It's Value, It's Style It's M&s
Gallery: M&S Signature Collection Marks & Spencer is making a massive stride into home design - new stores will be launched nationwide eventually - but it kicks off with an autumn catalogue of products that will send the adrenaline into overdrive.In its normal way Marks & Spencer has taken its time to respond to the country's endless appetite for design goods, but now it is out to woo us and compete with the established names of Conran and its ilk, at very competitive rates. Yes, there are still the old floral cottons hanging about, and the crowd-pulling gold-dotted and spotted everything, but the serious new designs are there and available through the catalogue as well, so you don't even have to leave home to shop.With time, money and an interior designer most of us could have a fabulous home, but in reality our projects are conducted at a running pace with quick forays to the high street in the lunch hour or at the weekend, hoping to achieve the home of our dreams within the boundaries of the four square corners of a credit card. Then we put it all together and pray it looks good.This is where Marks & Spencer can help out. For the added appeal of its autumn selection of home furnishings is the clever way the merchandise has been themed into three " lifestyles " or " looks", labelled Simply Elegant, Modern Living and Country Comfort. In effect, it is instant interior design, a clear way of showing you how it all links together. Marks & Spencer calls it the Home Signature styles.The guiding spirit for this new Marks enterprise is Margaret Milne, the head of design and product direction. The aim this season, she explains, was to make the catalogue exciting and inspirational through the creation of the three new style identities. She said: "If customers want to buy for a whole room, they can, and we hope we've made it easier for them. But of course they can just cherry-pick, and there is nothing to stop them mixing styles if they want to. Our looks are not dictatorial, just starting points, or frameworks, if you like." The result is an abundance of choice: "Developing just one style was never an option for us; we've got such a broad customer base it's essential to have something for everyone." Milne has the backing of a large and enthusiastic group of in-house designers, trained at top design colleges and with wide-ranging industry-experience. Each brings different strengths to the team (furniture, ceramics, fabrics, lighting and so on), and the resulting breadth on offer is remarkable.Modern Living My top choice is Modern Living. It's contemporary, cool, clean, sleek and very affordable. This is merchandise of the moment that won't go out of date. As Milne says: "This isn't scary modern - it's accessible modern." For me, the particular strengths of this look are the accessories: the lavish leather black photo frames (8 and 12), the wood-block table mats (20 a set), the white, ribbed, porcelain lamps and the cushions in real leather and mock suede (30).Simply Elegant Capturing many of this autumn's key decorating trends and motifs is the style termed Simply Elegant ... opulent, decorative, sumptuous and rich. "You could truly say this is maximalism not minimalism," says Milne. "We've been really adventurous, using bold colours and big shapes to achieve grand design. There are no shrinking violets in this area: it's a style statement on a lavish scale." Fabrics come into their own here and are used to fine effect. Ready-made curtains are in popular paisley patterns; there are also textured tapestries and jacquards. A sophisticated silk and velvet "boudoir" cushion has tasselled corners and costs 20. More tassels embellish classic golden damask bed linen. Intricate trailing embroidery edges heavy cotton curtain panels, with the embroidery theme repeated on fine cotton bed linen. And, again, the accessories are lovingly detailed: hand-gilded, baroque-style mirror-frames, paisley ceramics (from 25), rich ruby-red vases and bowls (25), and silvery, etched-glass photo frames (from 8). Table settings are wonderfully over the top, with etched brass chargers supporting fine china, decorated with rings of gold, offset by tasselled table runners and metallic mats.Country Comfort For contrast, turn to Country Comfort, a pretty, warm and natural style obviously suited to a rural home, but also an effective way of bringing tranquillity to a metropolitan home.Upholstery is large and lavish with a Victorian feel. A five-piece, curvy, fine-woven rattan furniture set in a dark, hand-applied finish is just 599. And the Hemsley dining chair, crafted in natural, oilfinished solid oak, with simple ladder back and rush seat, is an all-time classic at 150. Cotton curtain and cushion fabrics are complemented by a charming toile wallpaper. And, as before, accessories, such as baskets and pretty china, complete the look. Bargain buys Bargain buys throw, 30 (small) or 50 Plain white Maxim porcelain tableware in simple modern shapes: dinner plate, 4; eight-piece set, 27.Brown stitched leather magazine rack, 35.Hand-finished, chunky brown leather table lamp base, sold complete with cream corduroy fabric shade, 80.Cream, heavy-cotton, two-sided fringed (large); alternatively, go for luxuriant faux fur in a camel shade for 95.Hour-glass, ribbed, white porcelain lamp destined to become a 21st century classic, 25.Ornate baroque-style mirror with a frame that has a hand-applied gilt finish for that decorator touch, 40.Reversible cotton jersey bed linen, black on one side with cream stitching, and cream on the other. It's like sleeping in a comfy T-shirt. A complete set in its own drawstring bag is from 40.Dark-brown upholstered leather dining chair in plain, classic shape, 325.Mongolian cushion in sensual long-haired real sheepskin, 60.