Features

Back to the Future / Step inside Craig Barnes’ 1960s Futuro House

28 June 2016

Images copyright Host Unusual Ltd
Author: Dawn Crawford @HostUnusual

As a closet stalker of 1960s architectureas well as a vintage enthusiast with a penchant for all things orange andplastic, the Futuro House has always fascinated me. I assumed the chance toever set foot inside one was rather unlikely though, given that less than 100of these space-age structures were ever produced. Therefore, when I discoveredthat one had ‘landed’ on the roof of Central St Martins College and guided tours werebeing offered, I was pretty darn excited and booked my visit.Stepping out in the bright sunshine onto theroof of Central St Martins was a fairly strange experience in itself, but thepresence of this gleaming eggshell blue flying saucer, ‘hovering’ on its framewith its many elliptical windows made me feel like I’d stepped onto the set ofa 1960s science fiction movie.
I’d met a Futuro House once before, on atrip to the Marché Dauphine in Saint-Ouen, Paris, but had only had the chancefor a little peek through the window as it was out of bounds to visitors (sob!).However, this time I would get the chance to actually go inside – cue insaneexcitement and butterflies!
The neat flip-down front door serves as thestaircase to embark, and once onboard you can further understand why thisvisionary design classic caused such a stir when it was first unveiled. Everything is gleaming modernist white, withegg yolk yellow seats and aesthetically pleasing curved lines throughout. It feelssurprisingly spacious too, owing to the high domed roof.
The bathroom and double bedroom would haveoriginally been located in the two small rooms to each side of the entrance.The main space is an impressive open-plan space featuring the kitchen area and 6inbuilt seats (each with nifty oval lights to match the windows) which roll outinto beds allowing accommodation for up to 8 people. The perfect weekendgetaway!
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This particular example belongs to CraigBarnes, who is conducting the tour. Craig has painstakingly restored the Futuroto its original factory default, having first discovered it at the tender ageof 3 on a visit to Port Alfred in South Africa. He noted on subsequent visitsthat the structure had fallen into disrepair, and then in 2013 he came to anagreement with the owner and was able to purchase it. It sounds like that wasthe easy part. Craig then had to work out how to get the Futuro House back tothe UK in order to start the restoration project.
It spent 2 months at sea and a further 6months in a warehouse whilst plans were made, involving visits to Finland forresearch. The structure was then relocated to a barn where Craig completed mostof the work himself, faithfully restoring it to its former glory. The result isjaw-dropping and has seen the Futuro House feature on Amazing Spaces witharchitect George Clarke.
Designed by Finnish architect MattiSuuronen, the Futuro House was originally commissioned as a portable ski cabin -a weekend retreat that would be resistant to winds and snowfall. They were madeof fibreglass reinforced plastic and were designed to be assembled by three menover 1 weekend by bolting the 16 prefabricated pieces together – although welearned from Craig that this isn’t quite the case in reality!
First launched in 1968 in Finland, thefuturistic design caused a real stir and lead to further launches in the USA in1969 and then Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Russia, the UK and South Africa.
One was gifted to the Finnish answer toTerry Wogan as a publicity stunt, and back in 1968 a Futuro House was floateddown the Thames to promote its launch at the FinnFocus trade exhibition. What asight that must have been for swinging London!
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Manufacture slowed and eventually halted asa result of the 1973 oil crisis which made oil derived products more expensiveto produce, hence less than 100 were ever made. Given that these pods weredesigned as ‘disposable’ houses, it is surprising to learn that around 65 areknown still to exist around the world today, including the prototype in Rotterdam.
Since its restoration, Craig’s Futuro Househas been exhibited at a gallery and used as a performance space. In its currentlocation at Central St Martins it is being utilised as an active space forstaff and students, but with a future-gazing proviso befitting its visionary design.
But what does this Futuro House’s futurehold? In September 2016 it leaves Central St Martins for pastures new, whichwere as yet unconfirmed at the time of our visit. Craig says he’d like thespace to continue to be used and enjoyed, not kept out of bounds and or hiddenaway from view; incredibly generous given the enormous amount of effort,determination, time and money it has taken him to restore this gem.
From our point of view at Host Unusual,we’d dearly love to see the Futuro House used as originally intended as holidayaccommodation. We will certainly be watching closely incase Craig ever decidesto let it out – I’d want to be one of the first ones to spend the night there!
* Update * New tour dates have now been added for 2016/17, so don’t miss the chance to visit this gem!
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Find out more about Craig Barnes’ FuturoHouse project here, and if you fancy staying in a real authentic Futuro House, take a trip to Joshua Tree, California!
If you like the idea of a vintage holiday,take a look at our vintage and retro section for nostalgic unusual places tostay.
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