Glasgow-based textile design duo Timorous Beasties has always given the impression of being relatively patriotic. So it’s odd that they have opened a store in London’s Islington. But the two co-founder Beasties (as they are affectionately known), Paul Simmons and Alistair McAuley, hotly deny that they are forgetting their roots. ‘We’ve been thinking of opening a shop in London for a year. London is the most natural market for us outside Glasgow,’ says Simmons.
Its location – on Amwell Street – was all-important. ‘It’s what I call a “Mr Benn street”, like an old village, with its butchers, dairy and other small, independent traders. It’s the opposite of the homogenised, global high street,’ he adds.
What Simmons is implying is that its fabric, wallpapers and rug designs, which ‘are hand-made and increasingly bespoke’ are better appreciated on a street chock-full of stylish, independent shops like this one. ‘People are becoming more and more sophisticated and asking us for one-off designs,’ the Beasties explain. Textile designer Wallace Sewell has a shop here and Twentytwentyone has a store on adjoining River Street.
At first, the new shop, all white and gallery-like, seems clinical, although there are witty touches: a trestle table for wallpapering is used as the main table in the basement. But the pristine interior makes sense – Timorous Beasties’ sumptuously colourful, broadstroke, large-scale designs cry out for a calm, neutral backdrop. The papers and fabrics – including the iconic Glasgow Toile (a satirical twist on an 18th-century toile de Jouy with its scenes of junkies and winos in Glasgow’s working-class Firhill area) and Devil Damask Lace (made of high quality lace, is a chic and challenging take on net curtains) – hang like banners from the ceiling. ‘We don’t agree with showing fabrics and wallpapers in a sample book. It doesn’t give you an idea of anything. Plus, a lot of our designs are to do with scale,’ says Simmons.
This proves to be something of an understatement when McAuley goes into more detail. ‘We’re wrapping one side of a shopping centre by the M74 motorway near Glasgow with one of our designs,’ says McAuley. ‘We’re also providing wallpapers for BBC Scotland’s new offices in Glasgow, and huge blinds and fabrics for the Premier Lounge for Eurostar customers at the new St Pancras International station in London [which opens in November].’
Their next venture? It is to go almost microscopically small. ‘We’re learning how to copperplate-engrave our designs with a view to printing these on fabrics,’ says Simmons. ‘The line you get is more precise than when you work digitally – and you get a much more subtle range of tones. Only three people in the UK know how to do this, so it’s a vanishing skill.’
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