Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Boxes of Tricks; Babies Cots That Become Settees, and Chairs That Become Steps - the Victorians Created Clever Furniture

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Boxes of Tricks; Babies Cots That Become Settees, and Chairs That Become Steps - the Victorians Created Clever Furniture

Article excerpt

Byline: KATRINA BURROUGHS

WE ALL want flexible space: kitchens that double as dining rooms and bedrooms that turn into studies. And we now shop for multipurpose home goods: hence the present popularity of metamorphic furniture - furniture that can transform from one use to another (chair to steps or chair to table; writing desk to dressing table; bed to sofa). This furniture has been popular since the 18th century. The earliest sofa bed, a settee that converted to a cot for a maid, is a beautiful piece by Thomas Chippendale, still in the building for which it was commissioned: Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire. And today, buyers are demanding good-looking, witty designs, made from quality materials.

The Conran Shop stocks the sexiest examples in the form of a handful of delightful dressing tables.

The Marie Galante trunk begins as a cylindrical occasional table, covered in grey-green hardened canvas.

Click the latch and you discover drawers and a triple mirror, hidden compartments for cosmetics, as well as cupboards, all in deliciously finished rosewood ([pounds sterling]1,495).

Conran also has the Vanity Cube, made from solid and veneered wenge-stained oak, with a built-in upholstered chair and mirror ([pounds sterling]3,995).

Another prime example of metamorphic bliss is Linley's desk-dressing table, Attica. Closed, the desk is a serious piece of furniture: all business. Open, it reveals its frivolous alter ego, with a mirror that flips up, converting it to a dressing table. Again, the emphasis is on craftsmanship and gorgeous materials: sycamore with rosewood stringing, burr ash and ripple sycamore inlay and blue faux suede ([pounds sterling]14,450).

Simon Horn started inventing metamorphic furniture 10 years ago, and makes the best-quality nursery kit of this kind. He says: "It all started when I was staying with someone in the country, and they had this rather square-looking seat with bars across the back, which, when I examined it, turned out to be French cherrywood - very nice indeed.

"I lifted up the cushion and could see that it had been a lit bateau cot, and the bars on the front had been cut out to make it into a seat. It got my grey cells working."

Horn surmised that the reason most British children's furniture is of poor quality is because parents believe it has no future use and get rid of it as their youngsters grow older.

The upshot of the episode was the Childhood Classics range. In hardwoods, with cherry veneers, or a white-painted finish, Horn's cots (from [pounds sterling]995) can be converted into bigger children's beds and, later still, into small sofas.

Working in woods from Macassar ebony to English walnut, designermanufacturer David Salmon sees metamorphic furniture as the ultimate solution to 21st century living.

"We can make an old-fashioned desk, and, at the press of a button, your computer screen can pop up. …

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