The London Eye becomes wallpaper, and the Tube map a table top, as a new wave of London’s most gifted designers is captivated by the capital itself, updating its images for chic home products.
Forget the usual run of tourist tat. Now, great contemporary graphics are giving a new twist to all those much-loved landmarks and traditions — often on a large scale. There are also tales of the unexpected with gritty cranes and pylons. Across the board the mood is joyous and celebratory.
Busbies and umbrellas bedeck strutting soldiers and sober city gents on Lizzie Allen’s dashing wallpapers, drawn with wit, panache and a nod to the Fifties and hand-printed in seven colours. Living in south London, Allen graduated in textile design from Winchester College of Art in 2005, then set up her own studio.
Since childhood she has loved the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace — “AA Milne’s song about Alice has always stayed with me,” she says. A sketch book permanently at the ready yielded drawings for City Gents, while St Pauls has acquired a damask frame (3m panels cost about £165). Now Allen has added an outsize telephone kiosk. Call 07947 474928, or visit www.lizzieallen.co.uk.
Four years ago, Hannah Dipper (a ceramics graduate from the Royal College of Art) and Robin Farquhar (from Brunel University) made the six plates that started their quirky business called People Will Always Need Plates (01442 876907; www.peoplewillalwaysneedplates.co.uk).
This first venture depicted architecturally distinguished London homes with bold outlines on coloured grounds that have become their trademark. These early plates are now collectors’ items. But an expanded repertoire of places and buildings includes punchy prints for dinner plates (£25 each), tea towels smart enough to frame (£8.50) and mugs (£10). And you can recline on Trellick Tower or Kensal Green, outlined on pale green or muted blue cotton cushions, for £35 including a pad. These are made by The London Cushion Company (0845 643 1571; www.thelondoncushioncompany.com).
Artist Snowden Flood (020 8671 1170; www.snowdenflood.com) also has a gutsy take on London life, transferred to plates, mugs and cushions. Flood studied Fine Art in London and sculpture in New York, coming back home in 2000. “I was so excited to find the river completely opened up for miles of walking,” she says. “New York’s river pathways are often next to an ugly four-lane highway.”
Watch out for designs with an unexpected twist. An outline of Battersea Power Station on a cushion is filled in with psychedelic patchwork, or with a more sedate blue toile (made to order).
Some of her plates take a simpler, low-key look at pylons, telegraph wires and factory chimneys (£24.95 each, with mugs at £11.95). Landmarks are also laser-cut in fine leather and suede for glamorous cushions (£140) or delicately applied in wonderfully fine cross-stitch (£60). For presents, buy tea towels at £8.50 or aprons at £17.50. Flood says she is making “souvenirs in the nicest possible sense” and she ships them all over the world. “Battersea Power Station in particular has a very strong place in people’s hearts,” she reveals.
A gritty urban landscape is even worked on to wallpaper by designer Annette Taylor-Anderson, and the results are strikingly original. Those vast cranes currently dominating the city’s skylines have been abstracted into a powerful pattern based on photos taken from the Docklands Light Railway. Taylor-Anderson says: “There are amazing building works in east London. I love cranes but I’m in awe of their structure — they’re the giants overlooking our city.” She also loves the cast-iron bridge at Primrose Hill. Call 020 8223 7263, or visit www.atadesigns.com.
London Transport zealously guards its design legacy, including the copyright of its famous 1933 Tube map by Harry Beck and posters. It has also commissioned updates of the heavy-duty moquette once used on seating from award-winning textile designers Wallace Sewell (Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones) to go on London Underground and the Croydon Tramlink.
Jude Biddulph and Sam Hurt of Suck UK (www.suck.uk.com) have the licence to put the Tube map on an illuminated coffee table that costs £1,500 and can be switched on and off. OneDeko in Spitalfields (020 7375 3289; www.onedeko.co.uk) is the London stockist and also sells tables made from rescued street signs at £250.
London Toile is a radical update of those traditionally pretty-pretty toile de Jouy fabrics with single-colour pictorial patterns from the 18th century. Its designers, Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, met at Glasgow School of Art and since then (trading as Timorous Beasties) have made a name for their surreal — even provocative — textiles.
Accordingly, their London Toile subtly subverts the genre. You’ll see all the usual landmarks — along with a fair sprinkling of London low life, from vagrants to drug dealers. Printed on linen, the price is £84 a metre, with wallpaper at £100 a roll. See this (and much more) at the new Timorous Beasties showroom at 46 Amwell Street, EC1 (020 7833 5010; www.timorousbeasties.com).
Even the humble coat hanger now sports a London skyline, cut from silky beech by designer Chris Jarratt. Hang it on the wall for £50 — it’s really too good for clothes. Call 07974 711361, or visit www.hookpegsupport.com. London’s skyline also dominates the Solaris lampshade designed by Lauren Moriarty, which magically appears when the light goes on (www.peachy.uk.com).