Lesley McNamee is the founder and owner of Retropolitan -  an online interiors business,  specialising in 20th Century vintage items. Part of her gloriously retro collection can be found at The Old Cinema, and a browse around it throws a whole new light on decorative arts of the 1950’s  to 1970s.  Heavy, angular vases and bowls made of deep blue and dark green Czech glass,  colourfully glazed West German ceramics and a wonderful selection of kitsch items;  including 1950’s cocktail accessories, and yellow, pressed glass Scottie dog butter dishes, all have their place.  Lesley’s affection for every item in her collection and her in-depth knowledge of her subject, somehow bestows each carefully selected piece with a cool new allure - a world away from swirly patterned carpets and Ritz crackers. 



 Born into an antiques background; Lesley’s mother was an antiques dealer with an eye for decorative glass, whilst her step-mother had an Art Gallery in Church Street selling 20th Century art and ephemera, so Lesley learned the practicalities of the business from an early age.  She began a career in media but indulged her interest in the decorative arts running weekend stalls in Camden and Portobello. Eventually, she packed in the job, launched a website and started collecting in earnest.  She now juggles her time visiting antiques fair to buy pieces for her collection and running her busy website;  with dashing to and from music festivals in a camper van, with her record label boss husband - for whom she works two days a week.



The mid-20th Century was an exciting time for European glassware.  The proliferation of factory glass, and the development of techniques from the 1950’s, meant that  highly decorative and colourful pieces, became more affordable.  The Murano Glassworks in Italy, Holmegaard and Kosta in Scandinavia, Val St Lambert in Belgium,  and Whitefriars and Caithness in Britain, all had their own distinctive styles and all made an influential contribution to the international glassware scene.  Talented glass designers in then Czechoslovakia,  were also making beautiful pieces, which are only now  being fully appreciated   As Lesley points out: “Glass is a wonderful way of accenting colour in a room,  and it’s still possible to pick up decorative pieces for very reasonable prices”. 

In ceramics, West Germany was one of the biggest players.  Strongly influenced by the design principles of the Bauhaus, and also by the current Pop Art movement, German craftsmen used vibrant colours and striking, bubbled glazes;  leading to the the style being nicknamed Fat Lava. They are not to everyone’s taste. “You either love them or hate them” says Lesley and she points to a splendid,  dark brown vase with a vibrant orange glaze; a popular colour combination in the 60’s. “This is by Scheurich from West Germany;  they were producing some wonderful ceramics; some of it was quite ugly, but a lot of it was stunning, really exciting, and quite unlike anything else being made at the time.”


Lesley travels all over Europe searching for interesting pieces.  Her customers value her taste and judgement but also her specialist knowledge, which means she knows the provenance of each piece.  She wants her collection to be accessible to everyone and explains: “I enjoy selling to design-conscious customers who want to own something unique, but affordable,  from a bygone age, and which will increase in value.” And indeed, such is Lesley’s sense of style and her enthusiasm for her collection,  it’s hard to walk away without wanting to own a small piece of it!


Lesley’s collection can be found online at www.retropolitan.co.uk or at The Old Cinema

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