Beyond patina

In Book, Home, Interiors on November 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm


Fashions in clothes change in the blink of a blogger’s eye, but trends in interiors move on more of a continental drift time frame. You don’t quite notice it happening and then suddenly it becomes clear that a major sea change has taken place.

For ages the dominant theme was the shabby chic aesthetic beloved of my generation. I can still remember the moment I clocked the window of Cath Kidston’s first shop in Holland Park, which my best pal and fellow junk shop buccaneer had specially taken me to see.

I was rendered speechless, looking at a display which was almost identical to my own kitchen. Exactly the same red and white china flour and sugar cannisters, a basket identical to the one I keep potatoes in, blue and white Cornishware and many other items I’d sniffed out in dusty corners of jumble sales, boot fairs and bric a brac shops over the years.


The feel was nostalgic for kitchens of the 1950s – not the shiny Chevrolet, diner 1950s, but the British provinces of that era. A world of potato mashers with painted green wooden handles, flowery tea cups and embroidered tablecloths. A utopian lost land from just before I was born…

I was half thrilled, half horrified that Ms Kidston had found a way to market it, quickly becoming full horror as the style filtered down the consumer food chain until every mass market store had tacky made-in-China versions of my lovingly curated bits of junk. (And when it has even hit nail art, you know a look is over…)


By then I’d moved on (in every room apart from the kitchen), into my version of Kelly Wearstler’s fabulous LA aesthetic, feeling marvellously vindicated in my choice of enormous Chinois table lamps and yellow glazed chintz curtains with white pom pom trim, when I stumbled upon her seminal book Modern Glamour.


Meanwhile a new interiors genre had popped up by the same organic mechanism as shabby chic – the generation younger than mine was nostalgic for the early 1970s, as I had been for the 1950s, and their Cath Kidston was Orla Kiely.

That geometric world of mustard and sage green (it has always looked like caravan curtains to me) has joined Cath Kidston in the mass market and a new style has now emerged, generated by the next generation to rise up to home owning age – which is how this works, I now realise.

orla kiely ceramics

This is a return to the cherished junk sensibility I relate to – loving the soul in things which have been used and become more interesting with wear. That was a large part of shabby chic, but this takes it to another level, treasuring things which are fully grubby and broken with age.

Bare brick walls are a big part of it, copper is the metal of choice. Wood is grainy and unpainted, old upholstery is left in ragged situ and the ideal wall finish is multiple layers of old wallpaper and paint. Mirrors must be well foxed. Vintage industrial pieces (preferably rusty) are highly sought after and stuffed birds de rigeur.


Random feathers, coral, shells, skulls, bones, lengths of rusty chain and bits of old rope are ideal ornaments. Books should be falling apart at the seams. Ragged old flags are must have wall hangings. Old lampshades can dangle in an unlikely places. Electrical cables are of the plaited silk variety and on show. And you can do a lot with an old ball string.


I call it Beyond Patina and I do rather love it. In its purest form it can make me feel a little queasy (I’m not keen on actual dirt and I can’t bear taxidermy), but I like it all the more for that. I want to be shocked by the new.

Share-Design_Sibella-Court-051The poster girl for Beyond Patina is Sydney’s own Sibella Court (and all the images in this section are her work). It will take a while for her full-on aesethetic to filter down (and while I love her work, I was heartily repulsed by the filthy collar of an old Chinese jacket featured in one of her books) but it will happen.

lamp, tea for joy

Copper is already emerging as a strong trend in entry level light fittings and I predict it’s only a matter of time until you can buy wallpaper printed to look like layers of old wallpaper and paint. Maybe you already can.

Which is your preferred decorating era?

PS. This is a good opportunity to introduce you to my very beloved friend, the interiors stylist Hilary Robertson.

Hils’ style is to me the very best combination of Modern Glamour with Beyond Patina. Here is one picture of a beautiful shoot the New York Times did of her Brooklyn apartment. You can see the rest here


And her own website is here.

She’s one to follow on Instagram too.

  1. I built a new home four years ago and needed to redecorate as all my furniture was beyond tatty. However I couldn’t bear to go with a “look”. The idea seemed too contrived. I thought I might accrue some 50s pieces and restore them but that would have taken a while. I ended up not planning anything specific. I let go of any pre-conceived style idea and kept a casual eye out for things that appealed and that turned out to be interesting and surprising. I ended up with a sitting room decorated in rather graphic black and white which would not have been an imagined first choice. I bought some gorgeous Bluebellegray cushions (which cost at least a third more here in Oz than in London) which add colour and an edgy floral contrast. My partner espied and bought a fabulous handcrafted silver bowl and as a final indulgence I bought a Noguchi coffee table from Vitra. There’s no name for my style. It’s a collection of objects l like and it all comes together. Perhaps it could be called “a little bit of what you fancy” or “whatever catches your eye” style. And it’s not in any design magazine or worse a Harvey Norman or Domayne add.

    • That’s pretty much what I do too – never start out with a plan, but if you buy what you instinctively life it just somehow all goes together doesn’t it? I hate over-decorated contrived places. x

      • Exactly. Somehow the colours and textures all combine to great effect even if you’ve bought them at way different times.

  2. I have always subscribed to the eclectic style of decorating, too. I just have whatever I like and if I like how it looks, then I’m very happy. My daughter is currently picking up pieces of furniture – chairs, side tables, little cupboards, book shelves and the like – from the side of the road and painting them in pastel Annie Sloan chalk paint. Some are done to perfection (if the piece suits it) and some are left with the old colour (mostly brown) showing through in parts. They look absolutely fabulous. I like to decorate with books, flowers, floral cushions and kilim rugs, things that mean something to me, the odd old photo, and anything that feels like a sculpture rather than an ornament. The thing I hate, though, is technology. How to ‘disguise’ the TV, the stereo, the (dreaded) speakers, all the electrical accessories??? If I could fit/hide them all into one big Chinese cupboard – if I could find just the right one – I would. Any other suggestions?

    • Couldn’t agree more.

    • Hi Lizzymint – yes that’s exactly what I have done with my telly – I like to have it hidden when not in use. A friend gave me an old Asian cabinet (I think orginally for storing clothes?). Last year I managed to find a small flat screen TV that fits inside. keep looking, I am sure you will find one!

    • ha ha I wasted my yoga meditation today trying to think of a way to minimise the impact of the TV in my sitting room…

  3. Having just spent a few days at a glossy glamourous ‘minimalist’ house – although beautiful – was filled with uncomfortable (but beautiful to look at) furniture, a sea of shiny hard floors (very tough on fifty something backs and legs) and rows of regimentally lined bookshelves – coming home was BLISS! As I snuggled down into my old french linen sheets (complete with patches) , surrounded by my ‘things’ that all tell a story of our life – a brass tea spoon my dad made when he was 10, a great grandmother’s vase…..I realised a ‘minimalist’ would shudder at all old stuff and probably feel the same way about my house and style as I do about theirs…each to his own I say – but I can’t help but feel that my house is a home warts ‘n’ all!

  4. I am a regular at garage sales, so have all manner of great pieces (large and small) from those sales and various markets. However, it all got to be very cluttered. Once a friend came to visit and said that if you felt a bit faint in any room of my house, it would be OK because there was always a chair or sofa to collapse on. We did feel it was too cluttered so we had the garage sale of the century (raised $3000). So now all the pieces that are left are treasured ones and they are a hotch potch. But I have a yen for a Morrocan feel and anything that Miv Watts puts up on her facebook page. I’ve tried to copy the patina page of Miv’s postings below.

    • I’ve had to stop acquiring gems because my house is also full. My best junketeering friend is in the same boat and it’s left a huge hole in our lives. And there are so many amazing junk shops where we live it’s agony to walk past them! So our new rule is one thing in – one thing out. Or better, two things out. So I’m improving, but not adding. I wish I could move to a castle and fill it…

      • I think that’s when you become an interior-designer-type-person, so you can keep on acquiring gorgeous things and then share them with your clientele. Perfect. We have a place here in Newcastle NSW called The House of Elliot where the owners do just that. I don’t know that I can do the ‘one in one out’ thing but I do have a plan to extend my bookcases right up to 14 foot ceilings. Thinking vertically!

      • ooooh you will ‘need’ a LIBRARY LADDER. How glamorous!

  5. I love Chinoiserie and this is how I have decorated my livingroom. I have a large handmade bookcase which is like a giant bento box – it has that lacquered look (really just black gloss paint on the outside and red gloss cubes within). It looks fab. An Asian cabinet with doors hides the TV and dozens of DVD’s. The room is decorated with satsuma wear and other asian bits and pieces. I have finally completed the room with a large Indian rug.

    My gay friends always give me unwanted advice when it comes to decorating.

    I don’t care. It’s my apartment and I’ll decorate it as I please!

  6. I find the pictures of interiors styled by Sibella to be very cluttered looking to my eye – I just think ‘dust’ when I look at them.
    I also hate the 70’s aesthetic, and I’m a child of the 70’s. Interestingly, before we started our renovations of our old Victorian house it had a built on sunroom out the back that had been done in the late 60’s/ early 70’s. The kitchen was also that era. We hated it (falling down and completely ugly – think red wire cut exposed brick walls and timber panelled ceilings …. and not in a good retro way), but the number of friends that would say how comfortable they felt in those spaces was extraordinary. It took them all back to their own childhoods.
    It was a happy day for us when the bulldozer rolled in….!

    • I think some of her pictures look absolutely FILTHY which made me laugh because it shows I am of a different generation… That filthy collar on the jacket made me feel quite sick and the very idea of having feathers in my house makes me want to hurl. There’s something about feathers which always looks full of insects and dirt to me, which is entirely irrational. I happily kiss my cat and I know he really is flea infested… x

  7. I can’t stand all that dirty ratty look of what you call “Beyond Patina” trend. It will disappear very quickly when the occupants of the rooms decorated in that manner start suffering from the dust mites allergy because of all the dirty torn shit used as “decoration”.

    It is all good while they are students and don’t care much about the environment they live in as they mostly come home to sleep and read FB entries. When they get their own places – the things changes.

    It is well known fact that one feels better in a place which has some order and doesn’t feel like a jumble sale. The most appealing pictures in this blog entry are the ones which have some Zen feeling to them, not the ones which have junk piled everyone.

    • I am inclined to agree. Well, I totally agree actually… That’s why I love Ms Wearstler’s work. As I say at the end my friend Hilary combines the glamour and pared down order of Wearstler with the heart of beaten up old stuff and it really works for me. I do love the distressed wall thing though. They just look beautiful like Italy, not DIRTY ha ha ha

  8. My childhood was spent in an airy cream brick 60s house, but it was my grandparents’ frozen-in-time bluestone and timber farmhouse full of china statuettes, Victorian prints and old furniture that feels like home.

  9. 1. After all these years of yearning I finally have my country kitchen with a sodding great dresser stuffed with blue and white. And I have a checked red tablecloth on my Nana’s huge old scrubbed pine kitchen table. Pavers on the floors, recycled doors with bits of paint hanging off (so maybe I’m not as passe as I thought…).

    2. My teen years were spent in a state of the art 70s house complete with shag pile, parquetry, avocado green benchtops, exposed brick walls and the like. Even burnt orange curtains. It was a gorgeous house but I don’t have a burning desire to repeat the decor here in my lovely mud brick home (which funnily enough was build in the late 70s/early 80s). Strangely, though, my daughter was aghast when I turfed our APPALLING burnt orange living room curtains the other day. When we moved in we had made a pact that we wouldn’t change anything until we’d lived here for a year. But enough is enough.

    3. Last week I opened a stall in a huge antique and vintage market. It’s part of my decluttering strategy. I am now having a crash course in what is cool and what is so last century…

    • I LOVE the sound of your kitchen… My parents went uber modern in the late 70s and I do kind of get why they did it now, after a house of Victoriana…

      • I was really thrilled yesterday – I was visiting my stall and this uber cool but totally real Scandinavian lady swooped on a very plain little pine desk I had for sale. She wanted it in her kitchen as a bench. Perfect. She totally got the look I was going for (the stall is a mini version of my kitchen – it just happened that way…).

  10. When we bought our first flat in 1985 ( in a Victorian mansion block) we furnished it with old pine furniture. All mismatched and woodworm eaten- we loved it but I remember our parents were aghast. Mr Bollyknickers father donated his ercol dining table and chairs, which we hated and only kept until we could afford to replace it with an table made of old floorboards. Then it got sent to the salvo’s!

    We still have most of that furniture now ( having moved it many times, and across several continents) and I still love every worm chewed bit of it. Now we live in an Art Deco house in Sydney and I use the “if we love it, it will work” method of decorating. That old dining table sits in the kitchen and our old bedroom chest of drawers lives in the laundry with a drawer for every member of the family. And I also have an old pine dresser that takes up one whole wall of the kitchen despite the kitchen designers attempts to get it removed.

    I like Ms Robertson’s style- she has just enough clutter to make things interesting but not enough to upset me (speaking as someone who can’t even go into DJ’s during the sales) I tend to go in for little vignettes of interesting things around the house- I keeping adding bits until one day it suddenly looks cluttered and then I have a big clear out and start all over again.

  11. Oh Mr Bollyknickers! I spend hours searching eBay for an Ercol dining set.
    One persons trash as they say.
    I find it really hard to settle on one style too and am easily swayed by any fabulous magazine spread. I have a mix of Danish mid-century and Modern Glamour. Plus a little bit beachy boho. Pretty much stick to the rule that I have to love it. I do like your friend Hilary’s style, I’m going to check her out in Intsagram.

    • I think eclectic is the way to go… otherwise it looks so contrived. Yesterday I discovered a new guilty pleasure TV show called Four Houses… 4 Americans show each other their hideous overdone houses and one wins, like Come Dine With Me with interiors. I was hooked!

  12. I find most of the Kelly Wearstler stuff..awful I can see what she is aiming for but its just wrong

    • Really? I love it. In the huge spaces and the light, I think it works. I also like that it’s so different from all the other styles which seem to have been around for the past 20 years – shabby chic, mid Century, minimalism…

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