Inside the home of 70s style guru Estelle Bilson
- Credit: Melissa Downhill
The 70s may have been called the decade that style forgot, indeed there is a whole book on this very subject, but you can’t ignore that fact that while some 70s design faux pas should never be repeated (aubergine bathroom furniture, anybody?) the very exuberance of the era is somewhat cheering, and after the almost two years we’ve had, this is something we can’t ignore. Indeed, the popular mid-century design trend is starting to nudge into the 70s, and Manchester’s Estelle Bilson is leading the charge.
Estelle believes that as far as interiors are concerned, this could be the year when we are transported back to a land that time couldn’t quite forget, when lava lamps were cool and hot pants were, well, hot.
And she certainly knows what she is talking about, having transformed her three-bedroom semi into a retro tribute to the 70s, complete with a plastic sphere TV, disco glitter ball in the bathroom and the sort of Green Lady painting loved by all who shopped at Woollies (RIP).
Her knowledge of the period and its furnishing trends are so good she is now one of the experts on BBC One’s daytime hit, The Bidding Room, hosted by 1970s heartthrob Nigel Havers.
She also works as an interior design consultant and stylist, sources ‘must-have’ pieces for clients and has her own retro wallpaper collection, made in the north-west, and sold through her online boutique, 70shousemanchester.com.
‘The 1970s had an element of fun and my interiors prediction for the coming year is for lots of colour and frivolity,’ she said. ‘Being locked down for so long, in our homes, has triggered a surge in redecoration, so I’m expecting a big boost in the amount of colour we use. It can have a really positive impact on your wellbeing.’
As a child Estelle was dragged around salerooms by her father, a serious antiques collector. ‘I decided to start collecting, buying and selling for pocket money,’ she said. ‘Dad was going for Edwardian and Victorian while I was going for things from the 50s and 60s.’
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But then she fell in love with the 70s. ‘It’s just a fun time. I love the music, the fashion and the furniture, and the 70s is definitely coming into vogue.’
Apart from the fun, Estelle also believes there is a serious point to make about sustainability. ‘People talk about “fast fashion”, but 23 million tonnes of furniture goes into landfill in this country each year so we should also be looking at “fast furniture” with new eyes.
‘The quality of furniture in the 50s, 60s and 70s was so good – it was made to last. Back then, people had a style and they stuck with it. Now, they go out and spend £2,000 on a sofa every couple of years when they could get something authentic and chic for as little as £80. If you buy a wardrobe from IKEA you would struggle to sell it a few years later. If you bought a well-made classic G-Plan piece you would probably make money.’
Most of her home is furnished from Facebook Marketplace, car-boot sales or eBay. ‘I’m really careful – I refuse to pay £300 for something I can find for £20.’
Her Decca 1970s TV, found online, is so iconic there is one at the Science Museum. Her most prized possession is a Marcel Breuer chair, which cost her £500. But she does draw the line as certain things. ‘We have modern mattresses, a modern TV and a Dyson. Old vacuum cleaners are awful.’
Estelle studied fashion at college before cutting her teeth with brands such as Aquascutum and in Savile Row. She also gained a qualification in interior design. Today, she has almost 90,000 Instagram followers.
Estelle hails from the Midlands but worked in London before meeting Stephen, a sound engineer. ‘He’s Stretford born and bred so we decided to move here. I love Manchester and I’m proud to live in the city.’
How does Stephen feel about living in the past? ‘He loves it,’ said Estelle. ‘If he didn’t, we wouldn’t do it. At the start he was a bit reluctant but we talked it through and now he’s into it and spots things for me.’
Estelle also has a fine collection of 1970s clothes. ‘It’s an era that really speaks to me and I’ll grab any chance to get dressed up. But don’t get the idea I swan around the house in my 70s finery. With a four-year-old, they’d just end up covered in snot and yoghurt!’