My Design London:co-founder of Design Bridge in Clerkenwell - Graham Shearsby - on the city’s amazing architecture and his top secret shops

Design Bridge’s chief creative officer Graham Shearsby joined the design world straight from school and now works with heritage names including Gordon’s Gin, Fortnum & Mason and Guinness.

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Graham Shearsby is the chief creative officer at Design Bridge, which produces branding and packaging design for heritage names including Gordon’s Gin, Fortnum & Mason and Guinness.

Born in east London, where his parents ran a sweet shop, Shearsby joined the design world straight from school, as a junior in a Soho studio. He went on to co-found Design Bridge in Clerkenwell.

Now 30 years old, Design Bridge also has studios in Amsterdam, Singapore and New York.

WHERE I LIVE

I was born and bred in the East End. My family on my dad’s side goes back to the 1700s in the Shoreditch area, while my mum’s side goes back to the same sort of time in Hatton Garden, where they were artisan goldsmiths. I grew up above a sweet shop that my dad had at 402 Kingsland Road.

A few years ago my wife and I moved out to Farnham in Surrey, where we’ve renovated an old hop farm. But I spend most of my time around Clerkenwell where we have the Design Bridge office.

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My area tip: Spitalfields Life, by the Gentle Author. He’s set himself the challenge of writing a daily letter about the rich diversity and culture of London, all within walking distance of the area. (Alamy)

MY HOME INTERIORS

It’s a late-Georgian house, so we’ve renovated it with exposed brick and stonework. I like to keep the design clean. Colour is kept to the traditional white or muted grey. We’ve furnished it with a mix of vintage and mid-century modern furniture.

AMAZING ARCHITECTURE

At Design Bridge our work is all about authenticity and storytelling. We look after some pretty rooted historical London brands.

Every day I go past Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall on the train, and it’s a great example of what I believe in. It’s a conversion of a terrace of listed industrial buildings which once housed theatre carpentry and scenery makers.

You get the old and new. It’s about keeping the bones of London, but also moving on, so you get another chapter in the story of those buildings.

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Amazing architecture: Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall (EPA Andy Rain)

And I can’t wait for the new Museum of London which is shifting to Spitalfields Market in 2021.

MY FAVOURITE HOMEWARE SHOPS

I love Forest in Clerkenwell Road which specialises in Danish mid-century furniture. As well as vintage stuff they make their own pieces, which are very simple, very clean.

SECRET SPACE

If you wander past Ally Capellino’s shop in Calvert Avenue, you end up at this beautiful circular park called Arnold Circus, behind Shoreditch Church.

It was the very first social housing project. They built a block of houses called Boundary Estate on a ghetto slum in the 1800s, and in the centre of it there’s a beautiful little park with a bandstand. It’s a tranquil oasis.

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Secret space: Arnold Circus, with early social housing in Shoreditch and a little park that’s a “tranquil oasis” (Alamy)

CULTURAL HOTSPOT

Clerkenwell. I’m attracted to that smaller village side of London. Our studio shares the same address as Oliver Cromwell. Later it housed spurs makers and Japanning artisans (a heavy ornamental lacquering process used on furniture and precious objects). It stands above the catacombs of a debtors’ prison, The House of Detention. Karl Marx and Lenin drank in the Crown Pub around the corner, and the earliest London gin distiller drew water from “Clerk’s Well”.

We have many local heroes in the area, including Scotti’s café (est. 1951), which serves proper bacon rolls and sturdy tea, and Terroni’s Italian deli for excellent espresso. Deke and friends at The Three Kings pub have a surviving vinyl jukebox, and musical legends pop in for a pint.

Up on Exmouth Market, the former home of the original clown Joseph Grimaldi, we have a tight-knit core of locals who shape its heart. Sam and Sam Clark, founders of Moro and the tapas place, Morito; The Family Business tattoo artists; brilliant bagels and Cortado at Jeremy Brill’s café and record shop; Family Tree’s locally sourced crafts and gifts. And Greek restaurant Kolossi Grill, established in the Sixties, still thrives alongside bustling, eclectic street food stalls.

MOST COVETED OBJECT

It’s a family heirloom. My dad’s old shop sign from 1951 — beautiful sans serif, dimensional lettering, made in stainless steel. At the moment it’s on the back wall of my dad’s garden. When they sold the shop we rescued it from a skip. I was just passing the shop on Kingsland Road and it was just there in the skip. It was one of those miraculous things.

It’s a work of art, beautifully crafted and made by the same people who did the signage for Pellicci’s café in Bethnal Green. It will be handed down from my dad to me, and later I will pass it on to my son.

DREAM PROPERTY

I am a collector. The walls of our house are covered with prints including Sir Peter Blake’s signed notebook and Mick Rock’s David Bowie print. And for me, Sir John Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the ultimate collector’s house.

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Home of the ultimate collector: Sir John Soane’s Museum (Alamy)

FAVOURITE MARKET

Chapel Street Market Islington is the closest you will find to a traditional London market. It hasn’t been particularly gentrified so there are still proper little cafés and all sorts of quirky shops where you can buy obscure stuff. And the stalls are proper fishmongers, fruit and veg.

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It’s the real deal: Chapel Market in Islington. Shearsby says it’s the closest to a traditional London market (Alamy)

SECRET SHOP

Gardners in Commercial Street in Spitalfields is a little gem run by Paul Gardner, the fourth generation to run it since 1870. He’s a market sundries man, you can go in there and get papers, bags, labels, tapes, lovely rolls of string. It’s like the Old Curiosity Shop and he’s a lovely guy.

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Little gem: Gardners is like the Old Curiosity Shop (Susannah Ireland)

And a new quirky place just off Clerkenwell Road is the workshop of Tessa Metcalfe. She’s a Hackney jeweller and she finds beauty in the gutter. She casts jewellery from the claws of road-kill pigeons. Quite Gothic — but beautiful.

FAVOURITE MAKERS

Up the road from us are the fabulous duo Timorous Beasties, famous for textiles, wallpapers and cushions. They specialise in reinterpreting old animal engravings, quirky toiles and tapestries for now, with a luxury twist on things. They’ve got a great little shop in Amwell Street.

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Fabulous: Timorous Beasties have a great little shop

I love Alan Kitching, a master typographer and letterpress artist. You can do his two-day courses at his studio in Cleaver St, Kennington, and buy his work. We’ve worked with him a lot and he’s a fantastic craftsman.


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