The decade that style forgot
Blog, as told to Becca Grey by Johnny……
That is what people used to call the seventies, but with a widespread reawakening this amnesia now seems to be over. Clothes that evoke the decade are apparently right back in fashion: the flares, fringing, tucked in shirts with pointy collars… Style never forgot Bianca Jagger or Jerry Hall, we suddenly remember. As often happens it’s the same with design and architecture, as people start appreciating Brutalism with Tumblr sites such as this:
Seventies space age inspired room set
It’s also difficult not to be a bit nostalgic for ’70s society. The Three-Day Week was hardly feel good, but there was much more of a sense that we were all in this together then than now. Social mobility was at its best ever in this country then and the pay gap between top and bottom was never smaller, before or since. In America and Britain the very end of the ’70s saw the arrival of ‘neoliberal’ economic policies and the rise of the banks and shadow banking, a development we no longer view through rose tinted specs. A good moment then to reevaluate the ’70s. While my career began in the last years of the decade, a seminal event for me was an exhibition at Allied Maples in Tottenham Court Road in 1973. To drawn customers in, the furniture store displayed a collection of high concept modern design in a large open plan location within the store. Tall square foam pillars divided the space, virtual walls you could move at will. There was an uninspiringly anonymous kitchen, but the rest of the furniture was extremely cool. I was most excited by two chairs, one called the Comfort Explosion, the other a suspended pod like an upholstered egg that you climbed into. Once inside this, you were enveloped by the output of an integral music system, a forerunner of the private consumption of music we take for granted now through high quality headphones. This hanging pod chair felt to me like the cockpit of a plane or a luxury driverless car. It was narcissistic, sensual and thrillingly new.
Big flowing curves characterized this furniture, its bold shapes closely related to pop art and graphic design. Unable to resist, I ordered a Comfort Explosion. This was a curved block of foam covered in soft jumbo cord. You lay back in it, weight spread evenly down the spine and legs, with the calves providing an unusual and helpful amount of support. It was a slacker’s chair, perfect for communing with the Dark Side of the Moon (and a spliff). Mine was delivered in person to my house by the designer Rupert Oliver. He’d put it in his Citroen, a new CX with amazing rise and fall suspension. Oliver himself, slightly rumpled looking in his corduroy suit, would now be called a hipster. I was interested to hear how he ran his independent design business and had his furniture custom made. He sold the Comfort Explosion both to university halls of residence and retirement care homes.
Rupert Oliver still makes exciting furniture mostly for children With all this innovation going on, I started experimenting with making my own furniture in our family’s barn in Sussex. A router was the best tool for creating shapes as it enabled the molding of pieces of wood into interesting curves. I made a filing system that was the genesis of my first (‘gothic’) kitchen project; in the market generally kitchens lagged well behind furniture in terms of innovation and inspiration. It actually took me some time – a decade and a half – to bring the curves I first saw at Maples into my kitchen design practice. When I became my own client at the beginning of the ’90s I started seriously revisiting this exuberance through the use of curved shapes and a more sensual approach to design. Our own kitchen is made of curved ’70s inspired shaped furniture combined with antiques, an infinitely variable recipe that has proved popular with clients ever since. The pleasure seeking pod chair that blew me away in 1973 does continue to inspire, along with the Comfort Explosion (sadly long tattered and perished). These days however the ideal is convivial pleasure, not so much the self-involved kind – though actually that is completely fine too.