Plane talking: Amazing aviation-themed interiors
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Not so long ago, plane enthusiasts would mark their space by making Airfix models and dangling everything from Tiger Moths and Spitfires to Jump Jets and Stealth Bombers from their bedroom ceilings.
These days, there’s an industry building around the desire to bring more than a mere hint of all things aviation into the home – and it’s a trend that has, quite literally, taken off.
And it’s not limited to the obvious. While furniture makers are looking to the skies for inspiration and churning out plenty of tarnished metal themed pieces, real aircraft seats are now being installed in home cinemas - and it’s not unusual to find portholes that once flew at 30,000ft being modified to house clocks and mirrors.
Thanks to some innovative ideas from the growing number of specialist firms who see life beyond the scrapyard, every part of a plane that can be reused is being reused. Bits of fuselage are being remodelled as everything from coffee tables to bench seats; ejector seats are reappearing as bar stools and engine cowlings as doorways, desks and coctail bars.
One firm even spent six months making a drinks cabinet from a 600lb RAF cluster bomb, comprising more than 100 parts and retailing it for £50,000.
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So what is it that makes people hanker for a slice of the high life? Does it remind them of holidays and far-flung places, or is it more complicated than that?
Dr Erica Liu, who leads the Interior Architecture and Design course at Hertfordshire University, said: “I think it is a trend thing.
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“At the moment, a ‘soft industrial’ look is very popular and sales of such products are on the rise; cold, hard metal mixed with soft colours and soft material.
“Multi-functional furniture has always been popular. Unexpected uses of conventional objects, such as these, are in demand not only because of its suggesting multiple functions, but also this ‘pleasant surprise’ element.
“The aviation-themed décor curated a lifestyle that inspires. Clients always want to display their personal lifestyle and personality through interior décor and the aviation objects give them a way to showcase their inspiration. Also, they optimise adaptable usages, such as displaying their favourite objects in a meaningful way.”
Hundreds of planes are decommissioned each year and specialist furniture makers are now working with scrap dealers to get hold of almost any part that cannot be re-used for its original purpose and bringing them into people’s homes.
These include parts from war planes such as B-25s and C-119s that served in the Second World War and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, while others were taken from old passenger planes like the DC-9.
Groundbreakers here were MotoArt of El Segundo, California, who have been in business for 17 years making what owner Dave Hall calls aviation functional art.
He tells me that, over that time, his work has been featured in more than 500 magazines, university textbooks and even had its own TV series, so popular has been the trend he helped to create.
Closer to home brothers Ben and Harry Tucker were inspired by the likes of Dave and his crew to give up their jobs and set up a company making their own brand of high-end furniture. Their Tunbridge-based firm, Fallen Furniture, began making everything from speakers from Jumbo jet exhaust cones and coffee tables from 747 wheel hubs to a standard lamp from the exhaust of a Bae 146.
They even pride themselves on being able to create a drinks cabinet from an old MK1 cluster bomb. Incidentally, they’ve recently expanded their remit to make more than just furniture and have re-branded accordingly: now known as Plane Industries, they have added a new range of travel luggage stitched out of, guess what – discarded seating covers.
And Aviator Brothers of Battersea have launched an entire Spitfire range; all handcrafted, riveted aluminium furniture that would look equally at home in the living room or hangar. Similarly, Nick and Emma Smith, the couple behind the online vintage store, Smithers of Stamford, took inspiration from the WW2 fighter plane when putting together their aviation range.
Even Boeing is getting in on the act. Its online store sells a range of furniture, including those galley carts the fight attendants would wheel around, a glass-topped table in which a jet engine’s rotor blades have been welded underneath to store wine bottles and all sorts made from engine fairings, jet burners, rudder pedals and exhaust cones.
Amusingly, they even come with a health warning. Each item is listed with a note which reads: “Not for flight use.”
None of this is necessarily high street, and much of it is available via specialist retasilers, although I did notice a nice aviator clock with a neat copper surround in Blacks of Sopwell recently.
And none of this surprises Dr Liu, who has worked widely throughout the UK and overseas before arriving at the Hatfield campus.
“Bespoke design and once-off items are the latest trend in interior design,” she said. “Mass production furniture will always have its place in the market; but buying quality instead of quantity seems to be the way to go. High-quality bespoke objects are the luxury indulgence of the moment.
“Also, think about the art pieces that the client collected to display in their homes. These aviation-inspired furniture pieces could be seen as art pieces and collectables in their own right.”
That’s a formula Ben and Harry at Plane Industries are banking on; the hope that their pieces will stay in families for generations on the basis that they are, in their words: “audacious, quirky and stand-out artefacts that are the antithesis of cheap crap”.