The clock on the shopfront of 110 Shoreditch High Street – the work of a certain Geo. Andrews, a Georgian clockmaker who also manufactured the timepieces at the nearby Oranges and Lemons-famed St Leonard’s Church – does not tell the time. How appropriate, you might think, given that the rooms which lie behind this immobile clockface are frozen in the past, preserved in their Blitz-era aesthetic while the latter half of the 20th century has rolled past unheeded. Time stands still in this place.

As with all lazy journalistic conceits, of course, this premise is flawed. For one thing, the clock has not stopped; it just doesn’t have any hands. And while the interior undeniably evokes the days of powdered egg and Vera Lynn warbling on the Light Programme, this is not because it has remained unchanged since the 1940s. In fact, it is a far more recent confection. After being certified derelict in 1942, the building spent most of the ensuing half-century as a printer’s warehouse, until Johnny Vercoutre and Suzette Field stepped in and, in true World of Interiors fashion, restored the virtual ruin to its former glory. It is possible to pinpoint the date of the restoration because, while they were living in rooms rammed full of stock-piled paper and stripping down the period panelling, Suzette was pregnant. Their daughter, Tilly (named after a British Army vehicle of the 1940s), is now seven years old; and so, therefore, is this ersatz wartime interior.

It is safe to assume that if Geo. Andrews’s clock did still have hands, they would be stuck on the stroke of four – the point at which, as Jack Buchanan informed us in a famous 1930s musical-comedy number, everyone from factory workers to lawyers stopped what they were doing and partook of a relaxing cuppa. “The way we see it, it’s always Time for Tea,” says Suzette, explaining the name that is painted in elongated turquoise letters on the façade. In an area that is overrun with braying City boys drinking bottled beers and Hoxton trendies with unspeakable haircuts, Johnny and Suzette’s home is refreshingly calm – a tea-break from the heavy workload and the manic bustle of 21st-century life.

Not that Johnny and Suzette are like a pair of Boulting Brothers factory hands downing tools and insisting on their statutory brew – Time for Tea is not only their house, but a business, too. “There’s so much money about these days, I think it’s important to do some-thing you really enjoy,” says Johnny, mindful of the discrepancy between our pampered modern existence and the all-too-genuine hardships of the Depression and the Austerity Years. Time for Tea specialises in prop and vehicle hire from the period in question – somewhere in Essex they have a warehouse full of vintage transportation, including a Churchillian limousine and a 1920s cabin cruiser. Johnny’s current pride and joy is a 1939 BSA motor-bike, which he has coaxed back into working order. (Although his Kitchener moustache and double-breasted waistcoats might suggest otherwise, Johnny is reassuringly down-to-earth, a former brickie who relishes the prospect of working on period restorations and who likes nothing better than to get his hands oily with a spot of motorcycle maintenance.)

The house itself is Time for Tea’s other principal line of business, serving as a venue for television programmes and photoshoots. The main office on the ground floor doubles as a screening room, equipped with a 35mm film projector, and has shown films for everyone from cinéastes to a knitting circle. George V, who looks imperiously down on the room from his coronation portrait, would probably not have been at all amused that it also served as a Soho porn cinema during the BBC’s recent adaptation of Jake Arnott’s tale of 1960s gangland, The Long Firm.

A much more salubrious visitor has graced the kitchen on the first floor, where a perspex sign from a NAAFI canteen hangs on the blue-and-black-tiled wall; “We had Marguerite Patten round,” says Johnny. The woman who singlehandedly saw the nation’s stomachs through the Blitz (with her recipes for mock-apricot tart and marrow surprise) must have felt quite at home. “She was cooking coronation chicken,” adds Suzette with a chuckle in her voice.

It is not immediately apparent from her enigmatic accent that Suzette is Swedish/Californian; Johnny’s surname, meanwhile, indicates that he is descended from Belgian Huguenots who settled here during the 18th century. Yet Time for Tea is a distinctly English proposition. Nostalgia for the 1930s and 1940s is usually Hollywood-centric, all Film Noir and MGM spectaculars; theirs is a style that is more Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding than Bogey and Bacall. That is not to say that they eschew glamour; together with David Piper – a louche entrepreneur with a pencil moustache and a mobile peepshow – they run the Modern Times Club, a monthly cabaret night where dressing up is de rigueur and the wearing of T-shirts is frowned upon. Johnny spins the Shellac, presumably playing such beverage-inspired tunes as “Tea for Two” and “You’re the Cream in My Coffee”, drawn from his impressive collection of 78s.

In amongst the Utility furniture and the patriotic flags, there are also reminders that the period was far from being all cocktails and laughter. In the bedroom, for example, is a Bren gun – which caused no end of problems when the burglar alarm went off in their absence and the police came round to investigate. “We got rid of the alarm and got a Great Dane instead,” reveals Johnny.

Of course, the Bren gun has been decommissioned; they are less sure, mind you, about their pistachio-green missile, which was found poking out of a skip outside a closing-down war museum. “It makes me laugh when I think that they have all those terrorist warnings down the road at Liverpool Street,” says Suzette. “What would they say if they knew we had an unexploded bomb here?”

Don’t panic, readers – no museum would exhibit a missile without deactivating it first. But maybe we do too much panicking these days. Perhaps more people should take after Johnny and Suzette, and adopt the Blitz spirit. After all, it’s about time.


First published in World of Interiors issue 272. Reproduced with permission.


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