I’ve been a fan of Baileys for some time – simple, well-made, well-designed home products that aren’t fussy or over-complicated, and an intriguing mix of old, recycled pieces and new, sustainable pieces that don’t compromise on style.
I’d been lusting after their book, Recycled Home, for a while, so I could barely wait to get the wrapper off before I dived into it …
Visually, it’s gorgeous, with wonderful photos by Debi Treloar on every page …. the message, however, is less easy to absorb. I found it quite an extreme approach, the suggestion that we undecorate our home, stripping them back to their bones and concentrating on the underlying beauty in the materials used in construction of both the house itself, and the furnishings we use.
It’s an approach that is some degress north of ‘shabby chic’ – more extreme, less pretty, an almost wabi-sabi aesthetic in its insistence on allowing the materials used to speak for themselves, whilst insisting that they fulfil the function for which they were designed, with an emphasis on texture and tone.
The importance of balance in emphasised, and I can imagine that it’s a difficult look to pull off successfully – both in terms of liveability and aesthetics – it would be very easy to go too far, and feel as though you’re living in a building site, or not go far enough, and leave rooms looking half-finished and neither one thing nor another.
I liked the idea of avoiding new furnishings wherever possible – taking old, unwanted furniture, boxes, building materials and industrial fixings and re-purposing them for the home appealed to me – certainly flat-pack quick fixes are not an option with this look.
I wasn’t sure if this was a look that would work in every home. Sure, if you’ve got an old building with layers of character (and preferably soaring ceilings), revealing its history has a certain appeal and charm. Where I struggle to visualise it is in a modern home, where breezeblock and plasterboard are the underlying materials, or even in an early/mid-19th century home, where you don’t necessarily have the integrity in the materials or the desirable history to expose. Done badly, it could look harsh, minimalist and unfinished.
There is a place for the sleek and modern, juxtaposed against the worn and aged – again with the insistence on great design that fulfils function against the integrity and inherent beauty of the materials used.
It strikes me that it’s something worth thinking about …. it needn’t be a whole-house look, rather, an incorporation of elements.
Done well, it could be the the absence of flat-pack furniture, an insistence on natural materials left unpainted and unfinished, a reduction to only what was needed and loved, allowing the choices made in home decor to stand, unashamedly, as nothing more than what they are.
In my own home, a 1930’s cottage, there are places I can use the aesthetic, even though I wouldn’t want to live with a whole house like this. I could, for example, strip the paint from the mantle wall in the dining room and let the irregular, scarred plaster with the remnants of 80-odd years of paint speak for itself. Already, I’m planning on stripping back the stairs to reveal the wood underneath, and taking gloss off windowsills, doorframes and skirting boards as and when rooms need updating. And in terms of home furnishings and home accessories, I’m going to carry on with my mission of buying second-hand, vintage and antique and re-finishing and re-purposing as necessary rather than buying new.
It might make for a slower process, but I think that the slowing-down of the process will make it a more mindful one that links up naturally with my work.
It took a little while to move from the position of “oh my god, it’s all very well if you’ve got a character-laden 16th century farmhouse / georgian mansion” to “hmmm, I can see how elements of this might work in my house” that’s needed me to go back and re-read the book and actually absorb the words – rather than the pictures – to take in the message and understand it fully.
It’s not easy, and it’s not pretty, but it *is* beautiful.