Lockers are a nostalgic piece of furniture, and not always in a good way. The long metal form takes me straight back to the locker room at school. Our lockers had a shelf at the top for books and a long hanging space for coats. Sports gear congealed at the bottom. Made of plain grey metal, our lockers smelt of forgotten sandwiches and unwashed socks. They were not beautiful pieces of furniture, but they had one huge advantage. They locked. In an environment with very little privacy, your locker was a private space. Nobody else had a key.
In terms of symbolic value, the locker punches above its weight. That’s probably the reason it’s been reinvented as home storage. A locker is an interesting piece of furniture, with more levels of meaning than an ordinary cabinet. “I’ve always been a fan,” says Siobhán Lam of April And The Bear. “I used to spend a lot of time searching for the perfect industrial locker but they’re not easy to find.”
Vintage lockers are out there. If you’re committed to trawling your local salvage yard and auction rooms, you will eventually find them. But chose carefully. Some lockers just can’t shake off the whiff of the office and others may be in poor condition. Battered factory lockers look romantic, but there’s a narrow margin between industrial chic and decay. “You don’t want a lot of rust,” Lam observes. “Especially not if it’s in your bedroom.”
If you like the raw industrial style, but don’t want to bring home a health hazard, the Rusty cabinet from Dutchbone is made of power-coated iron, rendered to look like distressed copper. It’s a new piece but looks like an old one (although the nice wooden top gives it away). Irish stockists include Woo Design where the cabinet costs €649 and is the most atmospheric of a fairly wide selection of lockers.
The Stijn Locker Cabinet (€509) from Woo Design is designed to look like a row of metal lockers, but (predictably, given the name of the brand) made of wood. The Eleonora locker cabinet (€869) is made of metal with a handle that looks like it should be used for closing the watertight hatch on a ship.
If you like the locker room aesthetic, but don’t actually want a piece of furniture, Mind The Gap has a wallpaper called Locker Room that mimics the pattern of small industrial storage lockers (we’d call them pigeon holes). Other variations include Industrial Cabinets, which is a bit bleak, and the friendlier Apothecary, based on the wooden storage units found in old-fashioned pharmacies. Each of these costs €150 for three rolls.
April And The Bear has recently opened a new showroom on Wynnefield Road in Rathmines, Dublin. It’s larger than their previous shop in Temple Bar and has given Lam the space to include more furniture in the mix. In the shop, a row of lockers from Mustard Made gets pride of place. They’re traditionally shaped, but the first thing you notice about them is the colour: blush pink, olive green, navy, white, and (of course) mustard yellow. For Lam (right), they represent the culmination of her quest for the perfect locker.
“I think that the great thing about the lockers is that they’re aesthetically very strong,” she says. “They’re so simple in shape and size that the only thing you need to take into consideration is the colour. Because they’re slim, they can fit into awkward corners and alcoves. They bring colour into the space in a way that’s also functional. They’re not just pretty pieces of furniture, they’re also practical. You can hang coats in them – there’s a rail at the top – and there are five shelves in each of the tall ones.”
The lockers come in two sizes: the long narrow Skinny (€280), which is 183cm high, and the small squat Shorty (€250), which is 72cm high and works well by the bedside. They come flat-packed but, Lam swears, are perfectly easy to assemble. “There’s a video,” she says. “I’m a very visual person and if I’ve seen something done, I can do it myself.”
Each of the lockers has its own key. “I love the fact that they lock,” Lam says. “A lot of people have mentioned that too.” In a shared living space, a locker offers an element of security. For teenagers, it represents privacy in the household, but parents of young children also like that they can lock things away.
The tall thin shape of the locker has migrated into children’s furniture. One of the coolest designs for locker-shaped children’s wardrobes comes from This Is Dutch (no prizes for guessing the origins of that brand). The wardrobes are modelled on tall, thin Amsterdam houses, either with a stair gable or a bell gable. These may sound obscure, but they’re distinctive features. You’ll recognise them when you see them.
“They’re very decorative,” says Mary Ryder, whose showroom Curated has recently opened in Beacon South Quarter in Dublin. “A lot of our clients are going for built-in storage, but these work well where you want to have storage but don’t want something built-in.” The wardrobes, which cost between €995 and €1,240 per unit, come in a choice of eight colours and three heights (allow between six and eight weeks for delivery). They can also be configured internally, with a combination of hanging space and shelving.
“A single one fits in nicely in a niche or a corner, but they’re designed as a streetscape and a row of them looks super-cool,” says Ryder, who feels that the individual nature of the wardrobes encourages children to be tidy. “Kids are very much into order. They quite like it. We’re designing a lot of boot rooms for our clients where each of the children has their own peg and their own basket. If you have your own little space, then you’re empowered to take ownership of that space.”
In this way, the wardrobes fulfil the functionality of a locker, even though they don’t actually lock. “There’s no closing mechanism on the door so children can’t get trapped inside,” Ryder explains. “Unless some little monster pushes furniture up against the door.”
See aprilandthebear.com, mindtheg.com, woodesign.ie and curated.ie. This is Dutch wardrobes are also available online from cuckooland.com in the UK and lambdesign.ie, who also sell the lockers from Mustard Made.
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