A journey back in style

  • This property in Leeds is a lesson in how to curate an ever-changing retro collection while creating a stylish home. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by James Hardisty.
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If you are passionate about vintage then you will know that it is an addiction and that clutter is one of the major side effects.

Collectors simply cannot help themselves when they spot something special, as they know that there is unlikely to be a second chance to buy.

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Pretty soon the “finds” are fighting for space and your home becomes a jumble of old stuff. It’s why Simon Warner and Nicholas Blakey now have a strict “one in, one out” policy when it comes to their retro treasures.

The strategy has paid off and their home in Leeds is beautifully edited, stylish and full of interest.

“We rarely buy anything new, except bedding and towels,” says Nicholas. “We tend to buy what we like and hope it goes together. Most of the time it does.”

Like most vintage aficionados they have phases of collecting. The sitting room shelves are testament to a Murano glass fish phase and the walls are the result of a sustained hunt for wonderfully kitsch Tretchikoff prints.

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Ceramics are a long-standing love and their shelves house collections of Acapulco by Villeroy and Boch; Gaytime by Lord Nelson; Spanish Garden by Midwinter and Carnaby Daisy by Crown Devon. They also find it hard to resist West German pottery and are waiting for a fat lava lamp to be delivered.

Glass too is an enduring passion and they are always on the look-out for striking pieces of Whitefriars, with the drunken bricklayer vase top of their lust list.

Their love of the mid-century also extends to their hair salon, Simon Warner Hair in Headingley, where they have converted a retro bar into a reception desk and a china cabinet into a place to display products.

“Clients seem to like it. In fact one of them gave us a red Murano fish. She admitted that she thought it was old tat and wanted to get rid of it, while we were only too happy to give it a new home,” says Simon.

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

He and Nicholas have a number of favourite shopping haunts, including the Vintage Home Show in Manchester, organised by Yorkshire’s Keeley Harris. She used photographs of the couple’s property to help illustrate her book, Style Me Vintage Home, which has just been published by Pavillion.

St Gemma’s Hospice vintage fairs in Leeds are another hunting ground, along with Retro Boutique on Headingley Lane and Blackbird Vintage in Moortown. They also love eBay and charity shops, which is where they found the teak antelopes that furnish the hearth.

Most of their homeware is from the 1960s and 1970s with some fifties and earlier pieces. It looks perfect in the tall, mid-terraced house, which is set over four floors.

The couple, who share their home with dogs, Crumpet and Rosie, bought the property four years ago as it was close to their salon. While they are adept at renovating, it wasn’t a “do’er upper”.

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

“It was a complete blank canvas because it had suffered subsidence and the insurance company had paid for builders to put it right. It had all been re-plastered inside and it had a new kitchen when we bought it,” says Simon.

The basic revamp wasn’t to their taste and they have completely redecorated from top to bottom, panting walls in a mix of greys and creams, which allowed them to introduce colour through furniture and accessories.

One of the first jobs was to install a new kitchen on the lower ground floor. The bespoke, wood units are from Olive Branch in Wetherby and are painted in Farrow and Ball’s Elephant’s Breath. The table is from Retro Boutique and is teamed with Tolix chairs, while the large map was discovered on eBay.

The sitting room was treated to a statement 1950s sideboard, designed by Robert Heritage with decorative panels by Dorothy Heritage. The chair was re-upholstered by Heather Linnitt, of Blackbird Vintage, who also made many of the cushions. The standard lamp was found at the Poverty Aid store in Leeds and the shade was from a junk shop.

Upstairs, the guest bedroom now has built-in storage and an antique day bed, and the master bedroom sports Vivienne Westwood wallpaper, a bed decorated with a Welsh tapestry blanket and a collection of old religious icons.

While an interior designer would never dream that combination up, it works brilliantly.

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

Nicholas Blakey and Simon Warner's home

“If we want something, the first thing I do is look on eBay. I can spend hours on there,” says Nicholas

The bathroom is the final project. It’s out with the functional, white suite they inherited and in with an original cast iron, claw foot bath, which they have had re-enamelled.

After that, they admit they might get the urge to move.

“This is the longest we have stayed anywhere because we like the house and it’s close to work, but what we’d like is a retro bungalow,” says Nicholas. “That is our ideal home.”