For creative inspiration, there are few cities more exciting than London, but it’s pretty vast. In the first of our five-part series, we asked a handful of design-minded Irish folk, who have embedded themselves there, to take us on a tour of their favourite haunts.
Much of my life has been spent skipping back and forth across the Irish Sea. I first moved to Dublin with my Irish mother when I was 11 and after university returned to London, where I worked happily as a journalist until I was honoured to be offered the editorship of Image Interiors & Living. Fast forward through several fun-filled and happy years living with hubby and two children on South Dublin’s coastline, I visited some amazing places around the country – staying in great hotels, unique B&Bs and fabulous pubs – and made lots of new friends along the way. Returning to the nitty gritty of “the Big Smoke” was the hardest decision we have ever made.
Our first weekend back in London was beautifully hot and sunny, and on a Saturday morning, we decided to go on a day out to Richmond Park, which had always been one of our favourite places, as it’s a little wilderness in the urban jungle. An hour and a half later we were still sitting (adults fuming, children whining) in a roasting hot car, bumper to bumper in standstill traffic. It was a harsh reminder of the freedom we had relished in Ireland. Weekends in Dublin were often spent hiking along the Wicklow Way – children admittedly not always that delighted about it – or evenings after work spent chatting about our day as we rambled along Killiney Beach.
Life back in London was difficult. I struggled with almost everything about the hectic capital: the noise, the crowds, squeezing onto the Tube, the sheer size of the place. But gradually, this dynamic, creative and endlessly surprising city began to get back under my skin. For years I had toyed with the notion of opening my own design store – something along the lines of Merci in Paris was the dream – and my return to London prompted me to set up Keepshop, where I sell a mix of Irish, UK and Scandi brands, including Jennifer Slattery’s textiles, Donegal Socks, Falcon Enamelware and Danish interiors by House Doctor. Retail is notoriously difficult, so it’s more of a flirtation at the moment than a fully fledged business, but I love the excuse it gives me to meet lots of talented people, and nose around London’s endless array of inspiring design stores, bustling markets and world-class galleries.
Most weekends start with a meander down the Golborne Road in West London. We park outside the Goldfinger Factory, a design shop with a café at the base of Erno Goldfinger’s iconic Trellick Tower. It’s a store with a social conscience and trains up the disadvantaged and unemployed youngsters in the basement workshop, teaching them the art of design and build. Then it’s onto Lisboa Patisserie, one of the oldest cafés in the neighbourhood, for our coffee and nata fix (a wickedly tasty Portuguese custard tart). We’ve been hanging out in this street for decades and while it’s becoming relentlessly upmarket – when an international brand like Aesop opens on a relatively scruffy street, it’s a sure sign of change – it’s rare for us to go home without lugging home a piece of junk furniture or a little trinket, whether it’s a pretty vase from Phoenix On Golborne or a battered but charming leather chair from the Goldfinger Factory.
For as long as I can remember, Liberty of London has been my absolute favourite store. From the design of the store’s mock Tudor frontage to the seriously chic wood-panelled interiors, which date back to the 1920s, to Wild at Heart’s selection of beautiful blooms as you walk through the main entrance and the stunning furniture department on the fourth floor, for me this is London’s ultimate place to browse and shop. Locally, I often pop into Retrouvius on the Harrow Road, where there’s always a cool selection of re-used and re-purposed interiors finds.
No visit to London would be complete without a jaunt to the Columbia Road Flower Market where tourists and locals blend into a vibrant crowd among the mesmerising selection of plants, succulents and flowers. It’s also littered with brilliant interiors stores and bric-a-brac stands, including The Yard on Ezra Street. If we’ve had a late night the evening before, we might pop into nearby Printers and Stationers for a reviving Bloody Mary and a delicious sandwich, and afterwards head for a gander around the lovely Geffrye Museum, which documents English homes and how they have changed since 1600. I also love Chapel Street Market near The Angel, which during the week is scruffy and deliciously down at heel – expect to rub shoulders with locals and the odd EastEnders actor – and is pure London gold. If you’re hungry, join the queue for Smokin’ Aces Barbecue and bag a generous portion of tasty barbecued meat and mac ‘n’ cheese. The profile changes on Sundays, when the farmer’s market takes over, offering a more typical selection of organic fare.
London has so much to offer in terms of great food, you couldn’t possibly hit it all, but if you only visit one place, make it La Fromagerie on Moxon Street. Located just off Marylebone High Street, it’s one of my best-loved London food emporiums. Just one whiff when walking past and I can’t resist diving in for a quick browse. It’s a treasure trove of outstanding cheese, inspirational foods, unusual and rare condiments and beautiful vegetables, which look almost too perfect to eat. It’s also a lovely spot for lunch; you can’t book, so expect a short queue. The menu, which changes daily, never fails to delight.
The area is a foodie enclave and next door’s The Ginger Pig offers exceptional organic meats and damn fine pies, while the square hosts a brilliant farmer’s market every Sunday. While here, I like to take a quick scout around The Conran Shop and Skandium. Away from the frantic hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus, the Marylebone High Street feels like the most civilised place to wander and shop.