Welcome to the second post in the new confessions of a design geek series; explore. Last month, Happy Interior Blog editor Igor Josif showed us around Munich. This month Clare Howdle, partner at writing agency Stranger Collective, my step-sister and one of the most inspiring people I know, shows us around Falmouth. Over to Clare…
First up, a caveat to this post. I’m a writer. I run a small writing agency with big ideas down in Cornwall. I’m not a designer. Nor am I a design blogger. I can’t draw and I don’t take pictures as often as I should. But I do love design. And culture. And stunning vistas and creative thinking and life in all its glory. Which is why I love Falmouth. And why I jumped at the chance to do a ‘design walk’ around my town.
Thanks to the 150 year-old art school – now university – here, Falmouth is a vibrant place. An haven of creativity in a county more commonly associated with buckets and spades and stomach-lining pastries. Hundreds of the best art, design and media graduates launch their careers from Falmouth every year and many of them choose to stay – setting up cafes and galleries, boutiques and markets which together see the waterside town constantly shifting and changing; an ever-eclectic mix of new ideas and old soul.
Falmouth’s maritime heritage surrounds you the moment you step out onto the street. So where better to start my walk than in a spot that combines both sea and history? Head into Falmouth by driving along the river and you’ll find plenty of on-street spots to park. Follow your nose towards town and you’ll find an arch bridging the crest of a hill, before descending into what Falmouthians call The Old High Street. From this point, you can look out across the river Fal to Flushing and marvel at the view. It’s a cold, crisp February day when I start my ‘walk’ and consequently it’s hard to tear my eyes away from the panorama and head down into town but I do, and I’m glad.
The Old High Street is home to Falmouth’s antique quarter, where bric-a-brac emporiums and mid-century specialists sit contentedly side-by-side. The former Town Hall plays home to one such shop. On the right of the road as you enter the Old High Street stretch you’ll find Old Town Hall Antiques. Packed full of crafted crystal, Georgian furniture and the occasional covetable midwinter crockery set, this is the place to see product design that spans the centuries and lose yourself for a few hours. I challenge you to emerge without at least one item wrapped in newspaper – mine was a gold-plated 1960s notepad and pencil – perfect. (Town Hall Antiques, 3 Old High Street TR11 2AB 01326 319 437)
Walk further down the hill towards the water and you’ll pass all sorts of antique offerings laid out on the street. On this particular day, it’s a row of Ercol chairs lined up on the pavement, their classic curves begging for someone to sit in them. But I can’t stop, because next up is Kit’s Boutique, another place it’s rare for me to leave without something to show for my visit. Run by Kit and Paddy, these twin shops cover off vintage homeware and bespoke dress design in one fell swoop and do it with a unique charm and style.
Paddy picks the quirkiest stock, from dinosaur lampshades to vintage Swedish mounted antlers for Kit: Home, while Kit herself puts her dressmaking skills into action next door, using vintage dress patterns and contemporary designs to create beautiful wedding, evening and occasional dresses.
They also have an online shop packed full of many of the same goodies. As I’m chatting to Kit, one of the customers points out there is a dog over the road staring into the window of a restaurant. “Is it lost?” she asks. “It’s just waiting for its elevenses,” Kit reassures her – the dog belongs to Jam, the record store two doors down and every day the restaurant owners offer the dog some tidbits from the kitchen. “That’s the thing about the Falmouth,” Kit confides when the customer has left. “It’s a real community, all the independent shops support each other, it’s a great place to have a boutique.”
Kit’s sentiment is shared by a lot of people in the town; it’s a place where the creative community and independent retail go hand in hand. “It’s not just that graduates set up shop here, it’s that they become shoppers,” Kit continues. “They’ve all got a design eye and a sense of style so their on the look out for something different. Which is great for little shops like mine.” (Kit, 18 Old High Street, TR11 2AB 01326 218778)
It’s great for little – or not so little – shops like Willow and Stone too, my next port of call. To get there, I wind my way along Market Street and Church Street, past the high street chains and familiar coffee shops that probably populate town centres up and down the country. I ignore the tourist traps and galleries dotted between them too – if you’re looking for a Falmouth souvenir or some Cornish art these places have it covered, but that’s not what this walk is about. So head down, I stride past until Market Street turns into Arwenack Street and I arrive at my destination. Recently expanded to meet demand, Willow and Stone – a homeware store-cum-ironmonger has been doing great business in Falmouth in recent years.
