The austerity following the global financial crisis of 2008 wasn’t limited to the heady spheres of politics and macro-economics. It also affected our approach to fashion, art and decor, with simple functionality replacing the bling and conspicuous luxury of the boom years. The slow return to relative prosperity has not occasioned a rush back to the grand and ornate; rather, we have developed an enduring appreciation for the uncluttered, skilfully crafted designs of the war years and their immediate aftermath.
The wartime home
Economy and frugality were the watchwords of the era, and when coupled with strict rationing, they limited people’s ability to refresh their home decor and furnishings. If a household item was damaged or broken, “make do and mend” was not a catchphrase or cliché; it was an absolute necessity. Accordingly, most homes were essentially unchanged since the 1930s.
In the years following the war, money and supplies remained scarce. When families invested in a piece of furniture, it was expected to be designed for function and durability. Lines remained simple with manufacturers of the day eschewing frills and whimsy in favour of practicality.
The modern spin
The contemporary take on wartime interiors borrows from the iconic design features of the period, valuing clean lines and unfussy placement. There is a place in this austere scheme of things for a little fun, though, with slightly anachronistic elements being permissible. For example, the classic Eames chairs date from a slightly later era, but their perennially popular form and function seem entirely appropriate in a wartime-inspired setting.
The Eames name is very much at the forefront of the design and lifestyle news at the moment, with extensive coverage of an exhibition about designers Charles and Ray Eames that is currently taking place at London’s Barbican Centre.
Catherine Ince, the curator of the well-received exhibition, describes the chairs as amazingly well-constructed and high-quality pieces of furniture that are both aesthetically pleasing and crafted for comfort. Those who agree with this characterisation will be inspired by the ranges held by firms such as Pash Living.
Interior design can be fairly ephemeral, with a rapid turnover of ideas. Wartime simplicity, when relieved with lighter touches, is more of a lifestyle than a trend. Certainly it has outlasted our most recent bout with austerity.