They have always been used as makeshift furnishings, but today, crates are part of that fashionable industrial look, according to Sophie Bush, editor of Warehouse Home. “There’s a real feel for freight in London homes, from upcycled pallets and packing cases to cargo-inspired cabinets for storage,” she says.
Crate furnishing is perfect for renters, adds Joanna Thornhill, author of Home for Now. “Crates are strong, hard-wearing and versatile, with a certain no-frills charm and, when you move, just shove in your stuff and go.”
This sort of furnishing has a design pedigree. In 1934, the Dutch modernist designer Gerrit Rietveld, a leading member of the De Stijl art movement, made perhaps the first furniture from “crate wood”. Today, you can buy a numbered edition of his chair from London-based Iconic Dutch — but at £795, it’s not a normal crate price.
More recently, London minimalist Jasper Morrison had wine crates in mind for his pieces for Established & Sons, which include storage and a chair. Authentic old crates are getting pricey. They sell for £25 to £35 from salvage hunters such as Chloe Beattie and Dale Broome of Raspberry Mash in Manchester.
Veteran of crates is Mark Bailey, who has been popularising their use for 20 years and has featured them in his book Imperfect Home, written with his wife, Sally.
The Baileys used to buy crates from English apple-growers, but supplies have run dry, and now they bring in lorry-loads from rural France.
The nicest “new crates” are made by hand from reclaimed wood, and may be as expensive as “real” furniture. A new London company, Reason Season Time, run by entrepreneur Rupin Rughani, is fashioning pieces from discarded materials, including wine barrels in the US and old timber in India.
Particularly striking are the robust and chunky metal cabinets made from old metal shipping crates, in canary yellow — perfect for that London loft.