A home with heart and sole:East London strip club is now a shoe designer's happy retreat

Transforming a former Victorian button factory and strip club in Shoreditch was a sheer joy for this London shoe designer.

Deborah Baker lives for shoes. Much of her childhood in Bermondsey was spent playing in her grandmother’s miniature shoe cupboard before her passion turned into a career path. She trained at the famous Cordwainers (now part of London College of Fashion) where her contemporaries included Emma Hope and Patrick Cox.

This year she celebrates the 15th anniversary of her brand Fiorentini+Baker.

With stores in London, Bologna, New York and Los Angeles, Baker is always jetsetting. A great deal of her time is spent in Italy where she oversees production at the region’s artisan factories.

In London the lines between work and home are blurred. Her apartment sits above her Shoreditch shop on the corner of Rivington Street. Once a Victorian button factory, it served as a recording studio and strip club before becoming Baker’s “happy retreat”.

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In the store: a friend gave Baker the striking star-shaped light from a fairground (Adrian Lourie)

In her unassuming style, Baker tells me: “I started looking for a business and flat in London in 2012. This place attracted me because it is a beautiful old corner building that hasn’t ever really been altered or had extra floors added, so it is the shortest building on the road.”

She splashed out £980,000 and made her mark. The ground floor is the main showcase for her leather wedges, boots and heels. Painted with a two-coloured rhombic pattern, it is a mishmash of vintage lamps, retro furniture and display stands.

The first floor is an open- plan kitchen and living room which doubles as a gallery (check out the Janette Beckman photography exhibition on punks, running until July 31) while the top floor is an attic-style bedroom and semi-open plan bathroom. Old brick walls and plank floorboards are stained with a star and diamond print that has faded over time.

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Picture this: furniture designer Henry Hardy made this dining table. Deborah Baker filled it with images and art from friends and her travels around the world (Adrian Lourie)

“I love the original features so I tried not to change too much,” she says. “I put a kitchen on the first floor as it was originally in the basement. Most of the work we did was in the shop space. I probably spent about £25,000 in total.”

After a quick browse at her latest collection we settle in the dining area. She places her laptop on a mid-century style table made by furniture designer Henry Hardy. Rather niftily, she has filled the glass top with artwork from friends and her travels around the world.

YouTube is fired up: “In the Sixties, this property was home to The Antiuniversity of London. Rumour has it that Yoko Ono would come and listen to lectures here. This video from 1968 shows footage filmed in this very room.”

As we watch bearded men in over-sized, scruffy jumpers indulge in intellectual chat, the parallels between the Shoreditch of the Sixties and 2016 are stark. So much for those “modern day” hipsters.

Baker describes her style as eclectic and unplanned. “All sorts of stuff appeals to me and I pile it all in and hope for the best.” This applies to her fashion as well as interiors. “I think lots of people with the time, money and inclination dress their houses almost as much as themselves, even changing themes and trends every season,” she muses.

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Art of cooking: the open-plan kitchen and living room doubles as a gallery (Adrian Lourie)

Her colour scheme regularly alters but the base palette tends to consist of aubergine, slate blue, grey, white and black. She sources pieces from eBay and markets such as Portobello or Spitalfields on a Thursday. Her go-to furniture shop for kitchen items and rugs is SCP, rather conveniently on Curtain Road around the corner from the flat. Bedside tables were found in Kokon To Zai on Golborne Road, Notting Hill, while a striking Biba picture came from a vintage shop in Kempton Park.

Her photo of Iggy Pop, a present from photographer friend Danny Clinch, is a prized possession and another pal is responsible for a striking star-shaped light from a fairground. “I love my De Sede sofa as it is so very comfy. It is sectional and each bit folds out into a bed. I like its versatility for when friends want to stay over,” she says. Then there is Lola: “A completely useless and slightly cumbersome life-size fibreglass mannequin. She was apparently a prop in the stage production of Hair and is a bit bizarre.”

Inspiration comes from all over: “The wallpaper at Madame Jojo’s or the tiny courtyard and bar at Trisha’s in Soho, a great toilet tiled with Scrabble pieces in a restaurant somewhere or the decadently overcrowded upstairs at the Bridge Bar on Kingsland Road. The V&A and the Barbican are contrasting favourites of mine.”

Forever thinking of new ways to evolve her space, Baker is working with an architect friend to increase the shop size by opening up the basement, redoing the stairs and possibly building up half a storey. “I still have spotlights in the ceiling so I’m just waiting for the renovation day when I will change those as I do like pendant lamps a lot and I have a collection of them to be used. Plus, I have some nice Fifties brass wall and table lamps.”

Beyond Britain, there is a shop in Downtown Los Angeles on the cards, a premises in the city centre of Bologna and the conversion of the barn next to her Italian farmhouse in the country. In her words, she likes a project.


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