London Calling!

I cannot believe my good fortune to be in Europe twice this winter! How great is that?!  And many of you called or wrote me directly after reading my Maison & Objet blog to say that you want to come to Paris next January….well, come on, let’s put that in INK on the calendar. You also said you wanted more inf0 included in ‘what’s new?’ so thank you for your input and I will try to oblige.

This trip to London served couple of masters: I got to spend time with my amazingly impressive niece, Johnna Simoes, who is a junior at Bucknell and is spending her Spring semester studying at City University in London.  She was my tour guide and partner in crime, and all things young and inspired as we toured this hip and fashionable city.

I also wanted to get to the design center there and was a week early for the Chelsea Harbor Spring Market, but we had the opportunity to see new introductions there, and to look for trends and products in London that are not yet in the States.

We ‘tubed it’ to The Design Centre at Chelsea Harbor. The showrooms and the building were preparing for Design Week, scheduled to open on 3/21. It’s a compact design center, with showrooms who are challenged to show a fraction of the products shown in the US. Similar to DCOTA in Dania Beach, FL, this design center has 3 silos of several floors that are linked by open atriums with glass ceilings with dramatic, hanging bird sculptures. Some of the showrooms were closed as they prepped and restyled their spaces, and others were knee deep in product, so we were only able to connect with a few salespeople. Anna at Kravet was gracious and engaging as she showed us the showroom and some of the new introductions. She said that Barclay Butera is doing well for them and that traffic into her showroom has picked up considerably in 2010.  While we were in that section of town, we glimpsed but didn’t enter the individual salons and ateliers, who were also getting ready for Design Week.

For retailers, there is no comparison to Harrod’s, the retail equivalent of Disneyworld. It’s possible to spend an exciting yet exhausting day there, just in the departments related to the home. For a traditional store, they have a surprising display of contemporary furniture and décor that appears equal in square footage to their traditional offering. We were never approached or assisted while we sat on, opened, and looked underneath an array of products shown – all while salespeople were within eye and earshot.

Another retailer who has picked up the slack left by Laura Ashley’s exit is Cath Kidston. Her small (much less that 1000 sq. ft) stores are all things floral and fabric, a la Vera Bradley, but with more color and less dramatic pattern.
The retail excursion continued with a trip to Notting Hill on Sunday afternoon, and it is as cute as the movie was not. Portobello Road is an unending charm bracelet of small shops of vintage, retro, new and antique merchandise, about a quarter of which is related to the home. And the best chocolate cookie I ever had at Gail’s. A couple of blocks away All Saints has very cool dress down duds, but it is their eye catching display of antique sewing machines line their store windows and brick walls that had shutterbugs like me blocking the sidewalk to snap a few.

My favorite store of course, was a retail design shop called Mufti. The owner, Michael d’Souza, locally manufactures upholstery and case goods in all natural materials. Lots of luggage inspired leather tables, quills and shells, linens galore, skins and fur (which are big on bodies and on upholstery in London) on lampshades, water bottle covers, and more. It has an Out of Africa meets Ralph Lauren look that was inviting, sleek, comfortable and all made of renewable products. He also showed 3 artists whose work beautifully complemented his furnishings. Check out his website!

And there was so much more – it was a whirlwind weekend, and we would not have covered as much territory nor seen as much (not to mention great food – but that might be another blog!) had it not been for Johnna’s own expeditions and her planning and mastery of public transportation.  Over the next few weeks, I will be attending Spring Markets in several design centers in the US, including High Point!  Happy Spring and Keep Selling!!

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