On a sunny Saturday in Hove I met with the lovely George Clarke at the launch of the Barker and Stonehouse Hove store.
Barker and Stonehouse are a family-run company dating back to 1946. They have stores all over the UK and this will be their 10th.
George Clarke is well known for his tv series Amazing Spaces on Channel 4, which explores the concept of turning unconventional things into incredible places to live, with a particular emphasis on creative use of small spaces.. which for obvious reasons interests me immensely! (see previous house hunting rants) He also runs an architectural practice in London, called George Clarke & Partners Ltd.
We sat down to chat after George had spent his morning signing books and posing with families eager for photographs.
How is small space living affecting the way we live and the items we buy?
“It’s a good question, I think the small space revolution… (tails off as he’s distracted by someone behind him playing with an Ercol extendable dining table) “I’ve just bought that table – good for the kids and dinner parties” *Happily obliges to photo with a family*… and we’re back to interview.
The tiny house revolution is global, it’s about affordability not just scale and size. In America there’s a huge tiny house population; people trying to get on…you can’t even call it the property ladder as some of them are on wheels.
People just want the chance to have a place they call home, and because of that you have to rethink everything. How you live, you’ve got to declutter, minimal living, you’ve also got to think about the furniture, the scale and size of it and what’s going to fit. You’re never going to put a huge sofa in a tiny space.
You’ve got reconsider scale and size of everything, but also multifunctional design. I’ll always think – can a table do more than one thing? I think that’s the most important thing, that whatever objects you use, have an opportunity for them to do multiple things, not just the purpose that they were originally designed for.”
What are your top 5 items that every home should have, to make it feel like home?
- “Well obviously the Ercol extendable dining table. I’m away from home a lot which is a shame, but when I get my kids around and we have a little gathering and then when we want a bigger party, that then opens up into an enormous table which is fantastic.
I love Ercol as a company, it’s a great British piece of design, it was formed by Ercolini who was an immigrant in the early 1900s from Italy, who set up an amazing furniture company.“
- “Everyone should have nice real fire or wood burning stove, especially in our country where it gets to like October and it’s really cold – the fire is the heart of the home.”
- “I’m actually a big fan of coffee tables, people think I’m really odd when I pick coffee tables, but I really love them because I like to have a couple of books there that I keep changing over (I interject to ask “but do you actually read those books?” because as we all know most coffee table books are just that and they stay there as props)Yea, yea! I do, because I’m a book nut! Even in this digital age I love collecting beautiful books, I tend to download novels on my iPad but any other books such as design, architectural books I always want to buy them. It’s quite nice really then because when I have got time I grab the book and have a read because it’s right there on display.I think if it was on a shelf I would feel like I was being too studious, going down my shelves.. but when it’s on a coffee table I can just pick it up for a bit and get lost in a book for 5 minutes. There’s one here actually that I really love, it’s a white marble top lozenge shaped top with lovely metal legs. So yea, I’m a coffee table nut!”
- “I’m a big fan of rugs, any beautiful rug as long as it’s not garish and it’s not too vivid. I’m fairly minimal in my look. I love a rug because I have hard flooring, so my kids can roll around on it, it’s quite a good laff. In my garden studio there’s a plywood floor and i have a massive rug, we can all lounge around on bean bags too.”
- “Bed! A bed has to be the most important thing in the world, if you think about our busy lives, a third of our lives we spend in bed. If you’re lucky! And there’s nothing better than a comfortable bed. I sleep in millions of beds, because I stay in loads of hotels and some of them drive me mad. Where it’s like a cheap bed and a really cheap mattress and it’s just bloody awful. And you get a terrible night’s sleep. I think one of the best investments you can make in your life is a good bed with a really good quality mattress, and you’ve always got to flip it over once in awhile and after about 10 years you need to change it as it will lose a lot of it’s spring and bounce. It’s one of the best investments you’re ever going to make because you’ll get a good night’s sleep. “
How do you think Barker and StoneHouse will improve the homes of Brighton and Hove?
“I think what people are after now is choice and a lot of variation, everyone’s got different tastes and styles.
I’m amazed when you walk around the place and someone goes “ooh I love that” and I’m like “really? that’s just not my cup of tea at all”. And there’s things that I’ll pick out and people won’t like it. That’s the beauty of the design world really, we’ve all got different tastes and styles.
The variation in here is amazing, I’m not just saying that because I’m here. They won’t mind me saying that you can go from some of the most garish things which I would never buy, I’m not going to mention what they were, but there were some staggering popular items which sell like hot cakes, which I would not put in my house, and then there are things that I would buy and people would think oh no it’s too boring and you’re too much of an architect, and it’s too modern and contemporary.
I like the way they’ve done the layouts, they’ve got everything themed, everything from retro to salvaged and reclaimed, through to incredibly modern and contemporary, to cosy and over the top. It’s a big store and I think with that much variation, it gives everyone the opportunity to come and pick what they want.
I think the modern buyer today is quite a critical buyer, they want something really good, they want something well made with value for money at the same time. Barker and Stonehouse have positioned themselves really well because it’s good quality stuff, at a good price as well. That’s why I’m here today – I don’t get involved in stuff I’m not passionate about and I love their range. It’s so varied that I think it’s good for everyone.“
Where are the best places for people to find inspiration?
“You’ll know this more than I will! Pinterest is incredible, I go on Pinterest all the time, I get inspired by Pinterest. There are so many blogs out there, if you google anything that you’re remotely interested in, it’s there.
YouTube is bloody brilliant, even when we’re looking for good buildings to go and see. I’m going to Japan next week for amazing spaces, and a lot of our research is done online. I’ve got a whole team of researchers, and we can’t send people out to Japan to do recces, and so the internet is amazing.
I’m a big fan of Pinterest, I think Pinterest boards are really interesting, where you can categorise all of the things that you love and the quality of the imagery on there is pretty good as well. You can find really professional shots on there which you can layer up on your boards, to get inspiration from. I’m doing my house up at the minute and I’ve created about 40-50 boards for the team to know exactly what I want and like.
There’s tons of variation out there but it’s about what’s right, anyone can say I like that, that, that, and it comes together in a complete mess, so I think that’s the role of the designer really, to swoop in.”
What do you think of home staging for those of us looking to sell property?
“I’ve never been asked that before…
I think in this market anything that you can do to dress your home to make it look amazing, is a great thing to do. I think it’s good! If you were a house builder you’re going to dress your house in a particular way and look to sell it, so why should it be any different if you want to sell your house? I do the same, I design lovely houses that I’m really proud of, you still want them to feel good when they walk in.
I love all those clichés when someone has made coffee 10 minutes before someone turns up and you’ve got that lovely smell of coffee beans. I always want my house to feel nice, so I go out and buy some lovely flowers.
I don’t think there’s any harm in making an effort when you’re trying to sell you house. There’s nothing worse that going around and looking at someone’s house to buy and it’s full of rubbish and not clean, it puts you off.
I think anything that puts you ahead of the game of other people selling similar houses in your area, it’s worth the effort. And I think more importantly it’s taking pride in your home. If you really look after your home, and yes there might be a little bit of staging that’s done to help it, people are going to come around and respect that you’ve taken that pride.
It’s like buying a car isn’t it? You’re not going to buy a car that someone’s not looked after and it’s horrible inside and there’s rubbish everywhere, you’re not going to do it! You’re going to go why would I buy a product that someone, A. does care about and B. has not looked after properly? So I think any effort you can make, even a bit of home staging is a good thing.”
The new Barker and Stone House store is in Hove on Old Shoreham Road. I would highly recommend you pay them a visit.