Evacuee Suitcases – Why We Love Them

A past worth respecting

The evacuee suitcase is a reminder of a time in our history when thousands of British children experienced travel, adventure, discovery and growing up. For many kids their case was their only possession apart from the clothes they stood up in. Their life’s most treasured items – clothes, a book or two, some family photos and keepsakes, were packed into the case, and sent with them off an adventure far away from home.

Makes of evacuee suitcase

  • Papworth
  • Rodney
  • Pioneer

From 1939 as many as 3.5 million people were evacuated to the rural “reception” areas of Britain, and some went abroad as far as Canada and Australia, risking extreme danger on their sea journey. For all children it was a bewildering time, full of concern and homesickness, but tinged with some excitement too.

Unforgettable times

Many older people remember their evacuee years as a joyful time. My mother-in-law was evacuated to South Wales, and spent four happy years on a farm being well looked-after, playing in green fields, and discovering how farms and country life worked. She learnt how to milk cows, harvest apples and collect eggs. Unlikely skills for a London schoolgirl!

For many children evacuation was a time of enforced “growing up” and toughening up. Sometimes the new outsiders were bullied at their new schools, placed with families they hated, and generally made to feel unwelcome and burdensome.

Along with the gasmask and identity label, the evacauee suitcase is perhaps the most striking and evocative emblem of those times. It can provide a link to a past we shouldn’t forget. Carrying an evacuee suitcase as you go about your daily business is a kind of dressing-up game, with a slightly serious side. But aside from that, they are super-cool and really incredibly useful and desirable.

Styles and types

Your typical evacuee case is a simple brown leather case of plain, durable and rugged construction. It will have reinforced corner pieces and locking catches. If you buy one make sure the key hasn’t been lost!

Almost invariably the condition bears witness to their interesting history. They tend to be scuffed and marked, with a patina from years of usage or storage. Makes them all the more beautiful and desirable.

The inside is often paper or cardboard-lined and they don’t tend to have masses of compartments for pens and pencils and notebooks like today’s briefcases. If your case happens to have its owner label still intact or a name written inside, treat this as a bonus.

Don’t limit your imagination to using a vintage suitcase as a suitcase! They are frequently used for “shabby chic” storage of linen, sheets or clothes. They can also be upcycled in imaginative ways. Why not install a shelf, and make your suitcase into a bathroom cabinet? Or maybe a fold-down desk, when attached to a wall. They make amazing treasure chests – storage for toys and games. How about using your vintage suitcase to store postcards and birthday cards – or maybe even love letters?

These suitcases are valued today for lots of good reasons. Evacuee suitcases sell from £20 to £100 (average price about £40), depending on quality and condition.

Why we love them

The most obvious use is as a briefcase – perfect for carting about all your office papers and general work stuff. Needless to say they also make superb travel cases. They’re easy to stow in train and aeroplane stowage holders. They look fantastic on train platforms and ship gangways. They generally have comfortable leather handles. Corners are well armoured with tough leather or metal protectors.

Don’t limit your imagination to using a vintage suitcase as a suitcase! They are frequently used for “shabby chic” storage of linen, sheets or clothes. They can also be upcycled in imaginative ways. Why not install a shelf, and make your suitcase into a bathroom cabinet? Or maybe a fold-down desk, when attached to a wall. They make amazing treasure chests – storage for toys and games. How about using your vintage suitcase to store postcards and birthday cards – or maybe even love letters?

These suitcases are valued today for lots of good reasons. Evacuee suitcases sell from £20 to £100 (average price about £40), depending on quality and condition.


The Vintage Revival

Girl on Vintage BicycleBecause we just can’t resist style

In recent times the interest in all things vintage has grown out of a tiny world populated by niche hobbyists; once lingering around the edges of popular culture, quiffing their hair in darkened dance halls and jiving at specialist events at racecourses.

But not any more, people. Vintage is huge, vintage is mainstream and vintage is now.

Vintage crosses many a genre and it’s probably safe to say that most people you know have an interest in a vintage something or other. Whether that be your Dad who’s into his vintage cars, bicycles or motorbikes; secretly harbouring a desire to buy a 1960s Triumph and cruise across the countryside with a beautiful woman in his sidecar, a silk scarf in her hair, whipping in the wind.

Or perhaps it’s your trendy work chum with a penchant for vintage Danish light fittings and Eames’ chairs that all just seem to fit in so wonderfully into his Hampstead study?

Sharing the fun

And of course there are the festivals. No longer small and specialist, vintage and retro festivals are up there with the big boys, hanging out with your Latitudes, your Glastonburys, Reading and Leeds. Punters stylishly dressed up to the nines, glamping it up in the fields and going to see retro style bands like The Macabees or actual proper old-school bands getting it back together for 2013, and of course, for the love of all things vintage and old.

Above all, there’s vintage fashion.

Now fully entrenched into the mainstream, you are most likely influenced by vintage fashion whether you know it or not. Never before has there been such amazing style and diversity out there, individual street style has become such a huge influence on high street clothing design and a force to be reckoned with thanks in no mean part to the establishment and flourishing success of everything vintage.

