Post­war play­house Moder­nity plus fun

Mid­cen­tury modern meets the Magic Round­about in de­signer Emma Car­low’s Lewes home

The Observer Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Shades of grey, pops of colour… In­te­rior trends fix­ate then fade. But, like a bea­con of per­ma­nence in a sea of tran­sience, the mid­cen­tury look (that’s the um­brella term ap­plied to any­thing de­signed be­tween the late 1940s and 1970s) is rarely out of fash­ion. Per­haps it is the use of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als, stream­lined shapes and bright colours, or that bal­ance be­tween prac­ti­cal­ity and light-heart­ed­ness… What­ever the rea­son, the teak tables, spiky-legged chairs and jaunty task lamps of post­war de­sign never feel stale.

It is this mix of moder­nity with fun which makes de­signer Emma Car­low’s home in the Sus­sex town of Lewes so ap­peal­ing. The G Plan fur­ni­ture, paint­box hues and folk­ish prints ex­ude an op­ti­mism that has cap­ti­vated Car­low since child­hood. “I grew up in the 1970s, play­ing with Fuzzy-Felt and watch­ing The

Magic Round­about – there’s a sim­plic­ity to that era which I love,” says Car­low, who used to de­sign fab­rics for high­street brands like M&S be­fore launch­ing her chil­dren’s fur­nish­ings busi­ness, Play­room. “The ethos of mid­cen­tury de­sign­ers like Charles and Ray Eames has al­ways in­flu­enced my work. Af­ter the war there was a real sense that good de­sign could change the world. The pieces are util­i­tar­ian, never friv­o­lous and ev­ery­thing is on a hu­man scale.”

There is a sim­i­larly com­pan­ion­able spirit in Lewes, where Car­low and her hus­band Gra­ham, a pho­tog­ra­pher, and their son Finn, 15, moved from London nine years ago. “I’ve known Lewes since I was a stu­dent at Brighton School of Art,” says Car­low. “When a friend of mine from col­lege moved here I thought I’d come and have a look. Lewes has al­ways drawn a cre­ative crowd. It’s easy to find like­minded peo­ple. I’m re­flected ev­ery­where I go. London al­ways felt tran­si­tory, as if ev­ery­one wanted to move out. In Lewes you see young and old peo­ple. The whole cir­cle of life is here.”

Car­low also likes the town’s “sub­ver­sive” streak. “When park­ing me­ters were in­tro­duced,” she says, “peo­ple blew them up.” Plans to re­place the sta­tion café with a chain out­let were also stymied. There has also been hue and cry over a project to re­de­velop the site of the town’s for­mer foundry, famed for pro­duc­ing the rail­ings at St Paul’s Cathe­dral. “When Lewe­sians don’t want some­thing to hap­pen they make them­selves heard.”

Car­low’s ter­raced cot­tage was orig­i­nally built for the foundry work­ers. “We’d been rent­ing on this street when it came up Colour coded: (left) Emma Car­low in her liv­ing room, hung with art by friends and filled with high street fur­ni­ture, in­clud­ing a Habi­tat sofa made cat-proof with red felt arm cov­ers. Right: the kitchen, with its side ex­ten­sion and built-in stor­age

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