Amazing space: Inside St Albans' new interiors hub
PUBLISHED: 14:12 29 July 2016 | UPDATED: 17:56 29 July 2016
Walking into the new Quirky Interiors store in St Albans is like stepping into an effortlessly styled, exquisitely curated home - but one where everything is for sale.
This new inventive interiors hub is set to be an unmissable shopping destination for anyone interested in home design. Currently located at 1a Stonecross, at the city end of Sandridge Road, it’s easy to spot, thanks to an ever-changing outdoor display of pre-loved zinc containers, reclaimed metal cabinets and smart collections of sourced ceramics and textiles.
Quirky Interiors, the shop, is a natural extension to James Petre’s long established furniture business, based on a farm just outside St Albans. The shop is a pop up, established to promote awareness locally, and will be moving premises mid-August to a showroom on Coopers Green Lane, next to his workshop.
James started out selling antique furniture to the interiors trade in London’s Camden Passage in Islington, but moved on to start his own furniture line. He’s always loved industrial antiques and was one of the first people to begin collecting originals and either restoring them or using them as design inspiration.
Now that the ‘vintage industrial’ look has become a universal trend, from Brooklyn to Berlin and beyond, his bespoke pieces are in high demand and appear in many cool bars and restaurants. These days the workshop is kept extremely busy, supplying the likes of Jamie’s Italian, The Botanist bar group and, locally, The Beech House and Hatch, with beautifully crafted work.
Additionally, Quirky design and produce made-to-measure tables for domestic interiors. From zinc-topped and aged solid oak dining tables to reclaimed round tables topped with James’ signature patinated brass tiling – a technique he’s been finessing for some time (tables are a bit of a thing with James).
TEXTURE, PATINA AND CHARM
James has a long history of sourcing and hoarding useful items for later upcycling and repurposing, it turns out. Catherine, James’ wife, says “I’m really pleased we’ve opened the shop, as it means a part of James’ permanent collection has been ousted from the workshop to here!” James’ furniture creations display fantastic attention to detail and a really sophisticated aesthetic. “One of the other reasons for opening the showroom was to display some of my more adventurous pieces,” he says.
James’ eye for design stems from his mother’s influence (both of James’ parents were highly respected antique dealers). “I also love the work of Belgian interior designer and antiquarian Axel Vervoordt, and the work of Swedish stylist Hans Blomquist” he says. “His books are the ones I constantly dip into - I love his combination of authentic careworn materials and a colour palette that is faded and muted. My own work often combines some or all of these elements.” The result is a really smart mix that’s timeless, pleasing and versatile.
St Albans has long been crying out for a lifestyle furniture store that combines careful curation with an interesting take on design. “In a way, opening this pop-up store is a bit of a homecoming for us,” explains Catherine. “We used to live on Sandridge Road ourselves, so starting our first shop here has meant we’re close to old friends and neighbours once again.”
Catherine has been instrumental in sourcing product and accessories for the shop, carefully choosing the work of designers and makers that are not too mainstream or ‘seen it all before’. “You’re unlikely to have encountered some of our Fog Linen Japanese linen, Spanish Ludus Ludi toys or Danish homewares elsewhere on the high street” she says. “We’ve deliberately sought out items that are artisanal and not too mass produced, so they complement and enhance the one-off furniture pieces.”
Within the shop, individual tableaux have been created to place each accessory in a sympathetic setting. Furniture and decorative items sit alongside one another just as they would in a corner of your living space. Linens mingle on zinc worktops next to baker’s shelving displaying china, against a backdrop of corrugated metal; sprigs of blossom sit in a giant glass bottles next to an industrial metal shelving unit, where children’s knitted clothes are lined up, tidy style; delicate metalwork daybeds reupholstered in modern florals are irresistible statement pieces. You get my drift. It all works beautifully well.
“Whereas James is head of furniture, I’m really enjoying sourcing textiles and homewares that complement his activity in the workshop. We really wanted to create a space in which people could wander around and become their own home curator – picking up items here and there to fit their own spaces, without having to slavishly adopt one particular style or another. James has always enjoyed mixing the old with the new, combining interesting textures with muted colours and repurposing industrial items for new uses, so this is something we’ve carried through from the workshop to the store.”
Quirky Interiors is also keen to support local designer-makers who have an aesthetic that fits their own, and hope to expand their offering in this area over time.
Whether you prefer the vintage look, love industrial style, dig Scandi chic or always have an eye out for a one-off antique, Quirky Interiors brings you the best of any number of looks while providing a breath of fresh interiors air to St Albans.
Quirky Interiors, The Old Pumphouse, 1a Stonecross, Sandridge Rd, St Albans, AL1 4AA (closed Mondays)
The current shop will be closing in mid-August, and a new showroom is expected to open in mid-September on Coopers Green Lane. Find out more at www.quirkyinteriors.co.uk
Joanna Copestick is an interiors writer and book publisher. She is the co-founder of online retailer and blog www.veryenglish.co.uk and the co-author, with Holly Becker, of the bestselling interiors title, Decorate.