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Londoners' love affair with design may have been only lukewarm in years past, but these days the two can't keep their hands off each other. The recent passion for high style, which has brought us such eagerly anticipated openings as Jasper Conran and Paul Smith's Albemarle Street outpost, has also spawned a whole litter of excellent shops. There are fêted establishment designers producing sleek items that appeal to international tastes. Quirky design cooperatives are dreaming up new genres in far-off precincts like Hoxton and the Oxo Tower. And in between is a mixed group of midcentury modernists, contemporary design scouts, and stalwart antiques dealers, whose collections seem to grow richer every month.


The Conran Shop For years this has been the first stop for seeing what's new in the design realm. Lately the mix has been livened up with vintage finds—a Victorian shirt cabinet here, French farmhouse tables there—slipped in alongside, say, a wild glass-top console with curvy scarlet legs. It's particularly useful for gifts; le tout London stops in for toys, gadgets, kitchen implements, design books, candles, even food. At Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd.; 44-207/589-7401;

Geoffrey Drayton The eponymous owner of this Euston shop hotfoots it back from the Milan furniture fair every year to be among the first to present the latest treasures of the design world. Look for pieces from Driade, Cassina, Antonio Citterio (one of the current darlings on the Italian scene), Piero Lissoni, and Patricia Urquiola, along with perennial favorites such as Karim Rashid's stacking "butterfly" chairs. $ At 85 Hampstead Rd.; 44-207/387-5840;

Purves & Purves Here is another place that's impressively up-to-date, with the best pieces from all the great furniture shows. The true strength of Purves, however, is that it manages to make contemporary design fun and funky rather than solemn and ascetic. Besides a collection of serious high-end furnishings, the store also carries an assortment of clever, lighthearted doodads, such as teapots, clocks, and soap dishes. At 222 Tottenham Court Rd.; 44-207/580-8223;

SCP It might be a trek to get to this part of industrial London, but then again only a huge warehouse could hold SCP's remarkably broad stock of contemporary design. Besides manufacturing furniture by the new generation of British designers—like Matthew Hilton, Jasper Morrison, and Terence Woodgate—SCP also offers midcentury classics by Eames, Eileen Gray, and Verner Panton. There are lots of tabletop items, too: Carl Rotter glasses, Wilhelm Wagenfeld's see-through teapot, Alessi coffee cups, and the like. $ At 135–139 Curtain Rd.; 44-207/739-1869;

Viaduct This is one of the best places for contemporary furniture: Nearly all the big names—including Driade, Montis, Philippe Starck, and Ingo Maurer—are here, with big price tags to match. The large, airy showroom also displays accessories, lighting, and tableware that carry a design pedigree. $ At 1–10 Summers St.; 44-207/278-8456;


Aram One of the coolest stores in town occupies a huge Covent Garden warehouse. It's stocked not only with classics from all the 20th-century masters—Shiro Kuramata, Breuer, Eileen Gray (whom owner Zeev Aram rediscovered and whose official resale license he retains)—but plenty of avant-garde pieces as well. The top floor serves as a showcase for these new collections. While a classic Gray table will cost you around $500 and a Kuramata curving chest of drawers some $16,000, you could leave with a beautiful notebook for $40. At 110 Drury Ln.; 44-207/557-7557;

B&B Italia This outpost for the Italian company's sleek, sumptuous take on minimalism now includes smaller, more accessible items, such as plates designed by Marcel Wanders, lovely resin table accessories by Martha Sturdy, gorgeous vases by Johanna Grawunder, and lamps by Ettore Sottsass. And since a person in the market for a B&B Italia sofa is also likely to fall for a Boffi kitchen, the two aesthetically like-minded firms now display their products side by side in the showroom. At 250 Brompton Rd.; 44-207/ 591-8111;

TwentyTwentyOne No dealer does fine reeditions of great 20th-century furniture better than these sister shops. Here you will find Breuer's Wassily chair, the Barcelona, Le Corbusier Grand Confort, and just about every other significant creation from the last 75 years. None of it is cheap, but everything is finely made. If you are not searching for sofas or a side table, there are also terrific small finds, from kitchenware to watches. At 274 Upper St., 44-207/288-1996, and 18C River St., 44-207/837-1900;


