Temple & Webster’s Head of Styling Jess Bellef recently took a trip to check out some of the world’s best design in London. Here she shares her highlights and must-visit spots in this fascinating city.

They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but you could safely say London has a critical case of insomnia and it’s not getting cured anytime soon. I was in London recently for the London Design Festival, 9 days of non-stop events, installations and exhibitions and no less than 550 items in the programme. I criss-crossed the city, taking in as much design stuff as I could. But the great thing about London is that even if a massive global celebration of design isn’t happening, there is more than enough to see. From restaurants that rendered me speechless to hidden greenhouses in the middle of the city, it’s hard to choose my favourite moment, but here is a selection…

Right - the whimsical Gallery tea room at Sketch. Left - cute slogans adorn teacups and teapots

Left – the whimsical Gallery tea room at Sketch. Right – cute slogans adorn teacups and teapots.

Never before have I been so ‘gah-struck’ by an interior. Having admired the design of the Gallery at Sketch London from afar for a long while, I really did have a moment as I walked into the restaurant for afternoon tea. The space hummed with the perfect shade of whipped sugar pink. The multi-hued chevron marble floor was off set by channeled pink velvet seating, brass accents and quirky David Shrigley cartoon art on the wall. The music was ridiculously chic and the staff were dressed in elegantly effortless linen t-shirt dresses splashed with a stunning watercolour print. Every detail was incredible and much to the annoyance of my dining partner, I spent the first 15 minutes of our afternoon tea in silence as I absorbed every beautiful moment. We ate and drank, but to be honest, they could have served week-old leftovers and I would have left on a high.

Left - small, brightly-coloured shops in Camden Passage. Right - tables of bric-a-brac in the passage market.

Left – small, brightly-coloured shops in Camden Passage. Right – tables of bric-a-brac in the passage market.

My walk through Camden Passage on market day was a complete coincidence and what a lovely thing it was to stumble upon. The pedestrian-only streets were filled with trestle tables laden with bric a brac, collectables and interesting old wares. A mix of antique dealers and specialty retailers populate the tiny alleys, with the front windows hinting at the treasures inside. I particularly loved The African Waistcoat Company and Penhaligons, a London perfumer established in 1870.

Left - the beautiful Abigail Ahern store. Right - hidden coffee spot at the Coffee Works Project.

Left – the beautiful Abigail Ahern store. Right – hidden coffee spot at the Coffee Works Project.

The Abigail Ahern store is not far from Camden Passage and is a must-visit for anyone who owns Ahern’s books or follows her on Instagram. The interior designer is known for her dramatic moody interiors and her store follows suit as a dark cave of beautiful pieces. Ahern’s newest range of home wares touches on native tribal style, with lots of textural neutrals and naive shapes. Faux flowers and plants were in abundance and the lovely staff were telling me their customers can’t get enough of the realistic florals. I stopped for coffee at The Coffee Works Project and got a nice surprise when I decided to take the coffee in their garden. Heading through to the outdoor area, I passed an incredible room with it’s walls clad in bric a brac spray painted white and the floors crudely mosaiced in chunks of white tile. In London, everything is an opportunity for artistic expression.

Left - a detailed tea set in the Petersham Nurseries retail space. Right - The perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and cheese platter.

Left – a detailed tea set in the Petersham Nurseries retail space. Right – The perfect spot to enjoy wine and cheese.

Petersham Nurseries is a totally charming lifestyle destination that you can get to by ambling through English countryside. What could possibly be more quaint? This West London nursery has extended it’s offering to a retail space filled with beautifully rustic home wares and a Michelin starred teahouse venue. We arrived later in the afternoon, unaware of their 5pm closing time. We nibbled at a tasty cheeseboard and enjoyed glass of rose in the glass-roofed restaurant and then finished with a spin through the dirt-floored home wares store. I quite literally had to be dragged out of the store because the suffering staff wanted to close for the day.

Left - palms galore in the Palm House at Kew Gardens. Right - greenery takes over in the Barbican Conservatory.

Left – palms galore in the Palm House at Kew Gardens. Right – greenery takes over in the Barbican Conservatory.

Listen up plant-lovers, I’ve got the hot tips. You must visit the Palm House at Kew Gardens in West London and the Barbican Conservatory in central London. The Palm House dates back to the  Victorian era and is an elegant structure of ornate iron with humidity levels through the glass canopy. The steamy greenhouse features two beautiful spiral staircases, an underground aquarium and a potted palm tree that has survived in the no-so secret garden since 1848. Magical. The other extremely cool plant place to visit is the Barbican Conservatory, which is located in the 1970’s Brutulist apartment and art centre complex The Barbican. In the conservatory, the plants literally take over the concrete-block building in the centre of the space. There is a arid room filled with cacti of all kind and you can have afternoon tea under the peaked glass roof. Wandering through the space, I forgot I was in the middle of London.

Beautiful fresh flowers line the street at the famous Columbia Road Flower Market.

Beautiful fresh flowers and plants line the street at the famous Columbia Road Flower Market.

Each Sunday in East London, the popular Columbia Road Flower Markets jams itself into a tight cobblestone street lined with sweet boutiques. It is a buzzing corridor of ginormous hydrangeas, sunflowers that tower over the crowd and all kinds of potted green. My host was on a mission to freshen his apartment with plants so we bought monsteria leaves and large boston ferns. I slipped into one of the artisan stores on the street and bought a set of hand carved salad severs from One Four Six and they now proudly sit amongst my wooden spoon collection (don’t judge me!). We had imbibed a little too much the night before so taking refuge at The Royal Oak pub with a bloody mary was a welcome way to end the Columbia Road exploration.

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