Back in Time for Tea: How to take an ordinary living room back to the 1970s

Interiors expert Lizzie Chambers takes us back to when kitsch was king

Back in Time for Tea (BBC, EH)

“Everybody knows the 70s when they see it,” says Lizzie Chambers, art director for Back in Time for Tea, which this week takes the Ellis family back to the decade by transforming their home and dinner table to reflect the country’s changing tastes and trends.

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“Visually, it was my favourite period to work on. There’s still lots of material you can find in prop stores and on eBay. We had seven days and £8,000 to transform the house for each show.

“For this room, I took inspiration from books and the internet, but the best thing you can do is talk to people who remember how it would have been. You don’t want it to look like too much of a pastiche or stereotype. You also can’t make it too luxurious – this is the home of a working-class family in Bradford, so they wouldn’t have been able to afford all mod cons.

“Trying to find authentic pieces was hard, and you want to make sure you don’t do a disservice to the period. The other tricky thing is that everything has to work. Whether it’s a record player, the kitchen utensils, a sandwich toaster or a pogo stick, it’s got to function properly. This family have to live in the house, and have to believe that they’re in that period. If it feels like a set, the magic’s gone.”

New colours

Lizzie Chambers (BBC, EH)
Lizzie Chambers (BBC)

“Every time we redecorated, we had to move away from the colours we’d used in the previous decade,” says Lizzie Chambers. “This is original vintage wallpaper that cost £30 a roll from a prop shop in London. The print isn’t iconic, but the colourway is. Lots of people would have kept their old wallpaper or wood chip and painted over it in these colours.”

Party time

Back in Time for Tea (Mark Bickerdike, EH)
Back in Time for Tea (Mark Bickerdike)

“In the 70s, people started to furnish their houses a bit more and, as they spent more time socialising at home, cocktail cabinets were all the rage. We hired the pineapple ice cube bucket from a prop house — it represented what people could afford, without being too elitist. Exotic fruit and veg had become more easily available, so everything had a slice of pineapple or a glacé cherry on the side.”

Box of delights

Lizzie Chambers (BBC, EH)
Lizzie Chambers (BBC)

“We had a list of appliances from each decade and the TV had to be right because at a specific point they changed from black and white to colour. We work with a fantastic man who buys old TVs, radios, gramophones and lovingly restores and rewires them in his workshop so you can plug an mp3 or iPod into it. He sourced everything for us. You can run an old black and white TV programme on a DVD plugged into that TV so it feels like you’re actually watching television from that era.”

Petal power

Lizzie Chambers (BBC, EH)
Lizzie Chambers (BBC)

“In the 70s florals were massive in furnishing fabrics. Music and fashion were more creative than ever before, so people were going crazy with brighter, more colourful things in their houses. Brown and orange might seem garish now, but things go around in circles. Everything’s grey at the moment, but in 20 years we might wonder why. Originally, brown was popular because of its availability — it was one of the only paint colours available in the 60s, so its prevalence was a hangover from then. The sofa was hired: when we got it, it smelt like it had come from the 70s — it was revolting.”

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Back in Time for Tea is on Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC2