A Victorian home filled with vintage industrial pieces
Alistair and Deborah Burnside have set up shop selling rescued, renovated and revamped industrial and vintage pieces – so it seems only appropriate that their home should serve as a suitable backdrop for their most treasured pieces. Feature Sara Emslie. Photographs Rachel Whiting
Alistair and Deborah Burnside’s love affair with industrial vintage began 18 years ago, when the term was yet to be coined. At that time, both had experience of working in the interiors world. Deborah had been employed as a display manager at Habitat for 10 years while Alistair was at The Conran Shop.
It was a trip to New York that honed their interest in all things old, though. During a visit to the city’s hip interiors store ABC Carpet & Home they were entranced by its display of vintage steel furniture.
Alistair can only describe it as an epiphany – that moment when you know in an instant exactly what you want to do next. ‘We loved the old metal industrial and office furniture that had had its paint stripped off to reveal the patina of the steel underneath,’ he says. ‘That was it. When we returned home we found an old filing cabinet, bought some paint stripper and set to work. After a lot of trial and error, we eventually got the process down to a fine art.’
They were hooked. Shortly afterwards the couple opened their first vintage interiors shop, Attic, which was to specialise in vintage industrial. Then, tired of their commute across London to the shop, Alistair and Deborah came across this two-bedroom flat above a shop in East Molesey, not far from the shop. Rather appropriately, given the name of their business, the bedrooms were located in the sloping eaves (or attic) of the Victorian house. They fell instantly for its charm.
With nothing structural to do other than roof repairs, the couple focused on sprucing up the interior decoration before fitting a new kitchen and bathroom. ‘We spent what seemed like forever stripping wallpaper, patching up and replastering the walls, ripping the carpets up, sanding down and repairing any dodgy floorboards before painting,’ says Alistair.
The result is a light-filled interior with plenty of original features, high ceilings and what Alistair describes as a ‘real sense of space’ – particularly handy when your favourite pieces of furniture are large-scale vintage industrial and ex-factory items. ‘The collections in our home have evolved over the years,’ says Alistair. ‘They’re made up of personal mementos and things we’ve bought on our travels to New York, Europe and, closer to home, Sunbury Antiques Market.’
As well as industrial furniture, Alistair and Deborah are also drawn to ephemera and their collections provide the eye with visual respite from the more robust pieces. ‘We’ve been drawn to ephemera since we started the business in 1999. It began when we discovered a flea market in Paris, where there was a stall selling vintage French packaging and postcards from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ever since then we’ve collected any ephemera that we can find. The plan is always to sell it – but we end up keeping it,’ says Alistair. ‘We’re drawn to everything from old packaging to theatre and music hall posters.’
Their home is a lesson in the art of display, and is testament to Alistair and Deborah’s expert eye, honed during their years of working in interiors. Collections of antique and vintage jugs are arranged together in a pigeonhole cabinet and artwork is layered on shelves.
Quirky family heirlooms play a part, too – an original loft light that belonged to Alistair’s father ‘way before they were fashionable’ sits alongside a pair of stripped steel cabinets, salvaged from government buildings in Whitehall. It’s these juxtapositions that give the Victorian interior a unique feel. ‘When you’re surrounded by beautiful things every day at work, it becomes ingrained in you. Or at least it has with us,’ says Alistair.
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