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A Combined 165 Years Of Age

A couple of months ago we all shared in the celebration of Vera Lynn’s 100th birthday. She became a national treasure during the war. Her heart felt songs brought hope and joy to the military at home and abroad as well as civilians in Britain pondering the fate of their loved ones on stationed overseas.

She retained her enormous popularity with records, on radio and in concerts and eventually fronted her own television shows, airing initially in 1969. By that time, she was a true matriarchal English icon, loved, respected and admired.

In her programmes, she sang alongside or sat upon a high bar stool. This was also an international icon of modern furniture design, created by Harry Bertoia in 1952 and still manufactured today by Knoll International. Bertoia was not really a furniture designer but a sculptor and jewellery artist but had produced a small range of chairs that were controversially and outlandishly modern. They were made from steel rods curved into surprisingly comfortable shapes with hundreds of welds. The structure is clearly visible: indeed, the structure is the chair. Upholstery and seat pads were added but the mesh like pattern of the steel rods can always be seen.

Whilst Vera Lynn was seen by millions of viewers on this very contemporary piece of design, we should not be surprised to learn that very few were bought in this country and that most homes even today do not have furniture that is so radical and progressive. Not then, back in 1969, and not today.

Take a walk down many residential streets, stroll through a rural village or peer into most of the apartments in our city centres and you will be far more likely to see a table lamp with a stretched fabric shade and little tassels or fringes than a slice of a Bertoia classic design, 65 years on. Those lamps (there are floor standing and ceiling versions too) are far more common place in the bay windows of front rooms than just about anything else.

Vera Lynn clearly had a good eye for a little adventurous modernity but most of us feel comfortable and “at home” with a more traditional “cottagey” look. Some young ones today won’t remember Vera Lynn in her heyday and don’t know the tunes or words to “We’ll Meet Again” or “The White Cliffs of Dover” but none the less feel inclined to hark back to a Victorian or Edwardian style of home decor with velvet or chintz fabrics, Chesterfield sofas, fireplaces with mantel shelves and of course those (now electric) table lamps.

Vera Lynn may be 100 years old but she and her adored songs, just like the very best of contemporary design will live on for generations to come.