Photographs courtesy of Ben Anders
By Jill Macnair
A mid century home: discovering 1960s architecture
A few years ago, husband-and-wife Cathy Spooner and Peter Wall, who run furniture design business Assembly Room together, were looking to relocate from York to London. The plan was to buy a Victorian home in the southeast area of the city. Cathy, a designer in touch with her likes and dislikes had no interest whatsoever in 1960s buildings. So it came as a bit of a shock when Peter persuaded her to view a mid century home in Forest Hill. It came as a bigger shock still when she fell in love with the place. “I was blown away by the natural light and the space”, she says. “I was a convert.”
After losing out on an offer they put in for the house, the couple restarted their house-search with a new criteria – simply to find a modernist-style building of the same era. This led them to Crystal Palace, an area well-off for 1960s buildings and somewhere that the couple knew absolutely nothing about. The striking three-bedroom house that they ended up buying – and now share with their daughter Evie and son Finn – needed work. “It was very beige with magnolia walls, pale carpets – the developer look”, says Peter. But it had two major advantages. Firstly, a garage ripe for conversion into an office from which the duo now run their contemporary furniture-design business Assembly Room. And secondly, “it had no internal support walls, so you could do anything with the layout”, says Cathy. “This inspired us to put our mark on it.”
A mid century home: making their mark
Aside from the garage conversion, most of the structural work took place on the first floor, by way of an open-plan kitchen / living / dining area awash with natural light and connecting to a charming garden. To achieve the more modernist layout here, Cathy and Peter knocked down two walls that carved up the space into three separate rooms. “It felt like there was no elbow room in the kitchen before and now we get the full view of the garden”, says Cathy.
With a personal style that is understated yet considered, Cathy and Peter have stuck mainly to white for the walls – give or take a feature wall in grey or patterned wallpaper – teamed with renewed engineered oak floorboards, selected, “because they have no knots in them, they’re fairly unified and are also ideal for underfloor heating”, says Peter. They were influenced by the clean simplicity of modernist and Scandinavian design and the architecture of New Zealand, where they lived for a year back in 2003.
A mid century home: finding objects and furniture
On top of the clean backdrop is a well edited collection of vintage mid century and modern furniture, plus choice art and accessories grouped together on custom-built floating shelves, cabinet surfaces and walls – Hornsea pottery, a Jane Foster screenprint and John Clappison, Carltonware all in the mix.
The duo tends to source particular furniture to fit particular spots – for example they scoured car boot sales, the internet and vintage shops for an original Stag ‘C range’ chest by John and Sylvia Reid knowing it’d look perfect at the foot of the stairs. They finally found one down the road at Crystal Palace Antiques. Their mid century home is also full of items gathered over the years, as well as many of the couple’s own furniture designs – including the 005 walnut dining table, which has a hardy linoleum insert at its centre, “a natural, raw and renewable material from Scotland”, says Peter.
The bedrooms on the top floor required only minimal decoration to give them the Cathy and Peter stamp. Evie’s cheery room is a lesson in how to mix Ikea – in the shape of vibrant fabrics – with vintage Ercol – a lovely rocking chair that the couple found years ago at a car boot sale in York. Another jammy Ercol find – this time pulled out of a skip in Yorkshire – can be found next door in the master bedroom, which is decorated with Net and Ball wallpaper by Absolute Zero Designs.
A mid century home: creating a modern space
There are some clever details at play in the building’s structure, which also help the objects within it to shine. For instance, the couple fitted recessed architectural lighting throughout the first floor, which helps to create the illusion of height in the neat rooms. They also removed the original clunky glass staircase partition intersecting the living space, to replace it with a slim white-painted timber structure that’s far more in keeping with the overall look.
The overall feel to this mid century home might be eclectic, but, thanks to furniture and belongings that perfectly fit the building style, it’s also cohesive. As for the couple’s favourite thing about their home? “The light in here is amazing”, says Cathy. “Now we judge other houses by the amount of light they get in the daytime.”
Check out these brands for inspiration or to achieve a similar aesthetic…
Assembly Room furniture is the furniture design business run by Cathy Spooner and Peter Wall
Jill Macnair is co-founder of design blog myfriendshouse
Read our article Ercol furniture: Insights into a classic British brand