Flow In the wilder reaches of Notting Hill, this quirky shop has a steady stream of winningly oddball pieces arriving regularly. There's avant-garde jewelry (roses crafted from felt or chunks of cut glass), toys from African craft cooperatives, limited-edition wall hangings, decorative vases, and one-of-a-kind sculptures. The jewelry can run as low as $90, and the toys from Africa start at about $500. At 1–5 Needham Rd.; 44-207/243-0782;

Liberty This is perhaps the only department store in the city that consistently gets its home furnishings right. The eclectic collection mingles fine vintage items—some old, like a tattered 18th-century chair, others of mid-20th-century provenance—with modern ones. Among the best of the new bunch are the experimental works of Established & Sons, along with the creations of a quirky label called Squint, which specializes in upholstering old settees and chairs in bright Liberty prints. The store is also the only outlet in the United Kingdom for Svenskt Tenn, the famous Swedish purveyors of Josef Frank's vibrant fabric and small pieces of furniture. At Regent St.; 44-207/734-1234;

Mint This tiny emporium is on every design aficionado's list of places to regularly drop in to—you never know what you'll come across. A recent visit turned up some delicate handmade ceramics from an innovative new designer, wonderful mirrors in baroque transparent resin frames, a group of papier-mâché Chinese urns, and a few pieces of classic French pottery. Prices aren't outrageous; a lovely little cup might cost $50, a wildly eccentric antique mirror $1,000 or more. At 70 Wigmore St.; 44-207/224-4406;

Nicole Farhi Home Adding home decor to her line of fashion, Farhi brings together an enchanting mix of French flea market finds: worn leather chairs, library steps, eglomise-top tables, exquisite ceramics, huge bell jars, deliciously scented candles—and anything else that catches her clever eye. A Mariage Frères candle goes for $70, a cozy broken-in armchair for $3,500. At 17 Clifford St.; 44-207/494-9051;

Paul Smith The highly regarded menswear designer has long had a fascination with every aspect of design. Now his taste has gotten even more—or is it less?—refined with this new shop devoted to all things kitsch. Virtually the entire stock consists of found objects—an old wooden boat, some interesting buttons, mismatched teacups, a Victorian sofa reupholstered in a Paul Smith fabric. Their only common characteristic is that each item is one of a kind. At 9 Albemarle St.; 44-207/493-4565;


After Noah The strength of these two shops is in how they take vintage furniture and lighting and give them greater design credence than they probably had in their day. Old hospitable furniture, Anglepoise lights, enamelware, school desks, Shaker-style children's chairs all look somehow fresh and modern. The interesting jumble of inexpensive finds, such as vintage kitchen utensils, also makes this place good for a rummage. $ At 261 King's Rd., 44-207/351-2610, and 121 Upper St., 44-207/359-4281;

B&T Antiques Art Deco glamour is the stock in trade here, some of it period, some not. No matter the provenance, owner Bernadette Lewis picks every object with a keen sense of what makes a modern interior. You'll find Venetian mirrors and other reflective surfaces alongside, say, a steel chair from a French factory or a sleek desk from Jazz Age New York. At 47 Ledbury Rd.; 44-207/229-7001;

Vessel Devoted entirely to ceramics, this lovely shop features work from stars of the avant-garde—Hella Jongerius, Ted Muehling, Marcel Wanders—with prices in the hundreds of dollars and up, up, up. At 114 Kensington Park Rd.; 44-207/727-8001;

Willer Rebecca Willer, a woman of enormous taste and design erudition, has introduced a limited but very exquisite collection of home accessories. Among the standouts are reissues of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's silver candlesticks; glass by Massimo Micheluzzi; and Han dynasty cocoon jars. Willer carries a few small furniture pieces as well: The stools by both Poul Kjaerholm and Isamu Noguchi are especially fine. At 12 Holland St.; 44-207/937-3518;


Birgit Israel Catering to the luxe-minded bohemian, this store is full of "personality" pieces, such as a pair of nicely shabby French leather club chairs, Art Deco lamps, a classic Finnish sideboard, and a set of kooky gilt Italian chairs upholstered in purple velvet. You could spend less than $200 on a highly decorative cushion or quite a bit more on a splendid Deco table. At 301 Fulham Rd.; 44-207/376-7255;

