Thursday, 3 January 2013

Retro chic

Looking up at the unusually decorative ceiling at the branch of Byron in Rathbone Place, once a pub, now a reasonably good burger restaurant. A nice mixture of Victorian decoration with modern lighting and air conditioning, currently the conventional pattern for these places. You have to wonder what all those fashionable shops and bars would look like without the endless legacy of Victorian detail as a backdrop. You don't have to look any further than AllSaints Spitalfields, down the road in Regent Street, to find one answer to that. It's a chain and every store has the same interior design aesthetic: apart from snapping up every vintage sewing machine on the market, they have a severe industrial look. Walls are stripped down to messy bare brick encrusted with limescale, with old iron safes and various big chunks of iron held together with rivets embedded in the walls. Amazing what you find when you rip out the plasterboard and suspended ceilings? But even in modern shopping malls the look is the same. Just walk up to one of the brick walls and tap it with a fingernail. It's hollow, probably fibreglass. The same goes with the riveted iron, it's just MDF expertly painted. The sewing machines are real, and so are the bits of old machinery imaginatively made into display stands. Those decaying Victorian buildings, though, are just a theatrical backdrop.