and instead delve into the true scale of the enormous diversity that represents old age today, shaped by wealth and poverty, health, geography and luck. And taste too, in all its manifestations.
In the meantime, let’s return to the website of Lulu Lytle of interior design firm Soane. Ironically, it’s a stunning riot of the kind of multi-patterned wallpaper, rugs, upholstery and trinkets my great-aunt Rose used to favor when she was 80 in the 1950s. Now, as we all know, he is much loved by 34-year-old Downing Street resident Carrie Johnson.
And in the May issue of Interior world, music producer Mark Ronson, 46, reveals his five-bedroom Manhattan home is decorated in an art deco style, with pride of place for his record player and vinyl records. In decor, the old slips effortlessly into the 21st century style, if the price is right.