The folly of obsolescence
ALthough the mobile-phone industry has turned inbuilt obsolescence into an artform, manufacturers are also having a pretty good stab at making furniture that has to be replaced with monotonous regularity.
When those in the industry—often people who see the world through the prism of a spreadsheet—refer to ‘economies of scale’, they imply that these are of benefit to consumers because they create better value. In reality, they are the economies of extracting the highest possible profit margin from substandard furniture. With its flattering images, the internet has been a useful tool in this deceit, glamourising furniture made from poor materials stapled together in the shortest possible time.
It wasn’t always so. A young married couple buying a sofa in the early decades of the 20th century could reasonably look forward to living out their dotage in its comfortable embrace. their descendants will be lucky if a mass-produced sofa is still in service when they’ve finished paying off the interest-free credit.
on page 76, we publish images created by some of our earliest photographers of some of the greatest English interiors of the past 120 years, including those at Deanery garden, the house that Sir Edwin Lutyens designed for Country Life’s founder Edward hudson, Nancy Lancaster’s saloon at Kelmarsh hall and the breathtaking Art Deco interior at Eltham when it was the home of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. the quality that all these rooms share is a timelessness that they owe to the integrity of their contents, which would look as fresh and relevant today as they did then.
Doubtless, a spreadsheet compiler would worry that creating furniture of this type wouldn’t be able to offer ‘a sustainable business model’, yet the current model isn’t sustainable either. Making furniture well doesn’t just create employment— it also generates design possibilities that mass manufacture never can. Most important, however, is that it can be mended, polished and reupholstered so that it can be revived rather than replaced.
In 1905, Lutyens designed the chairs for the Country Life offices in Covent garden. Now, 112 years later, we continue to use them on a daily basis. Scuffed by years of supporting successive generations of editorial staff, they are still perfectly serviceable. As a spreadsheet compiler might say, that’s a pretty good return on investment.
‘They share a timelessness that they owe to the integrity of their contents
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