Aria is located in an atmospheric space in Islington’s Barnsbury Hall. Many of the building’s original features have been restored and they now contrast beautifully with the über-modern lines of contemporary furniture and homewares. High-quality designers’ pieces are here, as are more unusual pieces like Fornasetti’s black and white hand-painted wall plates (£135) and the Bourgie table light by Ferruccio Laviani (£199). This mix, teamed with a very nice in-store coffee bar, makes Aria a pleasure to visit. Chairs are a speciality, with Starck and Patrick Jouin well represented. Smaller stand-outs include a Fisheye Kompact camera (£49.95) and pretty Taika bowl (£16.50) that would make a great gift, especially if it had some of Aria’s very tempting selection of toiletries (Cowshed, Savon de Marseilles) nestled inside it. Check out the store's recently revamped website, which now features a gift list.
This tiny retro furniture and design emporium is hidden just past Broadway Market and beside the canal, in a ground-floor unit of artists hub Regent Studios. Crammed with artfully presented vintage furniture (with lots of 1960s-style chairs and tables) and curios such as retro alarm clocks, desk lamps, stylish coat stands, framed insects, animal skulls, shopkeepers’ display cabinets, classic tins and bottles, old typewriters, as well as a selection of framed contemporary art. Get here early on a Saturday for rich pickings before E8’s fashionistas wake up, and then head to the market for brunch. Dog & Wardrobe also provide a design service.
Mint feels like a Dalí painting come to life, with its hand-picked and specially commissioned furniture, glassware, textiles and ceramics arranged like an avant-garde curiosity shop. Owner Lina Kanafani fills her two-level space with international designs, and form and colour play a large part in her selections. Much of Mint’s stock could be considered as art with a capital ‘a’, a fact reflected in the prices. Louise Hindsgavl’s porcelain stunning one-off piece Everyday Scenario, Surgery Suggestion (£1,400), would be hard to define as anything other than sculpture, and Ezgi Turksoy’s limited edition sterling silver spoons (from £550) are hardly everyday items, but the vintage pieces add to the sense of the unique, and there are plenty of smaller, more affordable items too; Katie Lilly’s hand-decorated plates are adorable (£60).
While Terence Conran pioneered the idea of modernism in Britain back in the 1960s, he’s always had an impressively sharp eye for the decorative too, and nowhere is this more evident than at the Fulham Road flagship. The furniture here ranges from design classics, such as the Eames Dar chair, to collaborations with established designers, such as the colourful Oswald sofa with Squint, to more prosaic but well-designed armchairs, tables, storage units and beds.
Much stock is exclusive and Conran mixes them in among classics to create inspirational room settings on the ground floor. The basement is home to a vast array of lighting (with some innovative designs), tableware and accessories and a strong, recently expanded range of inventive kids’ things.
It’s always a tight squeeze in this petite boutique just off Lamb’s Conduit Street. But despite its diminutive scale, there’s plenty packed in at Ben Pentreath, from kitchenware and stationery, to cushions and candles. True, this place is an ideal gift destination, but as you’re buying your mate a gorgeous glass tray lacquered with a vintage map of London, you just might find yourself stocking up on those trendy Kilner jars you suddenly need.
Heal’s may be the grand old dame of interiors stores, but its happy combination of excellent sourcing, helpful staff and a layout that’s constantly being reinvented means it manages to stay relevant. Heal’s commitment to sourcing new designers is impressive, while established names such as Orla Kiely, Clarissa Hulse, LSA and the Designers Guild are also well represented among the mirrors, rugs, bedlinen, clocks, cushions, art and photography available. The store’s ground floor is the most fun for casual browsers, offering a cornucopia of table- and kitchenware, toiletries and gift items, plus a terrific lighting department boasting such delights as Tom Dixon’s Beat pendant shades range. First and second floors house the bulk of the furniture, and for mid-century modernist fans, there’s a great selection of vintage Danish furniture. Branches 234 King’s Road, SW3 5UA (7349 8411); 49-51 Eden Street, KT1 1BW (8614 5900)
Stylish and accessible interiors shop Pitfield London is spread across a big double-fronted former office block, and is the retail arm of celebrated interior designer Shaun Clarkson. Clarkson (and business partner Paul Brewster) fill the space with pieces procured at home and abroad (the resourceful pair travel every month and raid local markets and manufacturers) and you’ll find all manner of stylish homewares, from brightly coloured 1970s sofas to vintage glasswear, Syrian soaps, exclusive Indian rugs and ultra modern wallpaper from London designers. The blend of old and new, pricey and thrifty, lends the shop its distinctive character. Stock is replenished constantly, giving passers-by every reason to make a daily stop, if only to linger in its café which serves stacks of meringues and cakes with the papers. When we visited, an arty local sat by the window with a designer dog that we suspected might have been brought in for aesthetic effect. In short, it’s the kind of lifestyle space you could imagine in the Meatpacking District of New York, or El Born in Barcelona.
New and vintage design meet in this design store beloved of, and frequented by, Islington’s substantial coterie of architects, designers and other assorted trendies. Quality, beautifully-designed homeware is carefully sourced and advice on investing in classic retro furniture (or splashing out on a contemporary piece) is always on hand. If money is tight, hold out for one of Twentytwentyone's many sample sales, often offering up to 75 percent off ex-display and discontinued items.
It's almost fifty years since Terence Conran launched Habitat and ever since its been synonymous with cheap but cheerful contemporary home style. Despite all but three branches going into administration in 2011 and being bought by the Home Retail group (who also own Argos and Homebase) the brand lives on. With Polly Dickens, formerly of the Conran Shop and Anthropologie, as its new creative director, the spring/summer 2013 collection is looking stronger than ever – there are plenty of appealing punchy colours, simple modern shapes and economic-crisis sensitive prices. We dig the cobalt blue Lyra ratan side table, £100 and simple Talia dining chairs in bright tomato red and canary yellow for £99 each.
Joining its chichi neighbours, Folklore brings simple, modern homewares to Islington’s Upper Street. With its white painted floorboards and pale wooden shop fittings it has that ever-appealing Scandinavian feel. Owner – trained interior designer Danielle Reid – sources stock from across Europe, the US and London, and she has a knack of spotting fresh homegrown design talent. Recent finds include Dalston-based Naomi Paul, who makes pendular chrochet lampshades and Peckham designers Hendzel and Hunt, who use reclaimed wood in their beautiful bespoke furniture. The emphasis is on sustainable design, exemplified by the giant lampshades made from rolls of discarded cardboard boxes or papier mâché table lamps by Trash Me, £79. Looking for a smart, original house-warming gift? Start here.
More great places to find treasures for your home
La Maison Maille
Amongst rows of impeccably kept shops in the grand old Piccadilly Arcade stands La Maison Maille, a chic boutique for foodies. Beyond the black and gold exterior lies row upon row of mustard pots, vinegar and the world's first mustard macaron. Since 1996 Maille has produced limited edition mustards. One that's particularly sought-after is their seasonal black truffle and chablis, which is sold in sandstone jars once a year – conveniently just before Christmas. Prices start from £5.50 per jar, £6.95 for vinegar, and £29 for that truffle chablis. You'll also find gift sets, accessories, dressings and few other items instore. Plus, you can have a handful of mustards pumped straight from the tap, like you're at a condiments pub.