Although it’s not just the local community it’s got to thank for that. Their online hardware business – supplying interior designers and trade with authentic and replica fixtures and fittings– is booming and it’s not hard to see why. It’s like a treasure trove of all things house. Beautiful doorknobs and low-hanging lampshades are perfectly offset by more transitory goodies like kitchenware, screenprints, teatowels and vintage stamp sets. But it’s more than the stock that catches your eye. The apothecary style storage units that line the walls demand closer inspection; it’s easy to get lost in imagining what’s hidden away in each little drawer. (Willow and Stone, 18 Arwenack Street, TR11 3JH, 01326 311388)
Turning right out of Willow and Stone I can’t resist a nod to my words obsession and a quick gawk at Bookmark, a second-hand and antique book shop which stands on the corner of Quay Hill . A far cry from Waterstones – and all the better for it – the place is muddled and cavernous, but it’s the window display that draws me in. Obscure 1950s titles show off the stunning design and attention to detail synonymous with that era in printing. If you’re a sucker for books it’s worth a look. (Bookmark, 34 Arwenack Street, TR11 3JB 01326 211252)
From a bookshop buried in time to a fashion-forward boutique (albeit with a deliciously retro flavour). Continuing along Arwenack Street, I come across Wild Pony Apparel – the latest haunt for Falmouth’s style conscious. A vintage and urban clothing store with a Hoxton hat on, its racks are literally lined with students in search of the perfect geometric print or ‘80s bomber. If you can get to the clothes, it’s perfect for a browse, or a spot of people watching as quirky creative types show off their steez. (Wild Pony Apparel, 45 Arwenack Street TR11 3JH, 01326 618085)
Popping out the other end of Arwenack Street’s gauntlet of shops, the real reason so many creative people migrate here makes itself known The salty breeze picks up and seagulls congregate overhead as the marina comes into view. Turn left off the main strip and past the marina carpark and you’ll find yourself cutting around the edge of Events Square – right by the water’s edge.
This is a perfect place to come and jealously ogle all the beautiful berths that wealthy yachtie types have moored up as they stop off in Falmouth for a spot of R and R. Plus, it’s quite a view across the stunning river Fal estuary. If creativity is about inspiration, then where better to live than a place where you have inspiration like this on your doorstep, every day? Rounding back into Events Square I see clusters of students, all with the same idea. Sheltering behind the brightly coloured beach huts – themselves rather aesthetically pleasing – they sit staring out to sea and smiling. I can’t help but wonder how this little lunch break will show itself in the work they produce over the coming months. (Event Square, Discovery Quay TR11 3XP)
Turning right out of Events Square and cutting up Hull’s Lane, I head over the top of the town, walking along Gyllng Street, which runs parallel to the main strip. I avoid the crowds and soak up a little more of the view, before curving round the edge of Jacob’s Inn and descending Jacobs’ Ladder – a steep and ancient set of granite steps which unevenly carry me back down to the heart of Falmouth town, The Moor. From here it’s left up Killigrew Street to Here & Now.
Part gallery, part shop, Here and Now showcases the work of local, national and international illustrators, designer-makers and artists exhibiting and selling prints, ‘zines, books, journals, cards and more. It’s yet another place you can get lost in, today manned by Tom Hubmann a recent MA Authorial Illustration graduate who tells me about a couple of exciting self-initiated projects he’s got in the pipeline, including a food and drink inspired exhibition in the coffee shop/gallery space next door. This is the key to a design walk in Falmouth. It’s not just about what you see and where you go, but also about who you talk to. If you want to really come away inspired, chat with the shop staff and owners; that’s how you’ll discover the real face of Cornwall’s creative community. (Here and Now, 41a Killigrew Street TR11 3PW, 01326 211505)
And so, on Tom’s recommendation I wind up my design walk in ‘the coffee shop next door’. If you need to be convinced that a design walk can extend to coffee then Rupert is the man to convince you. Opening Espressini just over a year ago he set out with a vision – to take coffee blending and brewing to new heights, experimenting with new mixes and flavours that excite, stimulate and tantalise.
His shop has Falmouth style written all over it. A space that blends old and new, bright colours with muted tones all infused with a real design aesthetic. They even produce their own little coffee ‘zine, which you can pick up and pore over while waiting for your macchiato.
Why? Because they wanted to. Falmouth is a town full of people doing just that. Taking a risk on a great idea and seeing if it floats. Whether it’s a ‘zine about coffee, a dressmaking shop or a vintage clothing store, this is a place fuelled by independent thinking. After all, isn’t that what creativity is all about?
Still hungry for more? Here are five of my favourite coffee stops in Falmouth:
1. Provedore. A favourite with Falmouth University’s staff, this little slice of Spanish sunshine perched near Wood Lane, serves up tapas, sangria and rustic Mediterranean styling with aplomb. (Provedore, 43 Trelawney Road, Falmouth TR11 4RE, 01326 314888)
2. Stones Bakery. Wooden work surfaces, dark tiling, slate and chalk – this place is about so much more than the bread. Recently converted to serve baked treats and coffee as well as sell stunning loaves, it’s a must visit. (Stones Bakery, 28a High Street, Falmouth TR11 5GE 07791 003183)
3. Espressini. They do a nine bean blend. Enough said. (Espressini, 39 Killigrew Street, Falmouth TR11 3PW)
4. Jam Records. Vinyl, art books, independently produced music and great coffee. Be warned, if you go in, you may never want to come out. (32 High Street, Falmouth TR11 2NA, 01326 211 72)
5. Gylly Beach Cafe. Refurbished in 2009 by interior designer Kathryn Tyler (who left Kevin McCloud speechless on Grand Designs – in a good way) this place does understated contemporary beach elegance brilliantly. Plus their hot chocolates are killer. (Gylly Beach Cafe, Cliff Road, TR11 4PA, 01326 312 884)
Further reading for the especially geeky:
- explore :: munich
- out and about :: design in cornwall
- out and about :: the scarlet hotel
- interview :: tom raffield
All photography by Clare Howdle. Clare is a partner at Stranger Collective, a writing agency that makes words count.