With craft credentials stretching back as far as the early 18th century, Clerkenwell has a long-established reputation as a hub of creativity and design. Boasting over 200 architecture firms, and around 80 furniture design showrooms, its quiet streets and converted warehouses are home to what is reportedly one of the greatest concentrations of creative businesses in the world.
And yet, like the rest of central London, skyrocketing rents mean that for many of its smaller scale designer makers, direct access to the buying public is limited. One of the exceptions, of course, is the colourful little shop on the corner of Clerkenwell Green, home for more than 25 years to craft and design charity Craft Central.
The organisation works to support a network of more than 650 designer-makers and craftspeople by offering affordable studio space in its two historic buildings, practical business help, and opportunities to showcase their wares in its gallery spaces and at hugely popular open studio events. At ground level the aptly named ‘Corner Shop’ is available for makers to rent out for one-week pop-up shops at heavily discounted rates, operating as a sort of window into the heart of creative London.
Chief executive officer Louisa Pacifico says the shop exemplifies Craft Central’s primary aim to foster the talent of designer-makers in the UK. “Having the space is such a great opportunity for them to build brand awareness,” she says. “This is an audience that is educated about design and also heavily invested in it.”
Almost a decade after launch, bookings for the shop is at 90% capacity, with a carefully curated timetable of jewellers, ceramists, illustrators, milliners, glaziers and every craft in between.
Among upcoming highlights is Anna Barlow, whose ceramic dessert pieces will send sweet tooths into meltdown from 27 February. In March, former Liberty in-house designer Gina Pipet will be moving in with her hugely popular line of contemporary silk scarves, while in May the lease falls to crafty couple Max Bainbridge and Abigail Booth of Forest and Found and their collection of sculptural wooden vessels and textile pieces.
These are some fairly big names for an organisation that has been going through a development phase since Louisa joined just over a year ago, slowly building up a member network of some of the UK’s top craftspeople. “My first port of call when I joined was to find out who’s actually in the buildings around us,” she says.
Among those she discovered from banging on doors was a goldsmith working with the world’s top jewellery designers and an al fresco painter who was dabbing his brush on royal households. “The talent occupying this part of London is unbelievable and why it wasn’t being exposed is beyond me.”
Louisa says that being smack bang in the middle of a design-conscious area means a general appreciation for the work that goes into the products, but the growing popularity of events like Clerkenwell Design Week and Made In Clerkenwell (both in May) have helped introduce new audiences.
“I think the public appreciation for designer-makers really is turning a corner,” she says. “The market has been completely saturated by throwaway products – people’s flats are full of them – and they are starting to make a conscious decision to perhaps spend a bit more on something that will last longer.”
Craft Central’s Corner Shop is at 21 Clerkenwell Green EC1R 0DX