Earlier this year, House of Hackney moved its headquarters into the former clergy house of the Church of St Michaels, tucked into a maze of residential streets and ecclesiastical buildings in East London. The clergy house, built in 1865, is a fascinating Grade II-listed network of grand rooms with imposing gothic windows and original period features. Working with the architecture, design and branding studio Busby Webb, House of Hackney has transformed each of the house’s rooms into a typically maximalist, palatial interpretation of how the dedicated House of Hackney-holic might live. Enormous bespoke bed-frames, expert paint-wallpaper clashes and ornate antique furniture coalesce to paint a picture of a deliciously reclusive, Piranesi-like inhabitant with a penchant for sprawling floral motifs and leopard print lampshades.
The bold decision to invest in a ‘retail in residence’ approach in a web of residential streets in Shoreditch (instead of a standard shopfront on a high street) has been a success already, and with exciting collaborations and US expansion underway, the founders, husband and wife duo Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle, are ready to talk about the success of their House.
The couple founded House of Hackney from their kitchen table in 2011, committing to pattern and colour in ways they knew the design industry needed. The appetite for House of Hackney’s wares is unwavering; there’s something about the Charlotte Perkins Gilman-meets-luxurious boutique hotel aesthetic that has us hooked. Somehow, the patterns feel at once maddeningly oppressive and light-heartedly jocular, as beautiful as a kaleidoscope, as alluring as the darker, more ominous route at the fork of the road.
It is this same feeling that overcomes visitors on the approach to the St Michael’s House of Hackney showroom. Set in a hidden enclave away from the hubbub of Shoreditch, it has remained remarkably untouched as the city around it has grown. It hides in plain sight in an understated public garden; only a swing sign emblazoned with the scrolling monogram logo tells you that you have arrived. Ivy appears to pour from the stained-glass windows of the perpendicular church of St Michael’s proper, cascading down its walls to meet the wisteria covering the short cloisters that form the entrance to the showroom.
Behind the wrought iron gates, also set with a golden monogram, are reclaimed church pews, their cushions upholstered in fabric unmistakably attributable House of Hackney. The flagrant romanticism, eerie familiarity and completely subverted magic of it all is enough to give one the feeling of stepping straight into an Angela Carter novel.
Setting the house up as a home offers an emotive sensory experience of the brand and depicts a rich tapestry of living.Frieda Gormley, co-founder, House of Hackney
“As soon as we saw the outside of St Michael’s, we knew it had to be our home,” says Gormley, who first set eyes on this architectural prize in 2021 and got the keys just before the new year. “The building itself had stood empty for almost a year before we took it over and there was so much to do to it. It was a full team effort to get the space opened by March 2022,” she continues. For Gormley and Royle, the clergy house at St Michael’s provides something of an ideal backdrop for House of Hackney’s collections, which now include collaborations with Axminster Carpets, Anthropologie, tile manufacturer, Craven Dunnill Jackfield, and LA-based designers, Pierce & Ward. “It acts as a miniature museum for irreverent British design,” she says, “juxtaposing gothic architecture with a modern use of colour.”
Consolidating their discovery of St Michael’s and its visual impact with the future of their brand catalysed a moment of reflection for Gormley and Royle. “The process was thought-provoking,” says Gormley, “and really gave us pause for how we wanted to showcase House of Hackney more broadly.” It’s clear to see that for the company’s founders, the approach to branding was always going to be immersive, experiential and, above all, memorable. With St Michael’s, Gormley and Royle set out to impress their customers, giving them “a brand experience that really brings to life who we are and what we stand for.”
In the same vein, Gormley and Royle also wanted to do the clergy house justice, drawing on its history as a residential property and dressing it accordingly. “We wanted to honour the building’s original features and so not only did we treat it like a real residence, but we also wanted to acknowledge what each of those rooms would have been when it was first built in the late 19th century.” The clergy house is set across four storeys and divided into six rooms, each of which is extremely well appointed with sumptuous furniture, antiques that Gormley and Royle sourced themselves, and all the staple House of Hackney accessories for which the company has become best known. The Parlour is the saccharinely salmon-pink reception room where visitors are received by staff from behind an enormous wooden, Gothic desk. The Snug, The Music Room, The Bedroom and The Bathroom are for lingering longingly within, admiring the way the collections, patterns and colours work so cohesively in a residential environment. “Setting the house up as a home offers an emotive sensory experience of the brand and depicts a rich tapestry of living,” Gormley says.
The final and perhaps most intriguing room is The Playroom, which houses all manner of samples and shares its name with the new, bespoke technology that House of Hackney developed with the tech company, 4Roads. The unprecedented technology allows visitors and clients to mix and match paints and wallpapers on an interface, projecting the scheme onto a wall to visualise the scheme in true scale as if it were in their own homes. “One thing we always talk about,” says Gormley, “is ‘bridging the imagination gap’, so it was important to us that each space, aided by the technology in The Playroom, did that.”
While the House of Hackney St Michael’s flagship could be seen as one of the finest examples of experiential branding in recent years, does Gormley expect to see a return on the investment in the near future? “It has helped us to have a more expansive, expressive HQ,” she says, adding: “It’s been interesting and we’ve learnt a lot. We’ve found our stride here now, and old and new customers know where to find us. Our customers know that we offer something different to what other homeware brands bring to the table.”
However, Gormley is highly aware of the perils that could come from moving away from a traditional model with a high street presence. Could this be fatal, creating friction points, decreasing footfall and a valuable share of the high street to competitors? Gormley answers confidently: “There are pros and cons to moving away from a more traditional bricks-and-mortar offering. We thought long and hard about it, but for telling our brand story in a physical way that plays into all the senses, this was the right move for us.” So, what’s next for this zeitgeist-attuned, self-aware and boundary-pushing company? Well, going stateside, of course.
“We have just opened our New York Design Center showroom,” Gormley tells us, a move she believes will be game-changing for the company’s trade presence in the US. “We’ve already had such a strong reaction to it.” For Gormley, interior design is “shifting in the US, especially in states like New York and California where people are becoming bolder, playing with print and colour like never before.”
But what is it about House of Hackney specifically that has caught the American gaze? “They love the British confidence of it,” she says. It sounds like she might be onto something.
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