The Mass Observation Project was a social research project which sought to study everyday behaviour in Britain between 1937 and 1965. A unique sample of public opinion and experience was created of how people lived, thought and expressed themselves. One area of research was how people used their mantelpiece and a list of objects was collated. This is the first of many ‘Shelf Life’ blogs inspired from the project. The wonderful interior designer and great friend Gavin Houghton shares the stories of his objects on his mantelpieces within his London home. Revealing his unique eye and passion for combining colour, pattern, texture and all things decorative:
Shelf Life with designer Gavin Houghton.
29 March 2019
“There was an hideous Victorian boarding- house style mantel here when I moved in. I lived with it for a while but obviously I have aspirations! So I was thrilled to find this late 18th Century pine and gesso mantel unpainted in a shop on the Golborne Road. Then it all took off and my allusions to grandeur took proper hold! It works beautifully in this setting and has really made a difference to the room. I love fireplaces and have a lot of fires in my home.
“The Vintage turquoise Foo Dogs came first. I found them in Oxfam when I was a student broken and falling to bits. ( the dogs, not me!) They’re a nod to early Chinese classical that was so ‘en vogue’ in the 17th Century English Country house. They always come in pairs and act as guardians installing peace and prosperity within the home.. They stand with an orange rubber lion which was a joke present from Jessica Haynes at World of Interiors. I love the colour combination.
I commissioned the vase by my friend Michaela Gall. I sent her a photo of an Islamic Turkish vase that I loved and she made this for me. I have a big collection of her work. I particularly love the pieces that allude to the aesthetic of Bloomsbury and the Omega workshops of which I am very fond.
I went to the Rodin Museum in Paris and bought this bust. It’s a bit of tat but I like it. It is the same size as the original. You would think the replica would be a different size but its size is exact. I think it’s rather beautiful. “
“The tile on the corner is from Lisbon. Forget Paris! Forget Italy! It’s all about Lisbon! I thought I could live there. I was blown away by it. The tiles, the tiles! And the restaurants! I bought the Turkish ‘knocked out’ horse tile on Ebay and it’s rather good. I don’t know anything about it, it’s just decorative. I bought the painting above the mantel from a painter on Instagram. Paintings are one of my passions.”
“I’ve grown up with this photo of my brother and I photographed by the local press of our class at Nursery school. I’m wearing my beads that I always wore. The photo is a fixture and always remains on the mantelpiece. ”
“I have ‘a thing’ about wooden, unpainted mantels. This chimneypiece in the dining room came from Colefax & Fowler. I am very drawn to wood and the contrast it provides to everything else. If it was painted you would loose that. The shelf of this mantel is always in flow, although ‘she with the stripy ribbon’ is a fixture. I found her in a box at my parents home, belongings of their younger life when they lived in Jamaica. I thought she was ‘tres chic’ as a student and she’s stayed. For dinner parties I doll it up with candles. During the Christmas period I decorate it with fairy lights and Holly. I do like to style this area. I like arranging stuff. It’s fun and forever in flux. I gave the coffee pot to my good friend Joan Hecktermann the other night and she left it behind, so it’s sitting there for now. I like a bit of Turkish. Ottoman is my new thing.”
“Joan gave me the Turkish bowl holding the citrus fruits. We are always giving each other presents. The other bowl is by Michaela Gall again and the little Painting is by Chica Seal. I’ve had the Buddha forever. He’s been stuck together many times. My best friend’s mother used to collect Buddhas and she inspired me. It follows me everywhere. I love it. The painting above the mantel is Dutch Flemish. It’s not always there. I move paintings around because then you look at them differently. You see new things.”
“The Tangier sign was another gift. A reminder of my home in Morocco where a part of my heart resides. A bit of Tang in London.”
Gavin Houghton Interior Design
07939 150 776