It’s simpler no longer the thing to rock an outfit that’s either all designer or all high street. It’s just not socially acceptable to pop down to your local Topshop and buy yourself an off the rail outfit for your night out at the local banging discotheque. It just ain’t going to cut it anymore (not to mention the potential risk of wearing the same outfit as twenty other women in the club – so not a good look).

No party people, it’s all about individual style and that is where the power of vintage fashion comes in. Dressing the vintage way allows us to mix-up seriously stylish, fashion-forward thrifty finds, mish-mashed with fabulous new pieces for a pulled together look that you can guarantee, no one else will be wearing. Those trendsetting hipsters you see around East London are today’s tastemakers looked to by designers and street style bloggers for inspiration. And the reason why? They mix new styles with vintage finds.

And now, thanks to the success of vintage trends, pretty much every town has a retro emporium, full of hand-picked clothes, magazines and furniture for you to drool over. And seriously, you must have noticed the proliferation of fairs popping up all over the place? Yep, vintage is definitely big business. But what does it actually mean?

What is vintage anyway?

Most people place vintage as a style referring to items from another time, a different era of style and lifestyle; things like beautiful 1940s tea sets, a 1950s formica table or 1960s Twiggy style shift dresses. But the reality is somewhat different.

According to Wayne Hemingway, anything over twenty years old, or pre 1993, is officially vintage, be that clothes, jewellery, lamps or whatever else.

The question still remains; where does it begin? And what’s the difference between vintage and antique? In my experience of selling vintage over many, many years, I would define antique as anything pre 1930s.

For me, it’s from this point in time that design and style became recognisable as something we would wear or use today. For example, I would classify a 1920s beaded flapper dresses as antique and some may say rather contrarily, a 1930s trilby as vintage. One has contemporary resonance, the other doesn’t. Go figure.

So, we’re talking secondhand, right?

And likewise, can you define the difference between vintage and second-hand? No, dear readers, that’s because there simply isn’t one. It is merely a marketing label that has stuck, the difference being indistinguishable, except of course when it comes to the price tag, which for vintage darlings, is considerably higher.

I can’t say I blame the mass interest in all things vintage. I myself live and love it and perhaps we are all simply harking back to a more glamourous time, a different set of ideals to live by and indulging in a nostalgia that is of course rose-tinted, but still deliciously attractive. And vintage fans, if that doesn’t make you feel good, I just don’t know what would.

1940s 1960s 1970s Home Kitchen

Vintage Kitchenware

Classic simplicity

In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s is that practicality was the aim of the game; it wasn’t about fancy gadgets that would be used once or twice. In the post-war era, kitchenware was built to last, not be used for a year or two and replaced. Some of those designs were so good they became style icons in their own right.

How many people have been into Grandma’s and found a 1950’s Swan colander? Beats your vulgar plastic version purchased from the local supermarket hands down, right?? And the plastic version probably only has a year or so left on its shelf life, whilst Grandma’s is hitting the mid-sixties age range.

In the grand scheme of good vintage brands, Swan is right up there for quality and reliability, and they produced everything from jelly moulds, jam pans, aluminium kettles, enamel pans and teapot sets amongst other things. Swan is possibly the Daddy of vintage kitchenalia and went on to be some of the first manufacturers to produce the toaster and a kettle containing an element as well as develop the world famous ‘Teasmade’ alongside co-subsidiary, Goblin.

The 1950s kitchen

  • The style: open-plan, fitted kitchens.
  • Brighter colours, greater convenience and great utility were the hallmarks of the 50s kitchen. Rounded “bubble” corners on shelving and doors.
  • The palette: bright pastel greens, blues and oranges.
  • New materials: linoleum, PVC and Formica began trending.
  • Influences: American diners, pop culture
  • The look: chequerboard lino flooring. Open plan. Chrome and plastic stacking chairs. Polka dot curtains.

Another key appliance of vintage kitchenalia that is conjured up in the mind’s eye is the big electric mixer, usually produced by Kenwood and absolutely screams 50’s housewife. The majority of these appliances left on the market are still in good working order, look great and are a hell of a lot cheaper than their modern counterparts.

A set of Salter scales is another great idea for a kitchen going for a throwback look. Known for their accuracy, these scales often sell for more than a brand new set from a department store, but their look and resilience to last through the decades makes the benefits of owning a vintage set of Salter scales far outweigh the pros for buying a new set, pardon the pun …

To demonstrate the style of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, Sadler is a brand to certainly look into. Their teapots, creamers, storage jars and sugar basins amongst other things certainly span the decades. Whether it be the somewhat brash colourings of the 60’s, the fun look of the 50’s or that smidge of chintz that the 40’s offered, a Sadler piece will be out there somewhere.

Unlike many moons ago, in this day and age, people can afford to spend money without worrying whether what they are buying has a practical implication, so opting to spend a few pounds on vintage tea tins such as Twinings, Tetley, Lyons and Typhoo is another option for a proper vintage look.