Labour and Wait A surprise hit when it opened six years ago, Labour and Wait goes on doing its very own thing—glorifying the old-fashioned household equipment that our grandmothers were supposed to have used. Look out for sturdy brooms and brushes, enamelware, tin cups and pans, old-fashioned glass, rope, and twine. $ At 18 Cheshire St.; 44-207/729-6253;

Soane The limited-edition furniture and lighting here, in one of the most gorgeous assortments in London, is made by some of Europe's top artists and craftsmen. Those truly in the know, however, make use of Soane's bespoke service. The shop will adapt any of its designs (chandeliers, mantels, garden chaises) to various sizes and materials—or they'll create something entirely unique from scratch. At 50 Pimlico Rd.; 44-207/730-6400;


David Gill Galleries Equal parts shopkeeper, collector, and curator, Gill has one of the best eyes in town. Using his expertise in 20th-century decorative arts, he combines well-known midcentury designs with avant-garde work by the world's finest artisans. He's introduced London to a host of memorable names, from Oriel Harwood to Garouste and Bonetti (when the two were partners). His recent exhibitions have included Bonetti's limited-edition stainless-steel cabinets and Tamara Jones's wonderful lights that resemble creamy cabbages and pineapples. Everything is extraordinary and nothing is cheap. At 60 Fulham Rd., 44-207/589-5946, and 3 Loughborough St., 44-207/793-1100;

Egg Maureen Doherty, a former assistant to Issey Miyake and widely considered a London tastemaker, offers mainly clothing by the Italian fashion designer Daniela Gregis. But she also stages elegant exhibits of ceramics, silver, or other fine craftsmanship; she is always unearthing new talent. Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, and Yohji Yamamoto all keep an eye on Egg for Doherty's next discovery. At 36 Kinnerton St.; 44-207/235-9315.

Oggetti The nearest London has to Manhattan's Moss, Oggetti features great design from almost every era. There's no furniture here, only the little things that tell the world you know your stuff: Carl Rotter glasses for $150, beautiful wooden toys from Switzerland that cost next to nothing, a $15 tape measure, and exquisite Alvar Aalto vases that sell for upwards of $175. $ At 135 Fulham Rd.; 44-207/584-9808.

Oggetti The nearest London has to Manhattan's Moss, Oggetti features great design from almost every era. There's no furniture here, only the little things that tell the world you know your stuff: Carl Rotter glasses for $150, beautiful wooden toys from Switzerland that cost next to nothing, a $15 tape measure, and exquisite Alvar Aalto vases that sell for upwards of $175. $ At 135 Fulham Rd.; 44-207/584-9808.

Rabih Hage This is the epicenter of truly radical design. The last exhibition displayed recycled furniture; other shows have focused on Gaetano Pesce's strange but beautiful lights that look more like invertebrates than lamps. At 69–71 Sloane Ave.; 44-207/823-8288;

Themes & Variations Somewhere between functional and art, the collection at this bright, spacious gallery features sculptural lighting, furnishings by Fornasetti, and numerous one-of-a-kind objects by Paul Evans and Gio Ponti. At 231 Westbourne Grove; 44-207/727-5531;


Appley Hoare Antiques Patina seems to be the overarching theme at this all-French antiques shop. Just about everything—wrought-iron furniture, garden statuary, wonderful old linens, grand armoires—is faded, cracked, or peeling. But marvelously so, and at lofty prices. At 30 Pimlico Rd.; 44-207/730-7070;

Guinevere Antiques One of the city's most beautiful shops presents a fine medley of Tang clay figures, French linen, antique silver, crystal glasses, and many other desirables from Chinese palaces, French Provincial châteaux, Italian palazzi, and the grand old houses of England. A handblown drinking glass runs about $120, lovely linen towels around $90. The choicer antiques cost much, much more. At 574–580 King's Rd.; 44-207/736-2917;

Judy Greenwood This is French Provincial charm laid on thick. Greenwood has amassed a number of utterly delicious items, such as chandeliers, vintage drinking glasses, and oversize china cabinets. The prices are seductive, too: Chandeliers are only a few hundred dollars, and old armoires start at about $1,800. $ At 657–659 Fulham Rd.; 44-207/736-6037.



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