My design London: Philippa Prinsloo

The youngest ever homeware design manager at John Lewis reveals her favourite London shops and shares her top design tips.

At 38, Philippa Prinsloo is the youngest ever design manager for homeware at John Lewis, heading a team of 15 at its Victoria HQ, doing all the in-house design from fabrics and furniture to ceramics and wrapping paper. Born in South Africa, Prinsloo came to the UK at the age of two and grew up near Manchester. She has an MA in textiles from the RCA, and previously worked as a designer for Habitat.


As a student in 1999 I lived in a little place on St John Street in Clerkenwell, worked in a local café and fell in love with Smithfield and London markets. Then I found a small Thames Water Board canal cottage in Islington, very close to the weir — my tiny paradise. But I love new areas so I went to Limehouse and discovered Canary Wharf — crazily busy in the week but really peaceful at weekends. I’ve been in a flat in Cheshire Street in Shoreditch for three years now, and I love it. It is trendy but you still feel it’s also a community.


I love my cushions made up from original West African waxed fabrics from the owner of Darkroom WC1 design boutique’s own collection. My Eleanor Pritchard throw is so cosy for winter — these low-key, modern designs are woven in small UK mills.

I’ve heard Redchurch Street called the “East End Bond Street”. It’s got smart boutiques, high street names and local traders, all mixed up. You buy hardware just because it’s chic at Labour and Wait, Tracey Neuls has a little showroom for her amazing shoes, and at the back of Hostem men’s store are Santa Novella perfumes from Florence. Aussie Aesop has divine soaps and lotions.


Prinsloo loves Margaret Howell’s Wigmore Street shop for elegant retro homeware like these Ercol “reissue” chairs

Nearby, Columbia Road Sunday flower market is loaded with berries and greenery right now. People don’t seem to know about its specialist shops, from wall stickers at Supernice to cut-price white china at Pot Luck and African tribal art at Far Global. And the market’s actually open on Wednesdays this month, with a special Saturday on December 21 to 8pm.

Brick Lane is another Sunday must. Try Close-Up for cool films on DVD — their screenings start again in a new cinema in January. And Chez Elles is a Parisian-style “bistroquet”. There’s a lively trio of three brothers running Taj Stores, a huge Asian store in the same family since 1939 — it’s like shopping for cookware and soaps in an Indian market. Beach London has prints by very new illustrators and artists, and Vintage Bean has the best coffee ever. Both are in Cheshire Street.

In the West End, I love Margaret Howell’s elegant retro homewares at her shop at 34 Wigmore Street. Lesley Jackson’s new book on Ercol has just been launched there.


Carols at St Paul’s on Christmas Eve — wrap up, grab a hot drink, and go stand in the queue. At home, I overdose on lights and candles, lining my windowsills and mantelpiece.


Christmas must-do: wrap up warm for Christmas Eve carols at St Paul’s. Image: AFP


I get design inspiration from London restaurants such as Maison Trois Garçons, with its flamboyant tiled table tops, school-type metal chairs, and generally eccentric mishmash of design and food, and Burro e Salvia, where the lighting looks like their homemade pasta (both are in Redchurch Street). Dishoom was done by interior designer Russell Sage as an Art Deco take on Bombay and Persia. For Indian, I love Tayyabs in Whitechapel — go before 6pm to avoid the queues. Nopi in Soho is all spicy and Middle Eastern, with shiny brass tables.

A pub? The Carpenter’s Arms in Cheshire Street, linking Brick Lane with Bethnal Green — it’s so cosy, warm and British. Their Sunday lunch has won an award.


I’m still influenced hugely by my family in South Africa. My giant crochet pendant is from Moonbasket  in Cape Town, started by a designer and an artist to employ local women. A new marble top has completely updated my old wooden chest of drawers. Six classic Duralex glass tumblers for £8 in the “icons” range at John Lewis were a bargain and they’re two and a half times as strong as ordinary glass. Now I’m craving a genuinely retro Kaymet modern metal trolley, made in Bermondsey since the Sixties.


Left: Santa Novella scents from Redchurch Street; right: the Boby Trolley (1964) made storage both trendy and versatile


I still remember Sensation at the Royal Academy in 1997. It was so new and so shocking with that 14ft shark by Damien Hirst in a big clear tank. Now I love Gallery Libby Sellers in Berners Street for design at the cutting edge. Pick Me Up is a cool graphic art festival at Somerset House (running next year from May 23 to April 5). The Victoria Miro Gallery in N1 shows stunning art, but you need to climb a ladder to the first floor. I could spend hours in the Design Museum and love its current show, Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things.


Don’t fight your room. If it’s dark, simply play that up and make it cosy. Work with what you have. Start with the walls, then floors, then ceiling and then lighting, and fill in from there. Test paint on walls for at least 24 hours, it will change with the light. I’m currently torn between Farrow & Ball’s Mole’s Breath, Charleston Grey, Hague Blue and Down Pipe.


East London’s “Bond Street”: in Redchurch Street people buy homeware at Labour and Wait, “just because it’s chic”. Image: Rebecca Reid


Natalie Radcliffe won a John Lewis  award for textiles at this year’s New Designers. Another winner, Oliver Hrubiak, now has his Finn chair and side table on sale. I’m also particularly  impressed by designers from Leeds and Buckinghamshire Universities, and I love handwoven textiles by Eleanor Pritchard. She is fantastic, and she graduated with me.

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