Postwar playhouse Modernity plus fun
Midcentury modern meets the Magic Roundabout in designer Emma Carlow’s Lewes home
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