In praise of… Habitat in the early 70s
30 March 2014
It’s nine o’ clock and I can’t believe where the evening has gone. Well, that’s what happens when the clocks change. But it’s also what happens when you’ve had a rather shorter weekend than usual. Today, Lucy and I zoomed out of London bright and early to go down to our project in Wiltshire, at Conock. On a Sunday? To be fair… our client had just flown in from Hong Kong so we couldn’t really complain too much. I’m very much looking forward, in a few weeks, I hope, to be able to share a few photographs of some of the decoration projects that have been in the works in the office for rather a long time now – exciting times. For now, it was a question of a final tweaks meeting. You know the sort of thing. One of my rules in life is that it takes 20% of the time to get about 80% of the way; and 80% of the time to finish up. Do you agree?
So anyway, aside from quite intentionally doing nothing all day yesterday, except pottering down Lambs Conduit Street, and having Will, Maggie and Maria over for supper… (incidentally, god it’s boring not drinking, or should that be addressed “God, it’s really boring not drinking”, just in case he’s a subscriber to the blog…) well, apart from that, nothing.
I did write an email to Bridie saying ‘you know Bridie please read the comments I think we might need a blog every week….’ What a fantastic response, and dear reader, I will do my best to encourage. We will have to be patient for a little while but look out regularly for more mid-week treats.
So for inspiration this week I’m turning to something that I genuinely turn to rather often. My habitat catalogues from 1971, 72 & 73. Perfection on a plate (a phrase I am known to write from time to time on this blog, but this time it’s really true).
You see what I mean? I guess I’m not the coolest thing to have been made in 1971, it turns out, after all.
Habitat will need no introduction to readers in the UK, but for those from across the pond, and just in case you don’t already know, we are talking about the revolutionary high-street chain founded by Terence Conran in 1964. Terence is probably my absolute all-time design hero; I love the way he touches every part of our world, from buildings to furniture to branding to finding just the right cooking pot. It’s very exciting that his son Jasper is now at the helm at the Conran Shops, and haven’t you noticed the superb new happenings over there?
But back to Habitat. In 1970 Conran launched the Habitat Catalogue. I think I found mine on ebay. Keep an eye open for them. I just had a scan over there and couldn’t spot any. Important to get the early ones… the late 70s saw something of a drop off in taste, I would say, and the 80s were a disaster, a decade of strange mergers and acquisitions for the Conran group that led to some rather questionable taste decisions (or perhaps give it another 10 years and I’ll be changing my tune on that one… do you think things need to go through a 40 year cycle to look at their best again?).
Here’s 1972 and 73.
The dresser on the back of 72 is basically my idea of heaven. I think, although I’m not sure without checking, that it’s Terence’s kitchen in London.
You can’t go wrong with a letter like that.
Strangely (others will know better) I think this might have been a Terence kitchen as well. In his Suffolk cottage?
Beautiful enamelware. When it was rare, not ubiquitous.
I love everything on this page, with a passion:
One of my clients is suddenly going to find their kitchen installed with a white marble countertop and navy blue tiles:
A brilliant layout from 71.
And another. Here’s the coffee spread from 71. Very nice:
Thorne Shaded font. I want those oven gloves, and those tea towels, please.
Across the page, the most beautiful everyday cutlery I have ever seen. Please would someone put this in production today?
The famous Magistretti chairs in blue, and red. I’ve just bought a set of plain beech ones. I’ve just broken my golden rule: I have no idea where they are going to live in my life, but I’m sure we’ll find somewhere.
I love Magistretti chairs almost as much as I love the coloured Thonet bentwoods.
Or these trays:
And these mirrors:
Or these clocks and calendars:
Lighting is another whole rich seam. Remember we are still in 1971.
It would give me great pleasure to reintroduce a simple range of square and turned fittings like these with simple coloured cotton shades.
Or, for that matter, to start using Chesterfield sofas upholstered with William Morris linens:
I adore this little red coffee table:
This page of fabric by the yard (another perfect font):
And really what I need at the Parsonage is an entire set of wicker garden furniture.
1972 catches my eye with this incredible sofa. Be warned, next decoration client. We are going to design a very long, very low, very deep, very square sofa with a crazy upholstered print. The “Country House 4-5 seater”. I LOVE IT.
Floor cushions are due a revival.
I wonder if a new art director was at work in ’72? I love these full-size printed double-page spreads:
Or the stack of chairs:
Seagrass squares on the kitchen floor. It’s a funny thing about seagrass squares. I adore them and one of the things that I get most pleasure of all about seagrass squares is that we were able to track down a supplier and reintroduce them to the world. Anyone who had them in the 70s gives a little shudder when they hear the word. Perhaps not the ideal floorcovering for your kitchen, but I think you cannot go wrong with a seagrass square carpet.
A perfect welsh blanket or checked bedspread. The following year, the check appears as a tablecloth.
I want a set of multi-coloured saucepans, and a red t-shirt, and basically to live in a world where a dish of spaghetti and tomato sauce was the height of cool:
Incidentally, for the world’s perfect tomato sauce recipe, you need travel no further than Valentina’s website Many Kitchens. I’ve just had a good look all over Val’s site for that recipe (little hint: Val, time to set up an archive page for the blogs…) and boy oh boy there are some nice photos over there now. I feel the many kitchens cookbook coming along very nicely. If you are a food publisher may I suggest you take note?
Mention of Val reminds me that her entire house in Italy, where I go every summer, and furnished by her Mum & Dad very simply when they bought the farmhouse (and virtually unchanged since) is basically a 1972 habitat catalogue. Perfect.
Okay, back on track. The coffee page had got a bit more sophisticated by ’72:
As had the white china page:
Or terracotta and wicker:
A close up of the world’s perfect cutlery:
Half-way through 1972 there is this brilliant Homecare guide, by Elizabeth Good. Elizabeth, I don’t know who you are, but I love your writing:
’72 also branched out into the great outdoors.
And has this beautiful spread of drinking glasses, which are all basically exactly what I would like to have on my table today but can’t quite find:
Clocks and calendars gets a cool green background:
And the first great innovation. Which home stores company today is engaging David Hockney, Robin Denny or Peter Blake to produce prints?
Even more yes:
I really really want a William Morris roller blind now please:
What cool kids had in the 70s. Much more fun than a gameboy. Needless to say I had a flower press rather than a dartboard.
I won’t show you too many photographs from 1973, because you’re probably exhausted by now. But check out this beautiful illustrative interior:
Floor cushions take a leap forward in sophistication:
The double-page spreads are insane:
Perfect new rugs are now in stock:
And as for that orange and brown or pink and orange stripey bedspread, I want several immedaitely:
White and brown china pages get a lovely style:
1973 mugs. Now, if I was the creative director of Habitat today, I’d be calling my mug guys and saying “HERE IS THE NEW DESIGN FOR SUMMER 2014 can we get them in yesterday?!?”
Well, let’s face it…. If I was the creative director of habitat, I’d, um, be looking no further at all than re-introducing the entire 1970s Habitat catalogue. Nothing is not to like. We’re doing our best at P&H towers, but we’d need a little more space. So, to all over there at Habitat, I really hope you’re reading!
And here’s to longer evenings. Hello spring!