I wanted to start Top Shop (lawsuit pending) as a sort of appreciation club for all those shops who are working hard to make our streets exciting and dynamic places to visit. As my boyfriend will tell you, I find a tremendous amount of pleasure in browsing and buying, both of which are easy to do online - but the excitement I get from doing it 'IRL' is second to none. Over the past few months, I have found it incredibly depressing walking the streets of London and seeing boarded up shops and dusty window displays. So here it is, my ode to physical shops and the people behind them who are working hard to keep shopping fun and beautiful. I may sometimes veer into the online world, but this feature will primarily be bricks and mortar kind of stuff.
To start this new feature, we couldn't have a more perfect example of an exciting, dynamic, and beautiful place to visit - The New Craftsmen. I walked there one sunny morning, taking the opportunity to glance at Oxford Street which, talk about depressing, looks like a ghost of its former self. But nestled behind it is The New Craftsmen, a true haven of design. The venture is coming into its tenth year, fuelled by its mission to offer a 'platform for genuine and meaningful craft, playfully imagined and properly made by artisans of the British Isles'. Boy does it do that well!
When the excellent Catherine Lock, Creative Director of The New Craftsmen, shows me around the gallery, there isn't a piece I would kick out of bed. It really brings you back to why you become obsessed with interiors in the first place. All these pieces have such a beautiful sensitivity to them, without taking themselves too seriously. Whether it is a piece from Alfred Newall's Bobbin Collection or Dylan Bowen's slipware, these will be pleasant and meaningful additions to your home, rather than the Tat you get elsewhere... I felt so lucky to spend an hour with Catherine in the showroom; her passion and love for the pieces and their makers are infectious, and I felt that bit lighter upon leaving. With museums not being open for a while longer, you could do yourself a service and pop in there to get the inspiration that has been so sorely out of reach over the last few months.
So, The New Craftsmen opened in 2012, what was the catalyst to opening the doors?
I started on my craft journey having been immersed in a world of mass-market, homogenised, disposable product for years and desperately needing an antidote. And so, it seems, did the consumer. Craft is about humanity, individuality, integrity, and beauty, and this is what we were all wanting to connect to. After touring the British Isles in 2010, I understood that makers also needed a commercially and creatively motivated sales and marketing platform that allowed them to carry on making, but which simultaneously dispelled these stale connotations of craft and shifted it to something more dynamic and relevant.
What is the ethos of The New Craftsmen? What are you particularly proud of?
To develop a sustainable market for the crafted object, the makers, their skills and imagination. To encourage people to integrate craft into their everyday lives and home environments.
I do believe that we have played a key role in the modern craft movement and the market – and people’s appetite and perception of craft has completely shifted compared to when we started, which is extraordinary. There is still lots to do, however!
Have you changed any aspects of the business during covid?
One of the wonderful things about craft is the rich narratives embedded in each piece of work. This translates beautifully to online storytelling and we have been encouraging our makers to add photography, film making and writing to the list of creative talents and tell their stories in their own ways. I have really enjoyed seeing how their individuality comes through how they’ve captured their work. We find that these stories create even stronger connections between maker and customer, and are very enriching for our brands.
Do you have a favourite piece in the gallery at the moment?
I love the Armitage Lamp – a light by wallpaper designer Marthe Armitage and her architect grandson Joe Armitage - which was first designed by Marthe’s husband in the 1950s when they lived in India. Marthe, now in her 90s, is a bit of a style guru for me. Her home is full of pieces from a life well-lived, and she has a good eye for no-nonsense design (such as the pig-butcher’s dining table), pieces which are placed in rooms walled with her charming wallpapers. Nature is abundant and joyful in her patterns, and she created a new fern pattern which is the natural form for a conical-shaped lampshade.
How important is it to you to have a physical space for The New Craftsmen?
Craft is multi-sensory and in this space you see, touch and smell the pieces - it’s all very tangible. I see people entering our showroom (having walked in from the parallel universe of Oxford Street) and they most visibly relax and step away feeling energised. It’s also a place for spending time discussing dream projects and commissions, pulling our samples and reviewing drawings over a cup of tea. It’s very special!