The key to combining vintage kitchenalia with a modern kitchen is playing around and choosing the right things, so that the overall look doesn’t become tacky or gimmicky but still manages to throw in some great nostalgia.

Alumnium Swan colander
Alumnium Swan colander
1950s kitchen
The 50s kitchen – bright colours, rounded corners, checkerboard flooring.
Vintage Salter scales
Vintage Salter scales

You can’t have missed the trend for injecting vintage chic with kitchenalia that throws back to the golden years of classic design. The kitchen is the heart of the home, so it’s well worth putting some thought into getting it just right. It’s easier than you might think. Any kitchen can be transformed using a few well-chosen vintage/retro objects. You don’t have to pay the earth – second-hand or refurbished items are just as good as brand new. It’s all about what you choose.

What To Look For In Vintage Kitchenware

1920s 1940s 1960s Art Deco Furniture Home

Vintage Furniture Trends

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Give your home the stylish vintage look

Everyone loves the revived look that interiors and exteriors take on in preparation for the much welcomed summer months. However, a spring clean is often the precursor to a bigger decorating make-over, and it could be one that involves a totally new feel and look to a home. Deciding on a style can be fun – you get an excuse to spend time leafing through glossy design magazines and visit stylish websites. It’s the best way to get ideas and draw inspiration when you want to revamp a home with well-chosen vintage furniture.

Many of us live in houses built in the Victorian or Edwardian eras, and want to recreate some of the atmosphere those early owners of the properties might have enjoyed. But you don’t need to go vintage right down to carpets and cushions. A better idea is to spend your budget on a small number of larger pieces – maybe a desk, set of chairs, wardrobe or dresser – and stick with modern materials with vintage designs for the carpets, curtains and soft furnishings.

The vintage look is a popular trend that’s stood the test time. If well thought through, vintage can add a certain cachet to a home. It’s possible to create a luxurious or cosy retro feel in your living room, kitchen or even bathrooms – think sumptuous copper bath tub surrounded by Biba style Kentia palms. Even on a small budget, it’s possible to achieve a great vintage look and have fun doing it too! To get started it’s a good idea to know about some of the main eras of vintage style.

1930s Appeal

The thirties were a very stylish decade, and about as far back as you can go before you’re in the realm of “antique”. You may want to create a Poirot-style opulent Agatha Christie ambiance. Or recreate a Jeeves and Wooster living room. Twenties and thirties furniture was characterised by clean lines, practical thinking, and a thoroughly “modern” break from the cluttered past of over-decorated Victoriana. Think bird’s eye maple desks, sumptuous walnut bedroom suites and for the lounge, think leather tub chairs paired with a Marcel Breuer style chrome chair or two. Geometric carpets and fabrics add the all important finishing touch.

Sedate Post War Trends

The post-war era brought austerity to Britain, and practicality and “built-to-last” was the uppermost in designer’s minds. It’s possible to find brilliantly made English retro furniture – Utility being one of the companies that in its heyday produced masses of utilitarian furniture. Although not to everyone’s taste back then, it’s enjoying a revival in these modern times. The great thing about retro English furniture is that because much of it had been overlooked up until recent times, it is more affordable than some Scandinavian vintage furniture that’s around.

Fifties Revival & Sixties Style

The fifties were pretty austere times for most – yet the 1951 Festival of Britain saw innovative furniture designs and futuristic objects that today, are extremely collectable. Companies like Metamec made stylish, colourful clocks whilst glassware was ultra kitsch – especially the Italian coloured glass fish that adorned many 1950’s fashionable homes. Today, the glassware is getting more and more collectible.

After the war, furniture makers like the Morris Furniture Group, began producing innovative designs. They were the brainchild of Neil Morris, son of the company’s founder. He pioneered fascinating new shapes for chairs and tables using the latest wood technology in laminated woods. Later, in the sixties, Neil Morris won awards for the now extremely collectible Bambi chair and Clouds occasional tables. Today, these items are snapped up when they appear on the market.

Other furniture makers of the time were Ercol, E Gomme, the company that produced G-Plan. Then there was Stag’s C-Range and later the Minstrel range of furniture, all of which is much sought after by people who want to recreate that retro look in the modern day home

The Scandinavian Influence

By the sixties, Scandinavian furniture makers began to make their mark all over the world. Again, furniture designs were innovative with teak and rosewood being a popular choices of wood. The teak Danish sideboard is one of the most popular vintage items of furniture today.

Sourcing retro furniture is that much easier with the advent of the Internet and it’s great fun deciding on which style to go for. There’s a heap of choices from furniture made out of exotic laminate woods to solid teak, rosewood. Then ther are the bentwoods made famous by the likes of Thonet and Alvar Aalto. It’s just a question of sitting down and deciding which would suit your lifestyle and budget. Then the fun really begins as you start sourcing the vintage furniture you want – not forgetting the all important retro objects too!

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1920s entrance hallway
1920s entrance hallway
The Jeeves and Wooster interior style
The Jeeves and Wooster interior style
The FiftyFive armchair by Gplan Vintage
The FiftyFive armchair by Gplan Vintage
1950s living room
1950s living room
1940s interior
1940s interior

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