Orchard House: Do the time warp
The height of 1970s chic, this house has been restored to its original state. But its days could be numbered

Published in the Sunday Times, 06Sep2009

James Trollope

When Richard Moore opened the front door of his newly acquired home on the outskirts of Bath 10 years ago to two women brandishing a magazine, his first thought was that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I looked at the magazine expecting it to be The Watchtower, but it was an old copy of Woman’s Journal,” he recalls. “To my amazement, there was an article inside all about our home.”

Richard, 64, and his wife, Carole, 63, had bought Orchard House largely because of its convenient location and acre of garden — not for what lay inside: the interior hadn’t been touched for years and they had only just started the long renovation process.

As they pored over the magazine, however, they discovered their home had once been something of a design icon. When it was completed in October 1975, the 6th Marquess of Bath had popped across from his safari park at Longleat for an official opening, and the public was allowed in for a month.

At that point, most people would have thanked the women — a mother and daughter who lived nearby — for their find, placed the magazine prominently on a coffee table and got on with the planned refurbishment. But not Richard: with a determination bordering on the obsessive, he decided instead to re-create the interior of the house exactly as it was when it was built.

“It’s fair to say that magazine changed our lives,” says Richard. Using the article as a blueprint, he and his wife spent the next four years restoring nearly every detail of the show home from the “luxurious mock-suede wallpaper” in the “Jade bedroom” to the revolving soap dispenser in the “Zircon cloakroom”.

“It was like having the list of parts for a motor car,” explains Richard, an aircraft engineer and passionate model-railway collector. “The article describes carpets, wallpapers, furniture and fabrics, and it lets you know the price, the manufacturer and the supplier.”

The couple’s task was helped by the fact that the house had been neglected for the previous two decades, leaving many of the original 1970s features intact. Yet, as they started to restore it, they found half of the 50 or so firms listed in the magazine had gone out of business, obliging them to go to extraordinary lengths to match the original materials and fabrics.

“We found patches of wallpaper behind the radiators and imported copies of the designs from the United States,” says Carole. “We took a photo of the worn carpet in the living room and had a factory make an exact replica.”

To achieve the complete 1970s look, the couple bought not only original furniture but also record players, televisions, telephones, tape-cassette players and clocks — most of them from eBay. “I’ve really got into 1970s furniture,” says Carole. “It makes a statement and is starting to become very popular again.” “You can’t stop her buying it,” comments Richard, laughing.

The result is an extraordinary time capsule dating back to the era re-created in the recent television series Life on Mars, when Harold Wilson was prime minister, Starsky and Hutch were on television and Rod Stewart’s Sailing topped the charts.

Typically, each room is basically black and white, but with another funky colour thrown in. Thus the “Garnet kitchen” has a bright red Aga with matching sink, a black-and-white vinyl floor and some black oak cabinets. The adjoining “Sapphire dining room” features black woodchip walls, a blue carpet and a white fibreglass table and chairs.

The “Emerald living room” has silk wallpaper, a black leather three-piece suite and a boldly patterned carpet in green, white and black. The “Amber bathroom” has a light-brown bathroom suite with bidet, shower, WC and waterproof floating radio. The “Amethyst den” and three bedrooms are also themed, and many of the rooms feature original wall and ceiling lighting.

David Heathcote, an author who has written extensively on the period, thinks the house captures the spirit of the age. “In the 1970s, the house became a place where you could play out your fantasies about how to live,” he says. “Every room had theatrical possibility. Bathrooms were more luxurious and cosseting, kitchens were about entertaining and space-age technology, and lighting was increasingly sophisticated.”

After several years of living in their creation, however, the Moores are keen to take on another renovation project and have just bought a derelict threshing barn with a cider apple orchard in deepest Somerset — which means they are selling Orchard House.

Since the house went on the market earlier this summer priced at £510,000, it has attracted several viewings. It has now gone under offer, although Sally and Peter Marden, the prospective purchasers, say they were attracted to the house by its location and space, much as the Moores were before them — rather than by its extraordinary decor, which, sadly, they intend to rip out.

“I do appreciate the effort that has gone into this,” says Sally, a nurse and mother of three children under four. “But it’s not to our taste and we intend to extend it and turn it into a very funky, modern family house.” Although not a “red” person, she says she might yet be persuaded to keep the scarlet Aga.

Which leaves the question of what will happen to the £50,000 of original 1970s items the couple have collected — they will not fit in the barn, which is to be decorated in traditional oak and flagstone style. “We might take the Arkana round white fibreglass table and chairs for outside,” says Carole, “and I know Richard won’t let go of his yellow eight-track tape recorder, but unless we receive an offer for the other stuff, it will probably end up on eBay.”

Orchard House is being sold by Cobb Farr; 01225 333332, cobbfarr.com

Seventiestyle: Home Decoration and Furnishings from the 1970s, by David Heathcote, is published by Middlesex University Press, £9.99